Dennis Ross, a top Mideast adviser to President Obama and the man who is seen as most sympathetic to the Israeli government’s point of view, arrives in Jerusalem today to try to re-start peace talks in order to prevent President Mahmoud Abbas from doing what he confirmed yesterday he would do: follow through on the Palestinian Authority’s longtime plans to seek statehood or at least an upgrade of status at the United Nations later this month. As a reminder: binding statehood would require Security Council approval, and the United States would almost certainly veto any such resolution; a status upgrade, by contrast, requires merely a majority in the General Assembly, where passage would be nearly as certain (yesterday, a Palestinian negotiator predicted 140 countries would vote for statehood in the G.A., which has 193 member-states). As another reminder: this move is vehemently opposed by the United States and Israel, who feel that direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations—which have been stagnant for nearly a year—is the only legitimate path to Palestinian sovereignty; and it’s also opposed by Hamas and Hezbollah (who want all the land) as well as others, including Jordan’s king and some members of the Palestinian diaspora, who argue that achieving statehood without extracting concessions from Israel could lose them the right to further concessions, including on the right-of-return issue.
There are two ways the vote could be avoided. One, which the Obama administration was pushing hard throughout the weekend, would be for the so-called Quartet—the U.S., the European Union, the U.N., and Russia—to present a new proposal to both sides for direct negotiations and have them accept it. However, given that the most recent Quartet meeting, over the summer, concluded without so much as a statement, and given that various parties have rejected language regarding things like Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state … well, don’t bet on this.
The other way, as Laura Rozen reported this weekend, would be for the EU to step in with a milder, alternatively worded resolution. Again, though, it is difficult to see how a resolution could recognize Israel and Palestine without, say, recognizing Israel as the Jewish state and still pass muster with the U.S.—especially since the U.S. values its role as the foremost regional broker, and this would compromise it. Incidentally, President Obama is scheduled to address the General Assembly on September 20—roughly one year after he told that body that he would be coming to them this September with an agreement for an independent Palestine.
For arguably the right reasons, Abbas is doing the wrong thing. He correctly sees that the peace process as currently constituted is finished (the U.N. resolution would be its death certificate). He knows one of the things he can point to is the state-building in the West Bank, spearheaded by his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. And he knows appealing to the U.N. is the last, biggest move he has. Which is, of course, why he shouldn’t make it: as any good negotiator—or poker player—knows, you don’t make your biggest move until you know you will score your biggest return. A U.N. move would give the Israeli government—admittedly ideologically obstinate, even pigheaded, without any Palestinian help—even less incentive to talk, much less concede anything. Future governments might see little point to negotiating with a state that “already exists”—you can’t trade land for peace, after all, if they already have the land.
Most likely, there will be a Security Council veto and General Assembly passage. And then? The P.A. has proclaimed their protest strategy is peaceful, but rage at, for example, a U.S. veto could certainly transform popular sentiment. And meanwhile, Hamas could see a resolution as an excuse to re-start its civil war with the moderate P.A. that won it control of Gaza several years ago. Israeli settlers’ burning of a mosque in a West Bank village yesterday—in response, of all things, to the Israeli army, which bulldozed an illegal settlement outpost nearby—only underscores the dry wood character of the territories. Settlers are stockpiling defense equipment, and in some cases rules of engagement permit live gunfire. If the real drama this month occurs in the sterile, utopian confines of Turtle Bay, then we’ll be lucky.
Ross, Hale Arrive for Final Push to Start Talks [JPost]
Abbas Affirms Palestinian Bid for U.N. Membership [NYT]
U.S. Is Appealing to Palestinians to Stall U.N. Vote [NYT]
Plan B on Palestine at the U.N.? Europeans Mull Alternative Resolution [Yahoo! The Envoy]
Settlers Set Fire to West Bank Mosque After Israel Demolishes Illegal Structures in Migron [Haaretz]
Earlier: September Dawns, the General Assembly Nears