THE BLOG

Palestinians Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Upgrade at UN

The Palestinians can easily win a vote upgrading their status at the United Nations to a "non-member observer state" but they may pay a steep price for it from Israel and America.

And now, in the real world, with rockets and drones flying in an out of Gaza, some observers speculate a delay in the planned introduction of a resolution on Nov. 29 -- or a more determined effort to get the word "state" instead of an observer "entity" in the UN title.

"The train has left the station," Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Monday. "This is a point of no return from our side."

The resolution has been circulated in the 193-member General Assembly, where no member has veto power (see text). It says that the Palestinian Authority is committed to the "two-state solution" in which Israel and an independent Palestinian state would co-exist. It would give Palestine "observer state" status "without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people."

The new label, similar to that of the Vatican, would allow Palestine to join U.N. agencies, including the International Criminal Court, where they could file charges against Israeli individuals. (However, the court operates so slowly and carefully, such an indictment may never be issued.)

Seeing Gaza with binoculars

Israel's UN ambassador, Ron Prosor told reporters that the implicit recognition of statehood would include Gaza, run by Hamas, which fires rockets at Israel and is not under the control of the Palestinian Authority. "Abu Mazen (Abbas) has not seen Gaza with binoculars in the last six years," he said.

Israel has threatened to stop collecting tax revenues for the Palestinian Authority and not hand over any money if Abbas continues to seek an upgrade, said Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

Author Peter Beinart, an associate professor at CUNY, and an expert on Israeli politics, told this writer that "Israel might annex area C or take a more hostile stance toward the Palestinian Authority in some other way, or do nothing at all." Area C comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank and all the Palestinian settlements. Oy.

Then there is the United States. From 2008 to the present, Washington's bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip has averaged over $600 million, including about $200 million in budget assistance to the Palestinian Authority and $100 in security assistance. The U.S. also donates to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, many of whom are in Gaza.

PA can't pay civil servants

But Congress froze some $200 million in financial aid to the Palestinians last year. And Arab countries have not come through with promised funds, leaving the Palestinian Authority in West Bank short of monies in paying government salaries. There are some 154,000 civil servants, who support their extended families in the West Bank.

Worse yet, the current Republican-controlled Congress has been eager to chop funds to the United Nations as well as to any UN agency that accepts Palestinian membership. This has already happened to UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, whose board accepted Palestine.

Abbas last year lobbied the 15-nation Security Council to approve full membership, an attempt doomed from the start, whereas going to the General Assembly then could have been easier. Not only did the United States threaten a veto but the PA fell short of the required nine votes, with European and Latin American nations, and even Bosnia, sure to abstain.

Regardless of the General Assembly vote, the Palestinians would remain stateless and remain under occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For Israel, the continued barrage of rockets is unacceptable not just to the government but to the public at large.

"Nightmare scenario"

Yet, according to Stephen Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, "The Israelis could be looking at a situation in which their relations are deteriorating with Egypt, faced with the possibility of two fronts in Gaza, and in the north from Hezbollah, and the crumbling of its relationship with Jordan. All around, a nightmare scenario."

The situation is bound to get worse before it gets better. Palestinians in Gaza for the first time on Friday fired rockets at Jerusalem. On Thursday, rockets were fired at Tel Aviv, also for the first time, in response to Israeli aerial assaults. By calling up 16,000 reservists, Israel seemed prepared to another ground invasion, the first in four years.

Gershon Baskin, co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, warns against such an invasion, saying it did not work the last time and will not work this time.

"Do we really want to reoccupy Gaza, because that will be the consequence of a regime change. I don't believe that (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu wants re-occupation. So if that is not what he wants, he must be aware that, on the morning after, we will still be living next to Gaza, which still be run by Hamas. They are not going away and the people of Gaza are not going away," he said.

At the United Nations, the Security Council is trying to stake out a position on Gaza but has not been able to reach agreement on a resolution.

Said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "A new cycle of bloodshed will make neither Israelis nor Palestinians more secure. Nor will bloodshed open the door to negotiations that could achieve the two-state solution necessary to end such violence permanently."

It is doubtful, however, serious talks will resume without the United States and/or Egypt as an interlocutor.

And the history of Israelis and Palestinians for the past few years seems to be that not talking is a lot easier than talking.

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