WASHINGTON — The arguments for and against the latest Palestinian bid for statehood status at the United Nations come down to which is the faster path to irrelevancy.
The Palestine Liberation Organization is seeking a diplomatic victory to preserve the legitimacy of its affiliated Palestinian Authority in the face of a fiscal crisis and a resurgent Hamas. But any success at the United Nations is likely to trigger punitive measures by Israel and the United States that could exacerbate the PLO’s isolation.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “is at wit’s end,” said Nathan Brown, a political science and international affairs professor at George Washington University in Washington whose expertise is the Palestinians. “This is being driven by the absence of any viable alternative.”
The Palestinian Authority is hitting a dead end in setting up statehood infrastructure, Brown said.
“Building from the ground up has run its course,” he said. “This seems one of the few places he can still act.”
But the Palestinians’ strategy is not without its drawbacks. The move is opposed by both the United States and Israel, where officials have warned of finanical punitive measures should the Palestinians go ahead with the application.
Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli finance minister, has said he will stop transferring tax revenues to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority if the U.N. bid succeeds, while American lawmakers say it could jeopardize the millions in annual American aid to the Palestinian Authority. President Barack Obama reiterated American opposition to the move in a call with Abbas on Sunday, the first since his re-election.
“This could be calamitous for the Palestinians themselves,” said Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to Washington.
“It would not get them closer to real statehood. It would create unrealistic expectations on the ground and it would call into question a number of agreements Israel has with the Palestinian Authority and not with the state of Palestine.”
Maen Areikat, the PLO envoy to Washington, said achieving statehood status would actually help preserve the two-state solution.
“In the face of the continued Israeli settlement activities and the confiscation of land, the chances of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel are fading and the international community is not doing anything to hold Israel accountable, especially the United States,” Areikat said.
The Palestinians have been down this road once before, but the current bid is more modest than last year’s quest for full inclusion as a U.N. member state, which is subject to full Security Council approval.
A draft now circulating grants the PLO non-member state observer status, defining Palestine as a state within the 1967 lines but not granting it full inclusion. The resolution needs only to be adopted by the larger General Assembly, where the Palestinians are believed to have a majority in their favor.
On Monday, Abbas said he would submit the bid on Nov. 29 — the 65th anniversary of the 1947 U.N. vote calling for two states, one Jewish and one Arab, in Palestine. Israel accepted the plan while the Palestinians and other Arabs rejected it, launching a war against the nascent Jewish state.
Areikat says that recognition would provide Palestinians a basis to return to talks, which they abandoned two years after Israel refused to freeze settlement building.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to return to talks without preconditions. Areikat said such calls are not substantive without an outline of an acceptable outcome for the Palestinians.
“We have an Israeli prime minister who for the last four years has been focused on Iran and not dealing with the Palestinians,” he said. “The aim is not to delegitimize Israel and end cooperation. On the contrary, after we get recognition within the 1967 borders, we are willing to engage the Israelis.”