x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

US effort to stop Palestine's UN statehood bid unlikely to deflect Abbas

Blair to present US proposal to Palestinians but drive for statehood unlikely to be halted by Obama's plan for a return to negotiations.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the US president, Barack Obama, at the White House in June last year. Charles Dharapak / AP Photo
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the US president, Barack Obama, at the White House in June last year. Charles Dharapak / AP Photo

JERUSALEM // Palestinians are sceptical about reports that the US is trying to halt their bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations.

The administration of Barack Obama, the US president, has presented a new proposal to Israel that it hopes will convince Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to abandon the UN plan and return to negotiations with Israel, The New York Times has reported.

The Times said the proposal features provisions Mr Obama outlined in a speech in May, including negotiations based on the borders that prevailed before the 1967 war with mutually agreed land swaps.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has rejected that demand.

The report also said the US is trying to persuade nations to oppose the Palestinians when they seek recognition at the UN on September 20.

The Palestinians believe they have the votes to pass the resolution in the 193-member General Assembly, which would elevate their status to nonvoting observer state from a simple observer.

The newspaper reported that the US is worried about a backlash in the region if the measure reaches the Security Council, where US officials have said they will veto it. That motivated US officials to come up with a new strategy.

"If you put the alternative out there, then you've suddenly just changed the circumstances and changed the dynamic," an administration official involved in the plan was quoted as saying. "And that's what we're trying very much to do."

The Times said Israel had responded "positively" to the proposal, and that Tony Blair, representing the Mideast Peace Quartet - the US, EU, Russia and the UN - would present it to Palestinian officials soon.

The Palestinians have said they would not back down from their UN ambitions unless Israel first halted construction of settlements and agreed to negotiate using the 1967 borders.

Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian official, said yesterday the Palestinian side saw no evidence of those conditions being agreed to by Mr Netanyahu's pro-settler government.

"The Israelis are busy now with their own Tel Aviv spring, and they have not made any indication that they are willing to make any changes," he said, referring to recent Israeli protests against the high cost of living.

He also described US attempts at discouraging UN members to support a Palestinian statehood resolution as "not working at all".

"I think they've failed miserably," said Mr Shaath, adding that the Palestinians had enough support - as many as "130 nations now" - for a successful General Assembly resolution.

Last month, the US Department of State sent diplomatic messages to more than 70 nations urging them "to oppose any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the United Nations" because they "would destabilise the region and undermine peace efforts", according to The Times.

It also said US officials had prepared contingency plans if the Palestinian bid provokes violence between Israelis and Palestinians. They hope to persuade both sides to continue co-operating on security matters.

The US and Israel have frequently expressed their opposition to what they call the Palestinians' "unilateral" UN move, fearing it could undermine peace talks. The last round of direct Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations collapsed because Mr Netanyahu refused to halt settlement expansion.

Despite US and Israeli efforts to derail the Palestinians' UN strategy, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, was quoted in the Israeli press as saying those efforts have failed.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political-science professor at Gaza's Al Azhar University, said he saw little chance of US efforts actually halting the Palestinian plans.

"President Abbas will probably not accept the US effort because he doesn't believe there's much room for negotiations with Netanyahu," he said.

"Netanyahu has not done anything to revive the peace negotiations - he is instead interested in keeping up the occupation of the West Bank and settlement expansion."

Because the Israeli leader has not given Mr Abbas a political "ladder from which to climb down", he said, Mr Abbas "cannot retreat from this position."