What do the Palestinians want?
It depends who you ask these days. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas still appears committed to pushing for statehood in the United Nations in September. Although it is clear that the U.S. will veto such a proposal in the Security Council, making a General Assembly vote more symbolic than substantive, Abbas insists the effort “should not be seen as a stunt.” He says negotiations with Israel would resume, this time between two states, but he made his intentions clear in a New York Times opinion piece in May when he wrote that “Palestine’s admission to the United Nations … would pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”
Contrary to the longstanding notion that a resolution of the status of the Palestinian people would signal the end of the conflict with Israel, Abbas sees it as a first step toward continuing it. No doubt he would continue to press for the right of return, allowing Palestinians around the world to return, not to the new state of Palestine but to their former homes in Israel. That, of course, would result in the end of a Jewish majority there, leading to the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
Washington and Jerusalem agree that a UN vote for Palestinian statehood, avoiding direct negotiations between the parties, accomplishes nothing. In recent days, it seems, the Palestinian leadership is having second thoughts about the wisdom of going forward at the UN.
Not only would the PA come away without UN membership, the effort would alienate the U.S. and jeopardize further U.S. aid, and possibly key European aid, at a time of economic crisis for the Palestinian Authority.
“What could Abbas tell his people they’ve gained the morning after” a UN General Assembly vote, asks Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
He credited the organized Jewish community for working together, and effectively, in lobbying key European countries to vote against Palestinian statehood. Germany and Italy are among those on board with Israel, but Britain and France are still uncommitted.
Abbas, who in a recent Newsweek interview vented against President Barack Obama for leaving him up a tree without a ladder, may be looking for his own ladder so that he can explain to his people why he is risking diplomatic support and key funding for a symbolic victory.
A new poll sponsored by The Israel Project finds that Palestinians would prefer that their leaders create jobs and improve education and health care rather than declare statehood. Eighty percent of those interviewed said new jobs were a top priority while 4 percent said statehood was.
The PA may decide to save face by backing off of the statehood effort and instead seek a UN resolution regarding the 1967 borders or have its status upgraded in the world body. But that won’t feed their children or offset unemployment.
Credit Israel and Washington for making significant progress in slowing down the PA push, which only a short time ago had been described as an unstoppable diplomatic tsunami for Jerusalem. The story isn’t over, but there are signs the Palestinian leadership may come to realize that the way to statehood is through negotiating with rather than avoiding Israel.