Yogi Berra would call it déjà vu all over again. Just as he tried — and failed — last year, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hopes to secure international support for avoiding the negotiations with Israel that could bring peace to the region.
At the UN General Assembly this week, he will instead seek its backing for a Palestinian state. Through unilateral action, he aims once again to persuade the international body to hand him recognition on a silver platter, with no thought of the consequences.
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi has described the effort as “a test of global consensus and rule of law.” In fact, the ploy for “observer status,” even if successful, will change no facts on the ground, since only an agreement with Israel can lead to a pullback of Israeli troops.
It will also raise false hopes among the Palestinian people, potentially pushing them to violent action. And it will confirm Israelis’ longstanding fears that they have no partner for peace, drastically reducing the chances of resolving the conflict.
In light of last year’s failure, Abbas, who is scheduled to address the UN on Thursday, opted to switch strategies. Instead of seeking statehood through the Security Council, where he fell short of the nine votes needed in 2011 (the U.S. did not even have to cast a veto to derail the plan), this time he is targeting the 193-member General Assembly. There is no veto power in that body. A simple majority is enough to pass resolutions.
Abbas knows he has a built-in majority, recently boasting that “there are 133 countries that now recognize Palestine as a state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.” The Arab League, consisting of 22 nations, has already endorsed the initiative, and the Non-Aligned Movement, with its 120 members, did the same at its recent Tehran summit.
But since the General Assembly cannot grant full statehood, a resolution is expected to be proposed that would upgrade the status of Palestine from “permanent observer” to “nonmember observer state,” such as the Vatican currently enjoys.
Symbolically, passage of this resolution would put the UN’s main body on record on the Palestinian side, and, as Abbas has pointed out, enable him to argue that Palestinians live in a state “occupied” by another country.
Nonmember observer state designation would make the Palestinians eligible to join UN agencies, including the International Criminal Court — where they could put Israel in the dock for alleged crimes of their own imagining.
But watch the machinations carefully. Abbas might not call for immediate General Assembly action, as that might embarrass President Obama during the presidential campaign and trigger a cutoff of U.S. aid. Holding off on passage of a UN resolution until after Election Day may lower the risk of offending the U.S. — though such action will still have consequences for the Palestinians.
Israel has consistently sought to resume talks with the Palestinian Authority with the aim of a two-state solution in which Israel and a Palestinian state live side by side in peace and security. But Abbas and his followers refuse, since negotiations would require compromise.
At the Non-Aligned Movement summit, Abbas made clear, as he has so often done before, that compromise is not on his agenda, denying any Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest city, Jerusalem.
In a public statement, Abbas declared that no Jewish temple ever stood in the city and ranted about an imaginary conspiracy against the Palestinians. He charged Israel with plotting “to rob Muslims and Christians of their holy shrines, destroy the Al Aqsa mosque and build the alleged Jewish temple.”
The Palestinian leadership is clearly caught up in a world of irrationality, and the General Assembly is virtually certain to play along with a rubber-stamp upgrading of Palestine’s status at the UN, despite its refusal to negotiate peace with Israel.
It might be possible, though, even at the eleventh hour, for the U.S. to wield its financial muscle to dissuade the Palestinian Authority from its disastrous course.
But if the matter does go to the General Assembly, the democracies of the world should not let themselves be intimidated by the automatic avalanche of pro-Palestinian votes. A solid, albeit small, democratic phalanx of opposition to Palestinian unilateralism and support for negotiated peace may awaken the international community to its duty.
Schmidt is the director of the American Jewish Committee’s New York regional office.