Bradley Burston
Haaretz (Blog)
September 13, 2011 - 12:00am

There's a certain implied danger in the idea of playing darts in the dark. Particularly when there are numerous players in a crowded room, and not one has a well-defined target.

For Mahmoud Abbas' Palestine, for Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel, and no less, for the Obama administration, the effort to bring Palestinian statehood to the United Nations for endorsement has raised profound fears, prompting internal debates fully as bitter as they have been largely fruitless, with no dependably favorable outcome in sight – for anyone.

Committed supporters of the Palestinian cause have warned that the UN move could spur a devastating backlash of retaliation, whether by an irate, isolated Israeli government or by an election-minded, Republican dominated U.S. Congress.

Palestinian moderates fear that the statehood move, if mishandled or misapprehended, could set into motion a chain of violent events ultimately spelling the demise of the Palestinian Authority, and dealing a telling blow to any timetable for an independent Palestine.

Abbas has pressed ahead nonetheless, in what may be the last great wager of his career. In the past, as in his 2004 go-it-alone public statements condemning armed Palestinian attacks on Israelis, Abbas has shown himself both a man unafraid to gamble, and, against all odds, one who knows how to turn a crapshoot to advantage. Here are ten reasons that Abu Mazen's
Hail Mary route at the UN may succeed after all:

1. It restores the issue of Palestine from the back-burner to the world's biggest stage, without resort to violence.

The UN move has already compelled all relevant parties to the conflict to re-examine long-accustomed and long-stymied tactics and mindsets. From Netanyahu to Khaled Meshal, from the Quartet (the U.S., Russia, the UN and the European Union) to the Palestinian rank and file, from the settlements to Peace Now and J Street,
alternatives to paralysis and permanent conflict are newly under study.

2. It conveys the concept of Palestine as a nation, living alongside Israel as a member of the community of nations, acknowledging the primacy of the UN as a forum for state-to-state airing of disputes.

This stands in stark contrast to the loose-cannon guerrilla band image cultivated by Yasser Arafat in his 1974 address to the General Assembly ("Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat …"), which gave no quarter to the existence of an independent Israel.

3. The timing underscores and leverages Israel's perfect storm of diplomatic isolation.

Analysts note that this is the first time since the 1948 founding of Israel, that the state has none of the three regional powers, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, as an ally. Further, the severity of the diplomatic crisis is such that nearly any Israeli effort at retaliation against the Palestinians, is likely to deepen Israel's isolation.

Meanwhile, the UN move turns the Netanyahu government's digging in of heels to Palestinian advantage, casting the Palestinian Authority as the side taking diplomatic initiative.

In ruling out a Yes vote from the get-go, Israel conceded immediate defeat in the world body, in the process forgoing a range of tactical advantages it could have gained by signaling qualified support for a resolution and then negotiating to help shape its wording to a text Israel could have profited by backing.

Finally, if peace talks do eventually resume, the PA's position could be strengthened by a state-to-state position vis-a-vis Israel.

4. The UN drive may confer international imprimatur to and raise the profile of Palestinian state-building efforts.

As Mideast scholar Hussein Ibish has
noted, "Palestinians had hoped that a convergence of bottom-up state-building and top-down diplomacy, led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, would be the key to independence. Left on its own, the state-building plan has been little more than a development project under occupation. This has given the leadership a sense of urgency that has impelled its turn towards possible statehood initiatives at the UN."

5. If successful, it can lend Abbas and the PA much-needed strength in its withering rivalry with Hamas.

Hamas, betting on Abu Mazen to lose, has disassociated itself from the UN push. If the Palestinian public perceives the UN vote as a success, criticism over repression in Hamas rule in Gaza would be likely to mount.

6. It may prompt and encourage non-violent Palestinian protest in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The prospect of non-violent protest is one that Israeli officials have acknowledged that they are ill-prepared to confront. As a recently released wikileaks cable revealed, "Less violent demonstrations are likely to stymie the IDF. As MOD [Ministry of Defense] Pol-Mil [Political-Military] chief Amos Gilad told USG [U.S. Government] rinterlocutors recently, "we don't do Gandhi very well."

This, in turn, coupled with rising Israeli tensions with Egypt, Turkey, and the U.S., could at some point force Netanyahu to consider dropping Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu in favor of Kadima, in order to resume peace talks.

7. The PA could also regain a measure of popular support in Gaza, if as a consequence of the UN move, Israel's military latitude for enforcing the siege and pursuing attacks in the Strip were limited.

Even if the Palestinians refrain from executing the threat, the shadows of the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and other world bodies will at once loom large over Israeli military decisions.

8. The Palestinians' secret weapon I: Avigdor Lieberman.

Thus far, the foreign minister is the only senior official scheduled to represent Israel in New York during the deliberations next week. A year ago, in his last appearance before the United Nations, Lieberman effectively contradicted the Israeli line that Israel was ready for peace and that the process had been impeded solely by the Palestinians. Neither side was ready for peace, he told the General Assembly, declaring that an agreement was something that could take "a few decades."

9. The Palestinians' secret weapon II: The Settlers.

If any single element is likely to win sympathy for the Palestinian cause, it will be radical settlers, who have vowed to mark the UN resolution with widespread violence. A recent arson attack against a West Bank mosque has sharpened the concerns of both Israeli and PA security authorities.

Any such action may, in turn, restrict the Israeli government's freedom of action in retaliating against a UN move.

10. The Palestinians' secret weapon III: Benjamin Netanyahu.

As the UN deliberations near, the prime minister's statements have grown more defiant. His protestations that Israel's worsening relations with Egypt and Turkey have nothing to do with the Palestinian issue, have ensured that tensions with all three have become increasingly interrelated, both at home and abroad.

"There are those who think that everything would have been different, if we had only given in to the Palestinians," Netanyahu told the cabinet this week.

"Enough with the self-flagellation," he continued. Inverting the liturgy of confession on the imminent Jewish High Holidays, he declared "We have not become guilty, neither have we transgressed."


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