September 19, 2011 Edition 28 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
What will happen at the UN?
The real meaning of the Palestinian UN bid  - Yossi Alpher
For the first time in years of conflict and failed negotiations, the Palestinians have the initiative.

A new paradigm  - Ghassan Khatib
This Palestinian diplomacy at the UN has been largely misunderstood.

Palestinian statehood: a new status and its implications  - Zvi Bar'el
Even if Washington uses its veto power, Abbas will end up as a winner pointing to the US as the direct culprit.

UN move more loss than gain  - Saleh Abdel Jawad
Palestinians have never lacked legal instruments to challenge Israel.

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The real meaning of the Palestinian UN bid
 Yossi Alpher
For the first time in years of conflict and failed negotiations, the Palestinians have the initiative. Whatever happens--or, at the last minute, doesn't happen--at the United Nations, this works in their favor.

An isolated, confused and blustering Israel under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has lost the initiative. PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has grabbed it. The wind of the Arab revolutionary wave--self-determination, people-power--is in his sails. He has also figured out that not only Netanyahu can stand up to a faltering Obama administration and profit from doing so.

As matters stand at the time of writing, Abbas is taking his case to the Security Council. There, he apparently faces three options: an out-and-out United States veto; American success in preventing a yes vote by a nine-state majority, thereby obviating the need for a veto; or, perhaps most likely, a variety of procedural steps, such as sending the proposal to committee, that delay any sort of vote for weeks or months. One way or another, Palestine will not now be accepted into the UN as a full-fledged member state.

Abbas can stop here, having made his point and further isolated Israel and the US, and vow to try again next year. Conceivably, the delay at the Security Council will produce a new formula to return temporarily to negotiations. Or Abbas can take his case to the General Assembly, where he can command the necessary two-thirds majority to accord Palestine observer-state status. The only question there is whether a fairly large European bloc can persuade him to introduce a number of constraints to the resolution--such as a commitment to negotiate all outstanding issues and not resort to international judicial forums--that ensure the next course of action will be, once again, bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Having reviewed these options, and not knowing which of them or what combination will actually emerge from this UN session, the more interesting question concerns the actual implications of Abbas' UN initiative for the real issue at hand: the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The Netanyahu government and the Obama administration apparently fear that, one way or another, the UN proceedings will internationalize the Palestinian issue and, in particular, provide grist for the mill of Arab revolutionaries, thereby somehow integrating the two phenomena. Hence their repeated insistence, echoed by the Quartet, that the only proper path to follow is the bilateral negotiations format mandated by the Oslo accords.

Here the US and Israel neglect at their peril the true meaning of the Palestinian UN initiative: Oslo has run its course; it must be succeeded by a new negotiating paradigm of state-to-state negotiations that focus first and foremost on the relatively "doable" 1967 issues of sovereignty, territory and security. The Oslo-mandated issues whose origins precede 1967--the "narrative" or "existential" deal-breaker issues of holy places and the right of return--will no longer be allowed to hold the entire process hostage. We must indeed avoid internationalizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but not at a cost of returning to unproductive Oslo-based final status negotiations between two partners, Netanyahu and Abbas, neither of whom is capable of compromising to the extent of solving all the issues on the Oslo agenda.

Whether he intended this to happen or not, this is the true import of Abbas' UN initiative. The sooner Israel and the United States grasp the meaning of this encouraging development, the better for all. The specifics of what actually happens now at the UN pale in importance compared to this new paradigm. -Published 19/9/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

A new paradigm
 Ghassan Khatib
With this week's start of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian leadership can rightly say that it has begun to reap fruit from its decision to take the Palestinian cause to the international community. The Palestinian people and leadership have suffered for too long from the inattention of the international community, which insisted on leaving Palestinians and Israelis to their own devices to solve their problems. For the Palestinians, this was equal to leaving their people at the mercy of the brutal Israeli occupation.

This Palestinian diplomacy at the United Nations has been largely misunderstood. Many have dealt with it as a procedural move or a one-shot deal, whereby Palestinians and other members of the world community would go to cast a vote and then come back home to face business as usual. This move is more than that, seeking instead to correct the current peace process or create a new one entirely.

