Palestinians see UN session as window for US to show support

Palestinians seek timetable amid debate about Abbas’ future.

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York, September 23 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York, September 23
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WEST BANK – There are no surprises expected when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas takes to the podium at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday even if different parties come away with vastly different reactions.
While many will be looking for an indication that the Palestinian position has softened, following fifty days of warfare between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians, for their part, will be looking to Washington for some sign that the US administration has its back, can be trusted to be an honest broker, and be willing to pressure Israel into making commitments long talked-about but never agreed-to or implemented.
Far from “dropping a bomb” in Turtle Bay, Abbas and other Palestinian officials have been clarifying his proposal in recent days: nine months of renewed talks predicated, per an American promise, upon a return to the pre-1967 borders, and the withdrawal of all Israeli forces over the next three years. Or in Abbas’ words, “An end to the occupation” and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While some argue that Abbas is oversimplifying one of the most complex conflicts in recent times, his associate Dr. Mohammed Shtayyeh, an economist and senior member of the West Bank's dominant PA-affiliated Fatah faction, told The Media Line that the Palestinian Authority leader believes he can finalize his plan with the Americans based on previous discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Inserting the American administration into an old adage, Shtayyeh admonished that “It’s not enough to bring the horse to the river, because you can’t force him to drink. But if he becomes thirsty, then he can be forced to drink, something that has not yet happened with Netanyahu.”
The Palestinian official said Abbas’ time in New York will include meetings with a variety of diplomatic personalities. “There will be a review of the financial situation of the Palestinians, with special focus on how to break the status quo,” which, as he explained, meant returning to violence or starting a new round of non-productive talks.
This time around, though, the Palestinians are demanding a different demeanor from Washington: Shtayyeh said the fact that the US was leading a Middle Eastern coalition against ISIS was “very disappointing,” as it diverts attention from the issue of Palestine.
With most observers predicting the Obama administration will veto Abbas' plan if it is placed in the form of the binding United Nations Security Council resolution, Shtayyeh warned that the resulting disillusionment with the entire peace process would not be limited to the political echelon, but would embrace the public as well.
He warned that “A veto by the Americans will only bring more frustration to the people who had high hopes when Barack Obama was elected president.”
PA Foreign Ministry’s UN expert Ammar Hijazi agrees. He suggested that a US veto of Abbas’ plan would send the wrong message to the Palestinian people and would be counterproductive. “We are not in the business of confronting the US, but finding solutions,” Hijazi told The Media Line. He said the Palestinian leadership was working towards the two-state solution but was being undermined by Israel.
“We don’t see why we should be blocked; it’s not the right step forward to achieving a Palestinian state,” he said, adding that the US should at least abstain rather than veto.
Last week, Abbas said that if the US does veto his plan, he would seek membership in a number of international institutions and agencies, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), which could try Israel for war crimes. But the presence of the Palestinian leader at the UN has already put a strain on US-Palestinian relations.
Political Analyst Nour Odeh described the PA’s relationship with the US as lopsided, far different from the bilateral relations America enjoys with others. “Abbas cannot confront the US, and the Palestinian people know this,” she said.
However, Odeh called the PA’s position towards Israel’s security "illogical" and damaging to the president and the Palestinian cause.
“They (the Americans) have yet to realize that the more the Palestinian leader is praised for protecting the security of Israel, the less popular he is among his people,” she said. “Advancing the cause of the Palestinians should be Abbas' priority.”
Odeh’s comments reflect a broader debate: “Is the US an honest broker?”
Dr. Amneh Badran-Abu Sitta, chairman of the department of political science at Al-Quds University, doesn’t think so. She says Abbas is trapped in a “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” situation. “The PA has trapped itself in the Oslo agreement and they are not able to get rid of it because that would mean breaking the chains that Israel and the international community have imposed on them. At the same time, they will lose everything they’ve started to build in terms of state institutions.”
Badran-Abu Sitta went on to say that it’s a shame that the Palestinians are the ones that always have to prove eligibility for negotiating with Israel. Being eligible, she says, “means meeting Israeli security demands as well as accepting facts on the ground.” “Abbas has caused ‘Palestine-fatigue’ in much of the international community because of his indecisiveness as president,” insists Fadi Elsalameen, a senior fellow at the American Security Project.
“He decides to go to the ICC one day, and the next he sends his foreign minister to withdraw the application. People are tired of him.”
Referring to topics of conversation at the UN during opening week, Elsalameen argued that “the conversation here surrounds Ebola in Africa and fighting ISIS in the Middle East. No one is discussing Abbas or Palestine the way they used to, thanks to Abbas.”
Meanwhile, Shtayyeh stated that it has not been a pleasant ride for the Palestinian people and sometimes they move backwards rather than forwards. “The worry is that there is no political horizon. That’s the reality. But we will not go into violence. We hope that the internationalization of the cause will do something and that’s why Abbas is going to the UN,” he said.