President Barack Obama has already knocked the proposed Palestinian bid to get a unilaterally declared Palestinian State recognized by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) this Friday by declaring the U.S. will use its power of veto.
But it appears that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has firmly chartered his course and, for the first time, will not be derailed by Washington’s threats and promises.
So what’s the big deal, you may think? It’s not going to happen even if four out of the five permanent UNSC member countries and all ten nonpermanent members vote in favor. The game may be lost even before the kick-off but this doesn’t mean the attempt doesn’t have great value.
In the first place, Abbas will discover which states are sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle and which are prepared to put their money where their mouth is whether the Obama administration likes it or not.
Secondly, this is his opportunity to show his people that he’s no longer taking his marching orders from the White House as he has done to one degree or another throughout his presidency receiving absolutely nothing in return. He split Fatah from Hamas on the say-so of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as evidenced by a leaked memo. And his negotiating team — led by Saeb Erekat who has spent two decades fruitlessly talking with Israelis about peace — became so despondent that they were willing to allow Israel to keep Jewish settlements illegally constructed in East Jerusalem and to accept the return of just 10,000 refugees, according to leaked Palestinian Papers.
Thirdly, in the event America’s Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice is the lone naysayer — as she was earlier this year to block a UNSC Resolution condemning Israel’s settlement building ironically echoing the sentiments of her own administration — the U.S. will be placed under an embarrassing spotlight.
More importantly, the fading superpower will likely lose friends in the Arab world as the Kingdom’s former Ambassador to Washington Prince Turki al-Faisal pointed out in his recent New York Times op-ed headed “Veto a state, lose an ally.” Prince Turki hopes the U.S. will support “the Palestinian bid for statehood else risk “losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. He warns that if the U.S. doesn’t choose the path of justice and peace, its regional influence “will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region.” He also suggests that the Saudi leadership “would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy.”
By failing to keep his promise that a Palestinian state would be in existence by September, turning a blind eye to Israel’s frenzied settlement expansion and using his country’s UNSC veto against Palestinian interests, President Obama has clearly taken sides — although prior to taking office he was sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle attending fundraisers and pro-Palestinian events.
But with Congress and the pro-Israel lobby breathing down his neck the man who reached out to the Muslim world and brought hope to the Palestinians has buried his personal principles to gain votes. Worse, he has recently tried to con President Abbas, sending two U.S. envoys with a proposal that, if signed up to by the Palestinians would amount to their legalizing Israeli colonies on their own land. Abbas referred to this attempt to pull the wool over his eyes as the last straw.
There is no shred of doubt which side Congress is on when the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is discussing legislation that would punish the Palestinians by depriving them of U.S. aid and closing down their mission in Washington. There are some in the committee who would like to go much further and are mulling cutting aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that acts as a lifeline to registered Palestinian refugees. The Committee Republican Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is campaigning to withdraw America’s contribution to the entire U.N. operation, amounting to 22 percent, if its members don’t conform to U.S. and Israeli interests.
In other words, in the event the Palestinian Authority succeed in upgrading their nation status in the U.N. General Assembly to “nonvoting observer state” subsequent to its bid in the UNSC, Ros-Lehtinen would retaliate by stripping the U.N. of funding. Congress which is supposed to uphold the law is actively attempting to thwart the Palestinians’ legitimate legal rights behaving more like a gang than representatives of a respected entity.
Israel’s Netanyahu-led government is also plotting to make Palestinian lives miserable. There is plan to withhold all custom levies due to the Palestinian National Authority with one camp clamoring to cut-off security cooperation with the PA that could lead to its demise. Israel has also drafted emergency laws to the detriment of the lives of ordinary Palestinians.
Israel should understand such measures could boomerang eliciting increased worldwide empathy for the occupied people and the hardening of Arab resolve to hold out a hand to them on the diplomatic and financial fronts.
Israel is already feeling isolated. In recent weeks it has to recall its ambassadors from Turkey, Egypt and Jordan while the Egyptian Prime Minister has announced Camp David is not sacred. At the same time, there is an increased Turkish naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the possibility of a military confrontation should the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan carry out his threat to have aid-bearing vessels to Gaza escorted by Turkish warships. Erdogan is also trying to rally Arab states to join his own in sanctioning both Israel and the U.S. if the blockade of Gaza endures.
Mahmoud Abbas may have much to lose by defying Washington and Tel Aviv but he may also have more to gain. After 60 years of oppression and humiliation, it’s beyond time that he held fast to his principles, gained the respect of his people and let the chips fall where they may.
(The writer is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. This article first appeared in Arab News on Sept. 19, 2011)