September 12, 2011 Edition 27 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
International efforts to avoid the Palestinian UN bid
The moment of truth  - Ghassan Khatib
Let's be clear: the Palestinian leadership cannot live with the continuation of the status quo.

The US is making a mistake  - Yossi Alpher
What peace process? The one Washington has failed to promote for two and a half years?

Bluff called, pressure on  - Omar Rahman
Going to the UN was an idea whose implications had not been given much forethought.

International efforts will fail because western policy is bad  - Barry Rubin
Since the PLO has nothing to lose internationally, it has no incentive to drop the campaign.

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The moment of truth
 Ghassan Khatib
About a week before the start of the annual meeting of the United Nations, during which Palestinians plan to submit an application for state membership, efforts are intensifying to either avoid the move entirely or influence it.

Different members of the international community are reacting in various ways to the bid. Israel and the United States are entirely opposed to raising the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the world body. The reason for their opposition is likely that such a move would embarrass them. The behavior of Israel and the Americans in the ongoing bilateral peace process has never been consistent with international legality and this is certain to come up in the United Nations, where international law is made. Further, it may mean that the US loses its monopoly on mediating the bilateral negotiations. Instead, the United States and Israel are insisting on continuing the bilateral track, despite its failure to move the two sides towards achieving their objectives over nearly 20 years of negotiations.

The position of European countries is somewhat contrasting. They do not oppose the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations, but believe that the UN General Assembly rather than the Security Council is the right venue. They also insist that the establishment of the Palestinian state--which they support--must be an outcome of bilateral negotiations.

The problem with this EU position is that Israel will always have a conflict of interest in this process because the establishment of an independent Palestinian state comes at the expense of its occupation--one Palestinians have learned over the decades Israel is loathe to give up. As such, the bilateral negotiations give Israel, an occupying power, veto power over the establishment of a Palestinian state and the internationally-sanctioned two-state solution.

World efforts to influence Palestinian plans for debating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the United Nations kicked off with the French initiative, which followed and was based on US President Barack Obama's May 19 speech to the State Department. This speech called for a resumption of talks on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. The French initiative was rejected and dismissed by Israel and the US.

More recently, international efforts have intensified, involving the European Union, particularly through EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, the US through envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross, and the Quartet through Tony Blair. These parties are exploring a "package deal" that will give Palestinians a gesture towards their goal of statehood recognition, such as UN non-member state status, and call for the resumption of bilateral negotiations (with no preconditions) through terms of reference based on Obama's speech and the EU's December 2009 statement on the peace process. At the same time, the package satisfies the US by avoiding a resolution at the UN Security Council, addressing instead the General Assembly. This EU effort has so far failed because Israel rejected the reference to the borders of 1967 and granting Palestinians non-member state status.

Palestinians see one major problem with this package. It calls for the resumption of negotiations without addressing the Palestinian need for an Israeli cessation of settlement expansion.

Let's be clear: the Palestinian leadership cannot live with the continuation of the status quo. The Palestinian leadership cannot afford the continuation of the main features of the current reality: negotiations at the same time that Israel keeps building settlements, with little or no hope of ending the occupation, and in parallel with declining legitimacy as represented by the postponement of elections and the ongoing conflict with Hamas. This is even more true now that Palestinians' Arab brethren are demanding freedom and democracy across the region. Many Palestinian politicians and analysts have warned time and time again that this status quo is unsustainable. We seem to be approaching the moment of truth.-Published 12/9/2011

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

The US is making a mistake
 Yossi Alpher
American peace emissary David Hale and presidential adviser Dennis Ross met on September 7 with PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and threatened them in no uncertain terms with dire consequences should the Palestinians pursue their statehood quest at the United Nations. Some of those threats are frightening, not just for Palestinians but for anyone interested in Israeli-Palestinian stability: deterioration in Palestinian Authority-United States relations and withholding of American funds and other support for the PA would indeed be disastrous.

One other threatened "consequence" could only make me smile: The UN route, Ross and Hale intoned, would "destroy the peace process".

What peace process? The one Washington has failed to promote for two and a half years, leading to its demise and catalyzing the Palestinian UN initiative?

Taken together, both the serious and the funny threats reflect the bankruptcy of US policy toward Israeli-Palestinian affairs. Even if we accept the American admonition that the UN route is "not an option" and will have serious consequences, will punishing Abbas, the PLO and the PA for going to the UN improve matters after the fact, or make them worse by undercutting Palestinian moderates? And even if the US miraculously succeeds in pressuring Abbas to back off from the UN and return to negotiations, do those talks have the slightest chance of success?

Indeed, it's hard to believe that the US will really follow through on its threats. President Barack Obama has already cautioned Israel not to withdraw resources in a way that would harm Palestinian security efforts.

