Palestinian Leadership Divided Over Plan to Seek UN Recognition

While PA President Abbas is determined to seek unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state in September, a senior group of Palestinians have said they believe the move could do more harm than good.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The Palestinian leadership is sharply divided over the unilateral move to seek recognition from the United Nations General Assembly in September. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is determined to go through with the move, a group of senior Palestinians have said in closed conversations that they oppose it because they believe seeking recognition from the United Nations could do more harm than good to their cause.

Two senior European diplomats who have been holding talks with the Palestinians over the past few weeks, as well as three Israeli officials - some of whom are not in governmental roles and some of whom are in senior government positions - told Haaretz that the Palestinians are debating the matter.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah in May, 2011.Credit: AP

Among those opposed to the United Nations declaration are senior officials, including PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and the former Palestinian UN envoy Nasser al-Qudwa. The latter's opposition is particularly significant because he is considered the most experienced Palestinian official when it comes to dealing with the United Nations. He is also considered likely to run for PA president after Abbas retires.

"More and more senior Palestinians are beginning to reconsider the approach to the United Nations," said a senior European diplomat who met about a week ago with two Palestinian ministers.

An Israeli official who met with senior Palestinians and who disagrees with the move said, "Some of them are beginning to understand that approaching the United Nations might hurt Israel, but it won't help the Palestinians."

Opponents say a declaration of statehood in the United Nations could negatively impact relations with the United States, especially with the U.S. Congress. Six months ago, Congress passed a resolution, albeit a declarative one only, stating that it would oppose a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations.

Opponents also say that even if the resolution passes in the General Assembly, there would be no change on the ground, which could mean escalation to a new intifada. They also say that such a declaration could provide the Palestinians a state within provisional borders, taking issues like East Jerusalem and refugees off the table.

Senior PA figures Saeb Erekat and Nabil Abu Rudaineh met on Monday in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They conveyed a message from Abbas to Clinton and other senior U.S. officials that the PA was ready to return to the negotiating table on the basis of President Barack Obama's May 19 speech - supporting a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with agreed swaps of territory - but only if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly expresses similar willingness.

"If Netanyahu refuses, we will approach the UN secretary general and ask for full membership of Palestine in the United Nations," Erekat told Clinton.

Abbas' main fear is that the United States will veto the proposal in the Security Council. Erekat tried to persuade the United States that Abbas would renew talks with Israel immediately after the declaration of a Palestinian state. He also told Clinton that Abbas would commit to this in a letter to the UN secretary general and would announce publicly that he recognized Israel within the 1967 borders.

Erekat told Clinton that from the Palestinian perspective the move was not unilateral. He said they did not intend to isolate Israel or encourage delegitimization of Israel, but rather help reach a two-state solution.

If negotiations are not renewed based on the Obama speech, Abbas is determined to turn to the United Nations as early as July 15. Erekat is among the officials who support the unilateral move. Although his experience with the United Nations is limited, he is entirely dependent on Abbas and therefore disinclined to oppose him. Senior Fatah official Nabil Sha'ath, who toes an extremist line vis-a-vis Israel and was among those who pushed for reconciliation with Hamas, is also in favor of the UN option.

"Abu Mazen [Abbas] wants the UN move and is uninterested in renewing the talks," said a senior government official in Jerusalem who is very involved in the Palestinian issue and preparations for the September vote.

"Abu Mazen wants to leave his imprint and be the one during whose term Palestinian reconciliation and recognition in the United Nations takes place. There are a great many who oppose this line of his, but so far, his is the dominant and decisive voice," the official said.



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