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No Palestinian Spring just yet

Full statehood can only come through talks. The bid for it in the UN is a diplomatic coup.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2011 22:21 IST

On Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas marked his moment in history when he handed over a formal bid for a full United Nations membership to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

For Mr Abbas, often perceived as a feckless leader, it was a smartly crafted move, with the issue of Palestinian statehood being formally brought up in the world’s biggest multilateral fora.

Later, Mr Abbas addressed the General Assembly, reposing his faith in the same UN where Palestinian leaders in 1947 had rejected the UN mandate for the partition of Palestine. His speech also renewed the optimism of jaded supporters back home who erupted in celebration when it ended.

In the careful weaving of his people into the aspirational narrative of the region, Mr Abbas called for a “Palestinian Spring”, and for independence to solve one of the most intractable conflicts in the world.

That emotional climax apart, Mr Abbas reiterated stated positions, asking for the proposed Palestinian state to be demarcated on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, including all of West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as the capital.

The formal bid is likely to be taken up by the UN Security Council on Monday, though it is unclear when, if at all, it will vote on the application.

In case of a vote, the US is certain to use its veto, in its show of fealty to a historical ally Israel as well as its domestic political compulsions ahead of next year’s presidential elections. Even in case of a veto, the Palestinians can still approach the General Assembly where a majority resolution can upgrade the Palestinians to non-member observer status.

By that resolution, they might gain legal and institutional access to multilateral agencies as well as bodies like the International Criminal Court.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the same forum — which he described as the “theatre of the absurd” — closely followed Mr Abbas’s and was on expected lines, underscoring what has been the stated position of both Israel and the US.

President Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday, in fact, had criticised Mr Abbas’s unilateral move. The Palestinian statehood bid notwithstanding, direct negotiations alone can change the reality on the ground, something both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas conceded in their speeches, although the latter will not come to talks without preconditions as Mr Netanyahu wants.

The Mideast Quartet, meanwhile, is already busy working out a return to the table.

If and when the talks re-start, the challenge will be to address the heightened expectations of the Palestinian people in the wake of the Arab Spring, while keeping in mind Israel’s persistent security concerns.