The Obama administration has added insult to the injuries it is inflicting on the peace process by pressuring leading European countries, too, to oppose the Palestinian UN statehood bid and to avoid negotiating with the PLO the parameters of a "win-win" resolution of the sort I have been advocating in these virtual pages for months. To their credit, some Europeans have refused to bow to Washington. But all in all, by failing to achieve a unified position regarding the Palestinians UN bid, the European Union has once again demonstrated its political weakness in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This apparently leaves us with the following sorry reality as the PLO's date with the UN approaches. The combination of American pressures and European indecision may be moving the PLO leadership to opt for a minimal "Vatican status" achievement at the General Assembly that falls short of full statehood. Conceivably, the Europeans will insist that the General Assembly resolution contain clauses that mitigate in favor of future peace efforts, such as a commitment to negotiate all outstanding differences bilaterally rather than take them to the International Court of Justice where the only outcome can be further dangerous isolation of Israel. The PLO will, under this scenario, acquiesce in European requests because the support of a majority of the EU is important to the Palestinians and because the Europeans will commit to pressuring Washington and Jerusalem not to "punish" the Palestinian Authority financially.

But if the damage is that minimal, one might ask, why have I termed this outcome "sorry"?

Because any resolution or even bypass of the current UN dilemma that essentially returns the parties to a non-existent negotiating table to discuss a non-existent peace process prolongs and even exacerbates a dangerous reality on the ground. And it ignores the important messages embodied in PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas' decision to opt for the UN route: the Oslo-based final status process has outlived its usefulness, and a new, state-to-state paradigm that prioritizes the 1967 issues of territory and statehood over the more stubborn and older "narrative" issues of refugees and holy places represents a unique opportunity to advance achievable solutions and better manage the intransigent issues.

The emerging reality of the current UN crisis is a reminder that the United States alone holds the keys to serious international involvement in a Middle East peace process. But it is also a statement of failure--based on lack of understanding and political weakness--on the part of the Obama administration. Instead of leveraging the Palestinian UN initiative into a "win-win" decision that balances Palestinian statehood with achievements and safeguards for Israel and advances peace and stability, we will return from the UN to a situation of no-peace, no stability and no productive negotiations.

Accordingly, the next 14 months of American diplomatic paralysis--coupled with critical developments in the Arab revolutionary wave, Netanyahu government intransigence and settlement-building and Palestinian political fragmentation and weakness--could prove doubly dangerous for overall Israel-Arab stability.-Published 12/9/2011 ©

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.

Bluff called, pressure on
 Omar Rahman
Just over one year ago, the United States offered Israel a generous package of incentives in a last ditch attempt to persuade the Netanyahu government to extend its 10-month settlement moratorium by an additional three months--an offer it obstinately declined. This seemingly minor episode is just one link in the chain of events that has led the Palestinians to the doorstep of the United Nations in a bid to alter the dynamics of their conflict with Israel.

At the time, the Palestinian leadership threatened that if Israel did not give up its unmitigated settlement construction and return to the negotiation table in good faith, they would be compelled to play one of the other cards up their sleeve.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, proving himself an incapable statesman despite his claims, called the Palestinians' bluff and forced them to put down on the table the only practicable card they were actually holding: going to the UN. It was an idea whose implications, in actuality, had not been given much forethought, along with the inevitability of international involvement to dissuade Palestinians from altering the status-quo and making things uncomfortable for everybody.

This impulse was only made worse when the Israelis, acting in characteristic fashion, overreacted. The Palestinians found it irresistible to watch the Israelis squirm, and the ball was permitted to keep rolling down the hill until the Palestinian leadership was no longer able to stop it.

It was at this point that the Americans, deeming the Palestinians to be serious, began to get worried. President Barack Obama had already capitulated to Netanyahu once before, after witnessing the Israeli leader flex his political muscles in Washington and showcase that Israel could do what the American president could not: cross the partisan divide. Congress once again pledged its allegiance to Israel and threatened the Palestinians with an end to US aid if they executed their plans.

Obama knew that if the Palestinians went to the United Nations then he would be forced to take Israel's side, contradicting his own policies and making his administration look more foolish and weak than before. This is something that he cannot abide.

Both Israel and America went on the diplomatic offensive, making appeals, bribes and threats to the members of the international community in a mad scramble to convince the Palestinians that they did not have as many friends as they thought they had.

The critical arena for this popularity contest is inevitably the European Union. If Israel and the US are able to convince Europe's major players to stand by their side, they believe they can claim the "moral majority", and even if the Palestinians obtain a real majority in the UN, not much will change.

On the other hand, if the Palestinians are able to get the European Union to recognize Palestinian statehood at the UN, then Israel would be backed into a corner with the US as the sole protector of the apartheid state.

The Europeans remain deeply divided over the issue. Unable to come to an internal consensus and reluctant to choose between the two sides, Europe has gone on an offensive of its own, trying to convince Palestinians to end what they see as a foolish collision course at the UN, and return to the negotiations table.

The Quartet, of which the EU and the US are a part, seems more interested in doing whatever it takes to maintain the unsustainable status quo than taking creative steps to break the deadlock to achieve a peaceful solution.

