Magazine article Moment

Wake Me Up When September Ends: Could Mahmoud Abbas's Efforts to Gain Recognition for a Palestinian State at the United Nations Lead to a Third Intifada?

Magazine article Moment

Wake Me Up When September Ends: Could Mahmoud Abbas's Efforts to Gain Recognition for a Palestinian State at the United Nations Lead to a Third Intifada?

Article excerpt

I'm worried about the coming September. I'm worried because the clouds of the next Palestinian-Israeli confrontation are already gathering, and there is no creative diplomatic effort to disperse them.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Recently in Washington, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the importance of Israeli-Palestinian peace and clashed publicly over its contours. Alas, their heated exchange bore little relevance to real-life developments on the ground.

In real life, the Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, is seeking independence through struggle, rather than through negotiations and compromise with Israel. When the U.N. General Assembly convenes in September, Abbas intends to seek its recognition of newly independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza "within the 1967 borders."

The Palestinian independence resolution is guaranteed a wide majority in the one-state, one-vote General Assembly, but its meaning will be largely symbolic.

Abbas understands that Palestine will not be established just by international decree as long as Israel controls the territory it aspires to claim. Nevertheless, in his view, a widely supported U.N. resolution will isolate Israel as an unlawful trespasser and give the Palestinians an invaluable tool in their diplomatic and legal fight to end its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its residual control over Gaza.

Mindful of Abbas' trap, Israel's leaders seek a way out of what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has termed a "diplomatic tsunami" in September. Israel cannot change the course of events at the U.N. General Assembly; at best, it can hope that several Western governments will join the U.S. in voting "no." Without the legitimacy of Western support, the new resolution might disappear in the U.N. archives just as a similar virtual recognition of Palestine did in 1988.

The Obama administration, angry and frustrated at both sides' intransigence, is mainly trying to save face. Afraid of being isolated alongside Israel in opposing Palestine's recognition, the U.S. is trying to dilute the resolution and make it less binding.

To gain support from his European allies, Obama has tried to put mild pressure on Israel by repackaging old American positions and asserting that the future borders of Palestine will be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed-upon territorial swaps. Netanyahu's immediate rejection of the president's formula--"Israel will not return to the indefensible 1967 lines"--has helped Obama's effort to show some distance between him and the Israeli leader.

Political realities, however, are decided on the ground in the Middle East, not in Washington or New York. …

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