Palestinians Brace for Repercussions Over UN Statehood Bid

A senior Palestinian official says Abbas leaning toward waiting until after the U.S. vote, in line with a U.S. request, to avoid further strain to his relationship with the Obama administration.

The Palestinians are bracing for possible punitive reactions by the United States and Israel if they go ahead with plans to seek UN General Assembly recognition of "Palestine" as a non-member observer state, according to an internal document obtained yesterday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, backed by the Arab League, is ready in principle to take this step, but hasn't decided whether to submit the request when the General Assembly convenes in September or to wait until after the U.S. presidential election in November.

A senior Palestinian official said Abbas leans toward waiting until after the U.S. vote, in line with a U.S. request, to avoid further strain to his relationship with the Obama administration.

However, some members of Abbas' inner circle are pushing for a September bid, arguing that the Palestinians have gained nothing by trying to appease the U.S.

"We have nothing to lose from the Americans," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee. "What we need is to move fast."

The final decision is up to Abbas.

Palestinian officials have said they have the required votes in the General Assembly to win recognition.

A bid last year to win full UN membership for Palestine, rather than remain as an observer state, failed because the Palestinians did not have sufficient support in the UN Security Council.

Late last month, Abbas won Arab League backing for his planned General Assembly bid, but the league's foreign ministers will decide on the timing only when they meet again in Cairo in early September.

An internal Palestinian document prepared by the PLO's Negotiations Support Unit laid out the pros and cons of seeking UN recognition.

On the downside, both Israel and the United States have a whole arsenal of punitive measures at their disposal, the document said. The United States could close the PLO mission in Washington, suspend millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians or withhold contributions to any UN agency the Palestinians try to join, the document said.

Possible Israeli reactions could range from canceling interim peace deals, annexing parts of the West Bank or increasing restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement, the document said.

The document said all Palestinian institutions should get ready for any of these scenarios. The paper was presented to the Arab League last month and on Wednesday was discussed by leaders of Abbas' Fatah movement.

"We discussed the different scenarios... and decided to go [to the General Assembly] regardless of the pressure and the threats," said Mahmoud Aloul, a Fatah leader. "The date is up to the Arab League. ... For us, the sooner the better."

Israeli government officials said the Palestinians should focus on renewing talks with Israel instead of seeking international support.

"If the Palestinians really wanted to improve the situation here on the ground and try to take the first step toward some reasonable solution of the conflict, they should have invested all their efforts in diplomatic moves in the region," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Mahmoud Abbas