Yet, if Netanyahu thought that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had "climbed a tall tree" over the settlements and couldn't get down, Abbas was on top of the Empire State building with this one. With no new ideas, a host of domestic problems, and popular turmoil engulfing the region, Abbas has looked around and realized that he cannot climb back down and survive.

It is clear that no matter how much international pressure the Palestine Liberation Organization receives, its leaders cannot retreat and change course now. The only possibility is that they may lessen the blow by not forcing the United States' hand in the Security Council. This Friday, President Abbas is scheduled to address his public--days before heading to New York. We will see what he has in mind.-Published 12/9/2011

Omar Rahman is a freelance journalist writing at and based in Ramallah.

International efforts will fail because western policy is bad
 Barry Rubin
Here is the problem with "international efforts to avoid the Palestinian UN bid." This introductory statement is not an attempt to avoid giving constructive advice. Rather, giving constructive advice requires using this as a starting point and explaining why this is true.

First, it's too late. The Palestine Liberation Organization has been talking repeatedly about this gambit for almost a year. Why only now, when the PLO is so thoroughly committed to this effort, is the United States government staging a campaign against unilateral independence? The failure to start earlier has destroyed any attempt to avoid this disastrous outcome.

Second, the US government did virtually nothing to mobilize other countries to oppose this campaign. Starting in late 2010, the White House should have begun lining up votes. American ambassadors should have been given high-priority instructions to talk with the leaders of the countries to which they were accredited and put together a coalition to avoid the coming crisis. The US failed to do so.

Third, the US government has never used real leverage to persuade the PLO to relent or to convince other countries to oppose United Nations General Assembly backing for a unilateral independence bid. No threats have been made; no benefits offered; no power applied.

Clearly, this is not how international affairs should be conducted. Given neither incentive nor warning, dozens of countries have no compelling reason to vote "no". On the contrary, they know they are getting a free ride. They can vote "yes" or at most abstain, protected from their irresponsible behavior by the knowledge that the United States will veto the proposal in the Security Council. The US government will take the heat while the others can play progressive, humanitarian friends of the Arab world and Muslims.

As for the PLO, without some threat of an aid cut-off, an end or sharp reduction in US diplomatic support for the Palestinian Authority, or some other price, why should it drop a high-publicity, no-cost campaign that--as we will see in a moment--offers so many political benefits?

Equally debilitating is the failure of the counter-campaign to use the most serious and important arguments--the only ones that might be effective. The Palestinian strategy breaks every commitment made to Israel and internationally-guaranteed since 1993. These are the very commitments on which the Palestinian Authority itself is based.

The PLO simply abandons the principle that any solution will be on the basis of mutual negotiations. It does so after it rejected the US-proposed solution of 2000 and after rejecting any negotiations for two years. The US refusal to make this argument parallels the Obama administration's refusal to criticize or use leverage against the PLO, thus guaranteeing US failure.

Equally, there is no attempt to argue the future implications of this gambit. After all, if the PLO has an internationally-recognized state it has no incentive to negotiate or compromise in future. Equally, Israel's main asset--the ability to trade territory in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state--is removed with no concomitant gain. What then is Israel's incentive to make more concessions and take more risks?

Thus, the unilateral independence campaign and its at least partial success--certainly from a public relations' perspective--kills the peace process for many years to come. Yet this fact has not energized the campaign, galvanized the US government into strong action, or persuaded other countries to oppose the proposal.

As if all this weren't enough, the prize is being given to the PLO at a time when it is in partnership (albeit a very conflictual one) with Hamas, a group that opposes compromise, peaceful resolution, the existence of Israel, US interests, and much more. The US government has not even pointed out that the government to be recognized includes this major pro-genocide, terrorist, revolutionary Islamist, anti-Semitic, and bitterly anti-western component.

Since the PLO has nothing to lose internationally, it has no incentive to drop the campaign. Since it can make real gains by maintaining this effort, even if the United States ultimately vetoes the demand, once again it has no reason to change course.

Turning to the internal Palestinian situation, the current leadership cannot--due to public opinion, Hamas, and militant elements in the PA plus Fateh hierarchies--make peace or even negotiate seriously. Equally, the leadership does not want to make peace with Israel because most of its members are to one extent or another hardliners--as in the refusal of PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas to accept Israel as a Jewish state, end the conflict even in exchange for a Palestinian state, and agree to resettle Palestinian refugees in Palestine. The movement's goal remains to wipe Israel off the map. Getting a state without commitment, concession, or compromise furthers that goal.

Moreover, this initiative coincides perfectly with shorter-term PLO leadership goals. It doesn't want to negotiate with Israel, doesn't want to reach a compromise solution, and thus wasting the entire year of 2011 on this bid gives it an ideal strategy to mobilize internal support, blame Israel, and get everything it wants for nothing in return.

How can any non-punishing effort to persuade it to change ever possibly succeed?-Published 12/9/2011

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, "Israel: An Introduction" has just been published by Yale University Press.