WORLDPOST
09/08/2011 02:38 pm ET | Updated Nov 08, 2011

U.N. Palestinian Statehood Drive Is 'Moment Of Truth,' Leaders Say

WASHINGTON -- A Palestinian effort to seek statehood at the United Nations later this month may be the last, best hope for a negotiated two-state solution, Palestinian officials and business leaders said Thursday.

Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian ambassador and government official, offered her frank assessment during a panel discussion at the New America Foundation, calling the U.N. vote "the moment of truth," for the Palestinian drive for statehood -- and peace negotiations in general.

"What choice do we have?" Khoury said. "I think moving forward with the U.N. is the only way to go for us. ... We have to ask, is this present road taking us anywhere? If it is not, it is time to change the paradigm."

Asked if she meant an end to the two-state solution track, Khoury nodded.

Not everyone in the delegation of Palestinian officials and businessmen agreed with the dire prognosis. But the group, which was in Washington pressing the case for statehood, collectively indicated that nothing could dissuade them from an effort to seek recognition at the U.N.

"This move is not about delegitimizing Israel, which is making headlines all across the world," said Zahi Khoury, the C.E.O of the Palestinian National Beverage Company, which manufactures Coca-Cola in the West Bank. "It is about legitimizing the ability of Palestinians to live peacefully. It's not the last chance, but it's maybe our best chance."

For weeks now, the statehood vote, slated for Sept. 20, has been producing a mad scramble of last-minute diplomacy, even as most observers acknowledge the outcome of the vote is virtually assured.

Under just about any scenario, the Palestinian delegation will succeed in getting the general assembly to recognize an informal, "observer state" status for Palestine, experts say.

But with the United States -- in partnership with its close ally, Israel -- promising to veto any Security Council measures, proper statehood will elude Palestinians in the New York proceedings.

In a speech in May, Obama denounced the U.N. vote as a "symbolic action" that would set back the peace effort.

"For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure," Obama said. "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state."

More recently, a top State Department appointee assured a congressional panel that the Obama administration would block the Security Council vote.

Israeli officials acknowledge that the Palestinians will win the support of most of the general assembly for observer status, and say they worry more about violence in Israel and the territories in the aftermath of the vote -- something Palestinians dismiss as fear mongering.

As part of an ongoing effort to forestall the vote, a delegation of American diplomats traveled to the region this week, offering promises of renewed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the effort has been largely shrugged off by Palestinian officials, who pledge to carry on with the full-statehood vote regardless of the near impossibility of it passing.

"We're still determined to seek full membership at the United Nations, which means we will submit a request to the secretary general for the U.N. to consider our request for admission," Maen Rashid Areikat, the chief PLO representative to the U.S. told The Huffington Post earlier in the week.

"Unfortunately we don't agree with the U.S., and the U.S. doesn't agree with us," he added.

Not everyone is convinced the Americans' recent political maneuvering is such a good idea, especially given the inevitability of the outcome in New York.

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department Israel-Palestine negotiator, says hasty diplomatic measures like the latest American gambit may actually do more damage than good, if they cannot be backed up with real results.

"I'm adamantly against coming up with some clever construct that launches new negotiations, and which then fails spectacularly," Miller told HuffPost. "That would be a disaster, given our track record of two and a half years of false hopes and false starts."

"The last thing this administration needs is a last-minute fix that preempts or deters a vote but creates false hope," he added.

The Palestinian leaders in Washington to press the case for statehood seemed to agree, arguing that negotiations could only resume once the statehood vote had taken place and not in lieu of it.

"I think what we were hearing was that this is the last Palestinian role of the non-sanction, non-punitive dice," said Daniel Levy, the co-director of New America's Middle East task force, who led Thursday's panel. "Israel, and friends of Israel, really ought to open their ears to this. We may be seeing the closing of a door here."