Palestinians Softening UN Bid to Avoid Pre-election Confrontation With Obama

Recent remarks by the Palestinian Authority show how much the PA wants to avoid seeking UN recognition as a nonmember state before the U.S. elections in November.

The remarks Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki made to the Associated Press on Tuesday clarify just how desperately the Palestinian Authority is seeking to avoid asking the UN General Assembly to recognize the PA as a non-member state before the U.S. presidential elections.

Maliki, who gave a lengthy address on Tuesday to the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran, later spoke with an AP reporter in Ramallah and told him that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would be addressing the General Assembly on September 27 and would say that the Palestinian Liberation Organization had decided to request such recognition from the United Nations. Abbas will add, however, that he intends to authorize PLO representative to the United Nations Riad Mansour to apply for that status at the appropriate time.

This remark leaves a great deal of wiggle room for the PA, which doesn’t want to antagonize U.S. President Barak Obama on the eve of his re-election bid, particularly given the a relatively good chance that the Democrat will win a second term. The Palestinians have no reason to generate hostility in Washington when what’s at stake – nonmember status in the UN General Assembly – is a relatively limited objective.

After Abbas’ efforts in the General Assembly last September ended in failure, another application to the General Assembly, and not even for member status at that, is as likely to be mocked by the Palestinian “street” as supported. But the overwhelming consideration is not to directly confront the Obama administration, which has conveyed no few warnings to Abbas against pushing the envelope too far.

Meanwhile, it seems as if the PLO wants to focus its efforts on an internal confrontation with Hamas. Maliki stressed on Tuesday in his speech in Iran that the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, perhaps in an effort to convey a message to Tehran, which had invited Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to the conference (although conference organizers denied this).

Abbas will be joining Maliki in Tehran on Wednesday, and will presumably be embraced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He will arrive at the conference as the winner in the showdown against the Gaza ruler, after Hamas decided to forgo the meeting.

But while the fact that Hamas backed out ostensibly confers recognition of Abbas’ senior status, the organization’s decision stemmed primarily from a desire to avoid the Iranian embrace, a move that is likely to serve the group well as it struggles for Arab and even Palestinian public opinion. Hamas refused the Iranian invitation to Haniyeh out of a desire to evade a photo-op with Iranian leaders, who are perceived by the general Arab public and the Palestinians as overly enthusiastic supporters of the pariah regime in Damascus.

So while Haniyeh missed the opportunity to tour the markets of Tehran, he has probably scored a few points in Gaza and the West Bank.