Pro-Palestinian Activists in U.S. Optimistic About UN Vote

Pro-Palestinian activists and business leaders meet in Washington, claiming upcoming vote in UN on Palestinian statehood will be the game changer.

Despite the rapid unraveling of Israeli ties with both Turkey and Egypt, September is still seen as the month that would precipitate a “diplomatic tsunami" as a result of the impending UN vote on Palestinian statehood, letting the fact that two Israeli ambassadors were forced to leave neighboring countries take a distant backseat.

The leftist pro-Israeli lobby J Street warned in a statement that they cannot support the Palestinian UN bid, because it won't lead to the resolution of the conflict, and might only further escalate tensions. The PLO mission representative to Washington expressed his disappointment with J Street’s decision to align itself with other pro-Israeli organizations’ position on the vote.

The Americans for Peace Now President and CEO Debra DeLee warned in a statement on Monday that "a showdown at the UN entails real risks for Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States, particularly in the context of the ongoing upheaval across the Arab world", urging the Obama administration to offer "a bold initiative that can forestall an unnecessary and politically explosive showdown in either the United Nations Security Council or the General Assembly".

It's not clear yet what the exact wording of the proposal will be and when it will be voted upon, but there are few optimists who see it as a major breakthrough. Some of these optimists gathered last week at the New America Foundation suite in Washington.

Presenting the attendants with colorful brochure titled "Palestine is ready for Statehood", some Palestinian activists and business leaders came together, claiming the vote will be the game changer.

"There is a lot of pessimism around the table", observed Zahi Khouri, founder and CEO of the Palestinian National Beverage Company at the gathering, adding "I don't know who is going to be the husband and the wife, but the Israelis and the Palestinians have to sleep together.”

Khouri called on participants in the gathering to clarify this message to decision makers and the public at large that “Palestine is not only ready, it's a major asset to the region - and to the U.S.”

He continued, saying “being a non-state member gives you a certain definition - if all of this means nothing, nothing will change. But if it means something - a lot will change on the ground, negotiations will take a different turn, and we hope that the U.S., being the champion of freedom around the world, will see that it is all to the benefit of Israel, the U.S. and the Palestinians.”

Khouri said that although recognition of statehood will take a lot of give and take, Palestine deserves the right to be a member of the UN, vowing not to give up on this right.

“If you want a doomsday scenario, it's very easy to dwell on it,” Khouri said, “but with the recognition of the state by the UN the rules will change, there will be parameters, and I expect a lot of relaxation on the Israeli side, and economic opportunities will emerge".

The beverage company founder acknowledged that he had seen the warning issued by Congress members, saying that the proposal and ensuing vote could lead to punitive steps, such as cutting off financial aid to the Palestinians (a step that the US Administration opposes).

"I am a U.S. citizen, and I don't think the Hill is the U.S.", said Khouri adding that "it represents maybe 25% of the U.S.”

He claimed that American values and belief in freedom are in line with Palestinian aspirations. Khouri said that “the U.S. should be contributor to the stability, but it has been blindly one-sided in all its policies. It doesn't help. Israel may be the greatest ally in the Middle East, but it is also very unpopular on the street level. And eventually it will impact the thinking of governments in the region".

Khouri went on to discuss the regional importance of Palestinians to the United States, saying "Palestinians are the regional citizens, they are all over the Middle East. We can create a major economy for Palestine as well as for Israel.”

He added that “ 24 Arab countries are open for us. We'll be a major market for the Israeli economy, of course, under the peace agreement".

Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian ambassador and government official, cautioned that the situation might deteriorate in the short term, saying "people know the situation is not going to change the next day, but we have a certain consensus on this step of going to the UN. We've been waiting for 22 years, we've signed agreements, we even reconciled between us and Hamas because we want to replicate the success that we had at the West Bank.”

Khoury claimed that the Palestinian leadership is trying to meet its constituents’ expectations, and there is a dire need for a paradigm shift.

He made clear that “this is not a threat to anybody, we don't want to risk our relations with the U.S. or anybody else, but it's the only choice we have to move forward and an opportunity for us all to move forward and create stability".

Some of the Palestinian organizations' leaders have been more pessimistic about the impact of the UN vote on Palestinian-U.S. relations.

Dr. Ziad Asali, president of the "American Task Force in Palestine", warned in an article published in the "Foreign Policy" journal that "though the Palestinian people are perfectly entitled to seek bilateral and multilateral recognition, their action at the United Nations could lead to a dangerous diplomatic confrontation.”

Asali continued, saying “Palestinians might ask the Security Council for full UN membership, which would be vetoed by the United States, or take other actions in the General Assembly that would place it and its allies at odds with the United States, Israel, and major Western powers".

Ghaith Al-Omari, an Executive Director of the task force who is perceived as the Palestinian lobby in Washington, told "Haaretz" that he is concerned about the ability of Palestinian leaders to control the demonstrations that they support or initiate.

"The Palestinian security forces have been doing scenarios in terms of how do you keep demonstrations peaceful", he said, asking "how do you keep them away from friction points - checkpoints, settlements?”

Al-Omari acknowledged that it is a risky situation in terms of both Palestinian and Israeli security, however he expressed major concern that “if people's expectations are raised, they expect things to change on the ground. And things might change for the worse on the ground. It may lead to the high frustrations and actions against the Palestinian leaders.”

He called for a management of expectations, “mitigating the negative effects on the ground in a way that won't undermine the achievements of the security and the state building".

Al-Omari said he would like to try to avoid confrontation between the American and the Palestinian leadership, saying “these relations are the major asset for the Palestinian leadership.”

He referred to the Obama administration’s attempts to revive negotiations, saying the U.S. should not abandon these efforts, despite the questionable prospect of their revival.

He also suggested looking for a less contentious wording of the resolution, saying, “it might be opposed by the US, but not vigorously opposed. And the Palestinian should be looking for the language that will not precipitate deep crisis".

Al-Omari doesn't expect the negotiations to be resumed after the vote, saying the Palestinian leadership must “make sure the ground doesn't collapse after the vote, and preserve the building of the institutions process, until the negotiations will resume.”

He cautioned that “we shouldn't invest all in one place, we should invest in the reality on the ground", alluding to the claims of opponents to the UN vote who defined it as an "imaginary state".

UN Security Council - AP - January 13, 2010