Nicholas Noe, Walid Raad
Bloomberg (Opinion)
August 1, 2011 - 12:00am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to take a statehood bid to the United Nations in September has triggered a robust media debate over the wisdom of the move.

After a meeting of several Palestinian parties last week, Abbas said that he would aggressively court votes in the UN General Assembly even though the U.S. would likely veto the recognition of a Palestinian state in the UN Security Council, effectively undermining the move. Abbas called on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to peacefully demonstrate ahead of the September session, leading to criticism in Israel that his approach was cutting off the possibility of a bilateral solution negotiated in accordance with the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreements.

In an editorial, the Jerusalem-based Al-Quds newspaper wrote that “nobody can hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for the stalemate" of negotiations under the Oslo process. The paper, which is supportive of Abbas and his Fatah party, stressed that taking the statehood issue to the UN “does not aim to isolate Israel” and that Abbas “does not intend to confront the United States.”

The daily warned:

With the failure of diplomatic endeavors and with Israel impeding efforts to reach solutions, the situation will not remain unchanged forever. Tension will increase and extremism will find fertile soil.

Responding to the argument that the Palestinians might not be ready for statehood, Al-Quds columnist Ziad Abu Ziad added that when the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, “no one spoke about readiness and whether or not we were capable of assuming the responsibility of building an entity for the Palestinian people to head toward a state.” Yet, he said:

We started from scratch, were able to assume the burdens and started building our institutions. The experience featured mistakes as well as adequate measures. In the end, we proved the people's ability to assume their own responsibilities.

Referring to the recent ascension of South Sudan as a UN member state, Abu Ziad exclaimed that it was born “without any infrastructure, streets or institutions!”

Given that the Palestinians have demonstrated “readiness,” he concluded, “let us talk about our non-negotiable right to live freely on the land of our fathers and forefathers.”

Dr. Amin Mashakba, a columnist with the pro-monarchy Jordanian daily Ad Dustour, charged that Israel, with its building of Jewish settlements and roads in the West Bank, is engaged in “a race against time to divide the West Bank into isolated areas and prevent the establishment of a connected and viable Palestinian state." Israel, he said, is "pulling the carpet from underneath the Palestinians’ feet through its unilateral actions, its settlements and occupation.”

Mashakba predicted that Israel's actions would prompt a popular uprising in the occupied territories “during the next few days and especially after the month of Ramadan." Mashakba also worried about the possible consequence of "additional divisions” among the Palestinians, with the Islamist group Hamas potentially failing to join a promised national unity government with Fatah that has yet to be formed, before Abbas can take his case to the UN in September.

Dr. Atif Abu Sayf, a columnist in the pro-Fatah, West Bank-based Al-Ayyam daily, warned of an even more dangerous possibility in the coming period: war, precipitated by Israel. Israel, he wrote, may provoke a conflict outside its borders, possibly in Lebanon or Syria, in order to disrupt support for the Palestinian demand for statehood. He wrote, without further elaboration:

The Palestinians are in attack mode for the first time, which is confusing Israel; if it accepts this fact it will be conceding something and if it refuses, it will lose.

Papers in hardline Syria might be expected to oppose Abbas's UN strategy, since asking for approval of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip implicitly means accepting the state of Israel in the rest of what was once the British mandate of Palestine. Abbas proposes to define the Palestinian state along the ceasefire lines that existed before the 1967 Mideast war. Syria's allies Iran, Hamas and the militant Lebanese militia Hezbollah are vehemently opposed to recognizing Israel's legitimacy. However, columnist Fu'ad al-Wadi, writing in Syria's state-owned daily Al-Thawarah, welcomed Abbas’s UN gambit, writing that winning "the battle of September," for the Palestinians, would be "an important and decisive station on their long march" to independence.

Al-Wadi stressed the importance to the Palestinians of finally forming a government of Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian parties.

Perhaps one of the most important tools the Palestinians must possess and arm themselves with before "the battle of September" is unity. They must rise above differences and small details. This is also a battle, of another kind. And the Palestinians have paid the price of losing it for too many years.

There was no unity in the media commentary, however. For their part, pro-Hamas columnists laid out arguments against Abbas’s strategy.

On the pro-Hamas Filastin website, Dr. Isam Adwan, a columnist, wrote that Palestinians have seen this move before, notably in the late 1980s when their leader Yasser Arafat “recognized” the state of Israel -- a concession that produced no Palestinian state and preceded more than two decades of settlement building by the Israelis.

In September, he added, the Palestinians will head to yet another disaster “in which Palestinian recognition of Israel will be complete, and Abbas will declare defeat and a failure to achieve freedom and independence, contenting himself with a ‘disfigured state,’ which for so long has been rejected by our people.”

Calling for a tougher stance by Hamas, he said that Palestinian “resistance groups” should “foil this tampering with the rights of the Palestinian people via words and deeds before it is too late.”

Columnist Husam al-Dajani , also writing in Filastin, concurred that Hamas’s public stance on Abbas’s September strategy has not been forceful enough. He wrote that if Palestinians were left with a rump state in just the West Bank and Gaza Strip, resistance groups would face international sanctions and international military action if they continued to battle to recover more of “historic Palestine.” Al-Dajani wrote, “This represents the greatest danger to the future of the resistance. It also constitutes an elimination of the Palestinian cause.”

Still, he concluded:

This does not mean that we should not invest in determining which states will vote in favor of the Palestinian people's right to establish their independent state.

Suggesting that the effort could reap diplomatic benefits, especially if statehood is ultimately rejected, al-Dajani stressed that Palestinians “should work on establishing bilateral relations that serve the national liberation project. We must form lobbies with these states, which can be used to pressure the U.S. so it will act fairly toward the Palestinian people.”

As hot as the debate over Abbas's strategy got, al-Dajani's remarks showed that even for a commentator opposed to settling the Palestinian issue along the 1967 ceasefire lines, it was hard to resist entirely the idea of a settlement at long last.

(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)


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