Jared Malsin
Ma'an News Agency
September 23, 2011 - 12:00am

UNITED NATIONS (Ma’an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas will submit Palestine's application for membership to the Security Council on Friday, but uncertainty surrounds the fate of the UN campaign.

Palestinian officials say Abbas’ current strategy means that the membership bid will remain in the arena of the Security Council for some time, without a climactic vote that many Palestinians had come to expect.

Such a move would avoid an immediate confrontation with the US, which opposes the bid and has vowed to veto any resolution recognizing a Palestinian state, but it would also delay any change in UN status.

Senior Fatah official Muhammad Shtayyeh, who accompanied Abbas to New York, says Abbas’ letter will first be examined by a committee of experts before it is debated by the full council.

“That is really a process. It’s not really something you can do in a few days' time. It’s not a one-stop shop," Shtayyeh explained Friday during an interview.

Abbas has met the president of the Security Council and “urged him to accelerate” the process, he said.

But others who are familiar with the deliberations say the decision to approach the Security Council rather than the General Assembly might actually amount to a face-saving measure.

A former Western official says Abbas chose this course under diplomatic pressure.

“He was clearly under pressure. He was under pressure to do nothing. The fallback for him was to do something where nothing changes,” the ex-official said of Abbas’ Security Council approach.

However, it also “allows him to make the case he’s taking a maximalist position,” he said.

Yet even as the Security Council deliberates, Abbas has the option of approaching the General Assembly, where his initiative is thought to have the support of a majority of the world’s nations.

A General Assembly vote could result in recognition of Palestine as an observer state, which would grant the Palestinians access to a number of key UN bodies and help level the playing field in future peace talks.

“At the very least, he gets upgraded status. He gets observer status. That’s a point of leverage against Israel,” said the former Western official who spoke on the condition that his name not be used.

The question is if Abbas returns to Ramallah “with something in hand, or whether he goes home with nothing,” he added. “If you wait, you get more visits by (US envoys Dennis) Ross and (David) Hale. You invite pressure.”

Senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath told reporters in Ramallah last week that it was in fact a US proposal brought to Abbas by Hale and Ross that emboldened the Palestinian leadership to pursue the UN bid.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama criticized the plan in an address to the General Assembly.

“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN,” he said, calling for the resumption of the direct negotiations that broke off a year ago due to Israel's refusal to halt settlements.

According to Shtayyeh, Obama also stated his case to Abbas in a bilateral meeting in New York.

Meanwhile, the Quartet -- the US, UN, EU, and Russia -- is said to be deliberating on a framework for a renewal of bilateral negotiations between the PLO and Israel.

The Quartet may seek to restart negotiations in the time between Abbas' speech Friday and a decision from the Security Council, which could be weeks or even months away.

Palestinian analyst Mouin Rabbani, a senior visiting fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, sees the Security Council track as possibly designed to avoid a confrontation with the US.

“Recently there seems to have been a shift where the Americans seem to prefer that the Palestinians go to the Security Council” instead of the General Assembly, Rabbani told Ma'an.

“The Palestinians would deposit their application with the Security Council. The Security Council will sit on it while the Quartet, after negotiations in Washington, comes out with a statement that leads to the revival of negotiations.

“Everyone can go home happy except the Palestinian people.”

Asked this week about what the leadership will do if the Security Council track fails, top PLO official Hanan Ashrawi would not specify what courses of action were being considered.

“I don’t think it is time to discuss these things now, prematurely, but certainly they involve alternative and different courses of action, both internally and externally,” she said on a conference call with reporters.

“We have asked specifically that our request is not delayed and that it is dealt with in the proper timing. We certainly do not see delays or preventing a vote in the Security Council.”

Nor has Abbas made clear whether or not he will approach the General Assembly either concurrent with the Security Council deliberations or afterward; aides say it will be at least two weeks until any action is taken.

They also say Abbas will return home on Saturday regardless of the outcome.


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