This step is about engaging the international community in the business of trying to end the Israeli occupation in order to allow for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. It should be seen as a commitment to and investment in the peace process, since it shows a deep belief in the notion of two states. We already have one state: Israel. What remains is to implement the rest of the international vision for the region.

In recent months, the Palestinian leadership and diplomatic efforts have failed to create within the international community a feeling of urgency about unilateral Israeli settlement expansion. Despite the international consensus that the growth of the settlements is an obstacle to peace and the peace process, very little has been done to remove this obstacle. The Palestinian appeal to the United Nations has succeeded in injecting this urgency into the discussions of the international community and creating the collective need to do something.

As a result of this Palestinian decision, the dominant members of the world community are now engaged in finding ways to contribute to resuming a meaningful peace process and removing some of its obstacles. This is at the heart of the Palestinian objective.

Further, a fresh and vital public debate is now underway--through the media, from commentators or in the arena of public diplomacy--another desirable outcome that is already bearing fruit. Over the last ten years, Israel has increasingly been able to isolate the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (or lack thereof) from the attention of international officials and the world public. This played right into Israel's hands. Opening this conflict up to public scrutiny and allowing for fresh, transparent diplomatic activity can neutralize Israeli attempts to continue stalling the peace process in favor of creating illegal facts on the ground that threaten the two-state solution.

For all these reasons, we hope that the Palestinian move to the United Nations is the beginning of a process of internationalizing the conflict, with sustained international attention from officials and the public. These external voices need to act as stewards of the international community's vision of two states and international legality, removing obstacles to progress like illegal Israeli settlement expansion. -Published 19/09/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Palestinian statehood: a new status and its implications
 Zvi Bar'el
Should he or shouldn't he? This question is probably not relevant any more to PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' decision (read, intention) to scale the glass walls of the United Nations building in New York this week. This is a slippery and dangerous climb.

Abbas has been threatened by the United States and Israel; he cannot be sure yet that the major European countries will support him; and he has Arab League backing but at home faces enormous difficulties with Hamas. The Palestinian Diaspora fears that his initiative will kill the Palestinian refugees' right of return, and that even if the Palestinian state is recognized it will mean nothing more than an empty declaration.

Little wonder that these pressures do not take Abbas aback. After years of hollow negotiations with Israeli prime ministers, broken promises, inefficient American diplomacy that offered nothing more than moral support and with no political solution on the horizon, Abbas has a lot to gain and not much to lose. He has learned from the Israeli experience that the real negotiations are not with the Israelis but with Washington. Thus, even the mere "threat" to deliver his request for recognition to the Security Council immediately started a flurry of intense diplomatic activity aimed at saving Obama's--not Israel's--neck at the UN.

While Arab revolutions are in full swing, a fierce competition over influence has emerged among states like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the inner circle and Russia, France and Britain in the outer circle. Under these circumstances, the US cannot afford to use its veto power against a Palestinian state lest this open a new dispute between the peoples of the area and Washington. Since peoples rather than regimes are beginning to make decisions in the Middle East, and as anti-Americanism is not unknown to the region, a vote against a Palestinian state might be devastating for America's image.

This argument also applies to the threat to cut American aid to the new Palestinian state, should it be recognized. The threat could well boomerang, as the US would be perceived as Israel's partner in occupation--a superpower that does Israel's bidding, hence can no longer be considered an "honest broker". Thus, even if Washington uses its veto power, Abbas will end up as a winner pointing to the US as the direct culprit for Palestinian failure.

Far more dangerous implications would ensue from an Israeli decision to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian Authority. In this case, Turkey would not be the only state waging diplomatic war against Israel. This time, Israel would be perceived as acting not only against Gaza, which is perceived as a Hamas outpost, but against an internationally-recognized state. It would then be of interest to compare the list of states that supported the Palestinian state bid with the list of those that boycott Israel.

Even the Israeli threat to consider the Oslo agreements null and void if a Palestinian state is recognized should not be taken too seriously. The Oslo agreements are already considered dead by the Israeli government and the Israeli public. Yet, the vital security cooperation between Israel and the PA that is based on the Oslo agreements is still alive. If Israel declares a one-sided official annulment of Oslo, it might have to return to direct military occupation of the West Bank, with all this implies.

