Will the Palestinian Authority's bid for U.N. recognition kill hopes for Mideast peace?
Mahmoud Abbas plans to request a controversial status upgrade from the United Nations — despite strident objections from Israel and the U.S.
If you thought the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas across the Gaza Strip border "harmed the chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace, just wait," says Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast. "Things are about to get worse." This Thursday, on the 65th anniversary of the United Nations resolution to carve up the former British Mandatory Palestine, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas plans to ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a "nonmember state." (Abbas is likely to succeed, as 132 nations have already recognized Palestine on their own, and he only needs a simple majority of 97 votes in the 193-nation General Assembly to win non-member state status.) Abbas is apparently betting that his power play will boost his standing and help him counter the growing influence of Hamas, which has gained popularity in the Palestinian territories and across the Arab world — thanks in no small part to its rocket attacks on Israel.
In practice, though, Abbas' move will probably smother hopes for peace, says Beinart, by forcing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's heading into election season, to retaliate by withholding tax receipts Abbas needs to survive, leaving the Islamists of Hamas without a moderate rival to challenge their claim as leader of the Palestinian people:
The Palestinian Authority is already in crisis. It can barely pay its employees. It's been battling protests since the Gaza War began. Abbas himself has repeatedly threatened to resign. And according to Haaretz, he recently told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that if Israel retaliates against his U.N. bid, “I will invite Netanyahu to the Muqata [the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters] in Ramallah and I will give him the keys.”
Is Abbas bluffing? Who knows. But the legitimacy of his power, and his will to retain it, are both in steep decline. This week's U.N. bid makes the Palestinian Authority's collapse more likely than ever before. And if the Palestinian Authority collapses, the danger Israel has been facing in the Gaza Strip could soon pale before the danger it faces in the West Bank.
Hold on there, says Trudy Rubin at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Abbas' gambit might be the only way to revive peace talks. Abbas is "recognized internationally as the main elected Palestinian leader," though he's been overshadowed in the region by the more radical Hamas. But if he's able to score a win at the U.N., perhaps he could gain enough credibility among his people to make the concessions necessary for peace.
Abbas' effort to get more backing at the United Nations may be the last, best hope to keep the idea of negotiations toward two states alive. Obama and Netanyahu would be wise to support it (and try to shape it) while taking the spotlight off of Gaza.
Otherwise, Israel is headed toward a one-state solution in which it will be outnumbered by Palestinian Arabs — just what Hamas and its Iranian backers want.
Either way, Abbas is taking a big risk, says Joe Lauria at the United Arab Emirates' The National. He claims he's "fully confident" that he'll succeed, but even if he does, he's betting everything he has on the assumption that Israel and the U.S. won't dare bring down the Palestinian Authority by yanking hundreds of millions of dollars in tax receipts and aid, for fear of leaving Hamas in control of both Gaza and the West Bank. As one U.N. diplomat said, however, "that is one hell of a gamble."