x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Palestinians express doubts and fear over UN statehood bid

The attempt by the Palestinian Authority to have Palestine's statehood recognised by the UN General Assembly could backfire and set the stage for violence, warns a report by the International Crisis Group.

Activists of the Palestine 194 campaign distribute flags and leaflets to motorists in order to drum for Palestine to become the 194th state recognised by the UN, in the West bank town of Ramallah.  ATEF SAFADI / EPA
Activists of the Palestine 194 campaign distribute flags and leaflets to motorists in order to drum for Palestine to become the 194th state recognised by the UN, in the West bank town of Ramallah. ATEF SAFADI / EPA

JERUSALEM // If you think all West Bank Palestinians are enthusiastic about next week's vote at the United Nations for Palestinian statehood, just ask Hurriyah Ziada.

Ms Ziada, a 22-year-old sociology student at Birzeit University in the West Bank, insists UN recognition of a Palestinian state is a mistake because it also represents a tacit acknowledgement of Israel's permanence as a Jewish state.

Equally dismaying, she and others say, is that Palestinian officials, led by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, have been too tight-lipped not only about their reasons for pressing for a vote in the UN General Assembly, now set for Wednesday, but what will happen after it.

"Most of the people don't know what's going to happen because nobody explained to us what's actually happening," Ms Ziada said last weekend.

She is not alone in her confusion and alarm, said George Giacaman, co-founder of the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, a think-tank in Ramallah.

"The problem is that it's not clear if the PA has any plan for the day after the recognition," Mr Giacaman said. "I think most are not opposed to the idea, but the question that will become the most important in everybody's mind is, 'What do we do next?'"

By turning a deaf ear to the Palestinian public, as Palestinians such as Ms Ziada says, Mr Abbas and other top Palestinian officials may actually undermine their credibility and set the stage for violence, warns a report released on Monday by the International Crisis Group.

"Palestinian leaders, in a mix of ignorance, internal divisions and brinkmanship, oversold what they could achieve at the world body and now are scrambling to avoid further loss of domestic credibility," said the report, entitled, "Curb Your Enthusiasm: Israel and Palestine after the UN".

It refers to the UN bid as "a tale of collective mismanagement" that "is almost bound to backfire", and could trigger violence or cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse

To date, Mr Abbas and his aides have not outlined their strategy in public, let alone indicated whether the wording of the resolution they plan to introduce on the floor of the General Assembly will adhere to guidelines outlined by the US president, Barack Obama, in a speech in May. They included using the pre-1967 borders, which prevailed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, as a basis for negotiations.

Moreover, Mr Abbas has not said publicly whether he will follow his all-but-certain victory on the floor of the General Assembly with a request to the Security Council to take up the measure. On Monday, Mr Obama called the statehood bid a "distraction" and said the United States would be veto any statehood resolution that is introduced at the Security Council.

Standing in the wings, ready to exact a political price, are Israel and its allies in US Congress, who are threatening to cut US foreign aid to the Palestinians if they go through with the vote.

Yesterday, Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said there would be "harsh and grave consequences" if the Palestinians go through with their recognition plan.

"I hope that we shall not come to those harsh and grave consequences, and that common sense will prevail in all decisions taken in order to allow coexistence and progress with negotiations," he said before a meeting with Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, in Jerusalem.

Mr Abbas appears to have given some heed to US and Israeli pressure, recently toning down his public statements, even as other prominent Palestinians have turned more strident.

Speaking last week, the Palestinian Authority president was quoted by The New York Times as saying: "Our first, second and third priority is negotiations. There is no other way to solve this."

He emphasised that no "matter what happens at the United Nations, we have to return to negotiations".

In Amman, Jordan's foreign minister took a similar view, saying his country supports a Palestinian drive for recognition at the UN but prefers negotiations toward creation of a Palestinian state.

Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters yesterday that Jordan supports the Palestinian campaign, but it should take into account the rights of Palestinian refugees, the fate of Jerusalem and the borders of a future Palestinian state. He said the "best way" to attain statehood is through "direct negotiations."

Having seen their hopes dashed with regularity at the negotiating table, many Palestinians are unmoved by such advice.

Mustafa Barghouti, a PA presidential candidate in 2005, believes the long-standing Palestinian leadership in Ramallah may have made one final, but ultimately welcome, miscalculation in going to the UN.

Asked by a reporter on Saturday if he thought the UN bid could trigger punitive measures that could lead to a potential collapse of the PA itself, Mr Barghouti said: "I wish they would do that - it would release us from the chain that's been around our necks for years."




* Additional reporting by the Associated Press