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Palestinians brace for repercussions over UN bid

An internal document says Palestinians must prepare for possible harsh reactions by the US and Israel if they go ahead with plans to seek UN recognition of 'Palestine' as a non-member observer state in the General Assembly.

RAMALLAH // The Palestinians are bracing for possible punitive reactions by the US and Israel if they go ahead with plans to seek UN General Assembly recognition of “Palestine” as a non-member observer state, according to an internal document obtained yesterday.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, backed by the Arab League, is ready in principle to take this step, but has not decided whether to submit the request when the General Assembly convenes in September or to wait until after the US presidential election in November.

A high-ranking Palestinian official said Mr Abbas leans towards waiting until after the US vote, in line with a US request, to avoid further strain to his relationship with the administration of Barack Obama.

A Palestinian UN bid in September could hurt Mr Obama’s re-election efforts by inserting the disruptive Middle East conflict into the campaign.

However, some members of Mr Abbas’s inner circle are pushing for a September bid, arguing that the Palestinians have gained nothing by trying to appease the US.

“We have nothing to lose from the Americans,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee. “What we need is to move fast.”

The final decision is up to Mr Abbas. The Palestinians seek General Assembly recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967.

While such a nod would be largely symbolic, they would gain firm international approval of the pre-1967 frontier as the border between Israel and a future Palestine. An upgraded UN status would also allow the Palestinians to join various organisations of the world body.

Palestinian officials have said they have the required votes in the General Assembly to win recognition.

A bid last year to win full UN membership for Palestine, rather than as an observer state, failed because the Palestinians did not have sufficient support in the UN Security Council.

Israel and the US are vehemently opposed to the Palestinian campaign, saying a Palestinian state can only be established through negotiations with Israel. The last round of talks broke off in 2008, and efforts to revive them failed because of deep disagreement between Mr Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

An internal Palestinian document, prepared by the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit, lays out the pros and cons of seeking UN recognition. On the downside, both Israel and the US have a whole arsenal of punitive measures at their disposal. The US could close the PLO mission in Washington, suspend millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians or withhold contributions to any UN agency the Palestinians try to join, the document said.

Possible Israel reactions could range from cancelling interim peace deals, annexing parts of the West Bank or increasing restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement, the document says. It also states all Palestinian institutions should get ready for any of these scenarios.

The paper was presented to the Arab League last month and on Wednesday was discussed by leaders of Abbas’ Fatah movement.

“We discussed the different scenarios ... and decided to go (to the General Assembly) regardless of the pressure and the threats,” said Mahmoud Aloul, a Fatah leader. “The date is up to the Arab League ... For us, the sooner the better.”