It is difficult to imagine that, following the enormous efforts Abbas has invested to mobilize the support of almost two-thirds of UN members--itself an historic achievement--he will acquiesce in vague promises for a Palestinian state sometime in the future, subject to negotiations with a non-partner. However, even if Abbas decides at the last moment and despite his own declarations not to approach the Security Council but to seek only the General Assembly's approval, this will grant the Palestinian issue a new status.

First, it will expand international involvement in the conflict beyond the defunct Quartet. Second, it will put the US and Israel under pressure to proceed with serious negotiations, this time with the US as a partner and not merely a mediator or guarantor. Third, it may pressure Hamas, which has objected to approaching the UN, into reconsidering its position against a Palestinian state, especially in light of its crumbling sanctuary in Syria.

Whatever the outcome at the UN--member state or observer state--any new Palestinian status will require that tangible steps be taken by supporting states: from establishing embassies in the West Bank to capital transfer and direct investments; from recognizing Palestinian passports to issuing visas. These measures are essential not only to demonstrate that the UN resolution is not another empty declaration. These measures may also reassure the Israeli public, if not the government, that a Palestinian state is a better guarantee for its security than the current situation.-Published 19/9/2011 ©

Zvi Bar'el is analyst for Middle East affairs of Haaretz daily. His book, "When Cars Fell from Heaven"(in Hebrew) was published last year.

UN move more loss than gain
 Saleh Abdel Jawad
Where do I stand on the question of the Palestinian leadership's September vote at the United Nations to gain recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders ?As a political scientist who is fascinated by history, I can't but recall what Karl Marx said: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

This quote is more important for Palestinians than others because we tend to repeat our mistakes to the extent that even Marx's eloquence could fail to illustrate our condition.

We have also become so sensitive to the claim that we have missed "historical opportunities" that we are ready to accept anything that looks vaguely like an opening.

The Palestinian Authority's preparations on the ground for this next move can't but force me to remember the day after the Palestinian National Council adopted the Declaration of Independence on November 15, 1988. There were cries of victory and parades, only to discover that we had made some important concessions (accepting UN General Assembly Resolution 181and Security Council Resolution 242) for almost nothing in return. The same parades were held after the Oslo agreements that led to the fragmentation of the Palestinian territories and our communities.

As for this new move, we all know that there is no possibility whatsoever that Palestine will become a full member of the UN, so long as the US has veto power in the Security Council. In this case, the benefits of the other available scenarios (for example, a status enabling the Palestinians to legally challenge Israel, etc.) do not make up for the losses. These, say many Palestinians in the Diaspora, in Gaza and in the West Bank, mean abandoning the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Also, the move will compromise UN Resolution 181 that gave Palestinians a state on 44 percent of the historical land of Palestine. Palestinians fear that, if the UN bid succeeds, nothing will later change Israel's policies--made possible by its overwhelming power--of confiscating land, controlling borders and snatching all resources on Palestinian land.

In case the move to the UN fails, the Palestinian leadership (that keeps reminding all concerned that the negotiations with Israel will resume the following day) will be on weak footing. Negotiations will be resumed with two files omitted: the future of the refugees and the representation of the PLO.

Palestinians have never lacked legal instruments to challenge Israel. We achieved an important victory when the International Court of Justice ruled the Israeli separation wall illegal. Another achievement was culminated in the Goldstone report on Israel's war in Gaza. The two legal achievements were not followed or built on by the Palestinian leadership, however. Both cases were important in holding Israel accountable through the international community and its legal system. However, the United States' unconditional political support of Israel rendered the challenge almost in vain. As such, nothing justifies the deepening of the political split between Palestinians.

This time the division will extend beyond the Palestinian Authority-Hamas split to a division between the occupied territories and the Palestinian Diaspora. One of the expected results of the UN move is that the PLO, which represents all Palestinians and was recognized internationally as their "sole" representative at the UN in 1974, will be subsumed to the Palestinian Authority, which represents only West Bankers.

The potential for this split is made more real by the distrust Palestinians have for their leadership, particularly after the leaked revelations that exposed grave "mistakes" and misconduct by the Palestinian negotiating team.-Published 19/09/2011 ©

Saleh Abdel Jawad is a political scientist and dean of the Faculty of Law and Public Administration at Birzeit University.