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Musa A Keilani: Right time, right decision
September 27, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas has taken a historic step by formally requesting the UN for recognition of Palestinian statehood. Come to think of it, the Palestinians should have made that move much earlier, given that it had become clear that Israel has no intention to negotiate a fair and just peace agreement with them based on their legitimate rights upheld by UN resolutions, starting with Resolution 181 of 1947.

The Palestinians were encouraged to start the Oslo process, as political thinker and analyst Adnan Abu Odeh says, by Anwar Sadat of Egypt who regained his occupied Sinai through American sponsorship of direct negotiations with Israel. Certainly, one important factor was the fall of the Soviet Union, the real patron, political supporter and military provider of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The Palestinians assumed they could follow the same example of Egypt and win back their territories without realising the dramatic changes in the mercurial scenes of power politics following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. The dictates of power politics then should have made the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat realise that the desert terrain of Sinai is not geopolitically or religiously as sacrosanct as Jerusalem to the Jewish people.

The Palestinian move now, and after twenty years of direct but futile talks, was prompted by despair and frustration over Israel’s stonewalling and adamant stand that any peace accord should be based on its terms and conditions. Furthermore, the world’s political great powers seemed to go along with the Israeli position.

The Palestinian decision to demand that the United Nations Organisation reaffirm its own decision taken in 1947 is mainly aimed at breaking the status quo.

According to US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, the UN Security Council is likely to start debating the Palestinian bid for membership this week.

US President Barack Obama has already told Abbas that if he insists on submitting it to the UN Security Council the US will use its veto power to kill the bid.

Even if the United States makes good its threat to veto the motion in the Security Council — which is a certainty, given Obama’s statements — the Palestinian problem will remain on the front burner of international conflict demanding a solution as the situation in the occupied territories deteriorates and might presage a third Intifada which will add more fire and bloodshed to what we see in Damascus, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq.

Under a previous proposal, the Palestinians were supposed to simply submit their request to the UN and do nothing to seek a vote for one year during which they would resume negotiations with Israel. Then French President Nicolas Sarkozy came up with another proposal for the UN to give the Palestinians the position of an “observer status” similar to the one that the State of the Vatican occupies.

The French proposal stipulated one condition that the internationally backed road map for peace be implemented within a year’s time. Israel has turned down the French proposal, saying it was not viable and was not coordinated with the US or European Union.

The Israeli rejection of the proposal is yet another reaffirmation of the reality that Israel does not want peace and does not expect any agreement to be reached with the Palestinians in one year or many years beyond that during which the demography and geography of the occupied territories would have been transformed so much that there would be little left to negotiate. The Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem total now in 2011 more than the Jewish population in Palestine in 1947 when Israel was founded.

An Israeli offer to resume direct negotiations was also yet another ploy to stall the Palestinian move at the UN. Abbas himself said on Thursday that he had no knowledge of the Israeli proposal.

Israel has raised a hue and cry over what is described as the Palestinians’ refusal to resume peace talks without making any reference to the cornerstone of negotiations that Israel declares a moratorium on settlement construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even accused the Palestinians of “defiant and obstinate behaviour” whereas he himself has imposed conditions on the outcome of negotiations — no return of Arab East Jerusalem, no to the rights of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and no to giving up any of the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Furthermore, he wants to impose Israel’s own security arrangements with the Palestinians, including its control of the Jordan Valley and of all access to the Palestinian territories. These positions and demands are the main reasons for the deadlock in peace negotiations.

The Palestinians have gone ahead with their move at the UN in order to force the international community to recognise that they could no longer take the Palestinians for granted and let Israel continue to behave as if there were a different set of rules for itself.

The expected US veto against the Palestinian bid at the UN will embarrass the United States in front of an overwhelming majority in the international community. Not that Washington would mind it much, but Israel will face further isolation and that is not acceptable to the US.

It is difficult to see how things will get ahead from here, but the Palestinian leadership has added a dramatically new element to the equation. Trust Israel to come up with more ideas and proposals, but the Palestinians should not allow themselves to be lured into any of them without ironclad guarantees that fairness and justice would be the basis for any peace agreement and that they would enjoy their legitimate rights, including the right to set up an independent state with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital.
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The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief  editor of Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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