Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in The National - September 27, 2012 - 12:00am

RAMALLAH // When Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly today, those in attendance could be forgiven if they experience a sense of déjà vu.

During his speech at last year's annual gathering of the world body, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president announced his intention to seek recognition for a Palestinian state amid great fanfare and popular support back home. Today, he is expected to make a similar request.

Only this time, the distinguished guests will notice the Palestinian leader doing so under less enthusiastic circumstances.

"It's not going to be a transformative moment," said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's Executive Committee.

"It will not end the [Israeli] occupation or give us an independent state instantly, but it will create a new dynamic" and have "long-term significance" in promoting Palestinian self-determination.

Because of financial and diplomatic pressure applied by the United States and Israel, last year's bid for UN recognition flopped. The measure failed to win enough support in the UN Security Council to come to a vote, which dashed Palestinian hopes for achieving full membership in the world body.

Mr Abbas is expected to ask for a limited upgrade to the Palestinians' status from an organisational member to Vatican-like "non-member" status. That would require a vote in the 193-member assembly, which the Palestinians are all but assured to win if they put the measure forward for a vote.

This would grant them access to a number of international institutions, including the International Criminal Court, where Ramallah could initiate war crimes proceedings against Israel over its 45-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

But Mr Abbas travels to New York with none of the parades, media promotion or the Palestinian cities draped in banners of support for the UN effort that buoyed his journey there last year.

"Last year was a lost opportunity," said Mustafa Barghouti, a former Palestinian presidential candidate who lives in Ramallah.

It was lost in part because of pressure from Washington and Tel Aviv, both of which oppose the statehood bid because they say the only way to settle the Israel-Palestinian conflict is by negotiations.

Mr Abbas, who has refused peace talks with Israel because of its refusal to stop building settlements, is believed to have delayed pursuing statehood in the General Assembly for fear of angering the administration of Barack Obama, the US president.

Further pressure from abroad becomes acutely more painful now that the PA is struggling with an unprecedented financial crisis because of unpaid funds from foreign donors. Those donations comprise the bulk of its US$4billion (Dh14.6) budget, the rest come from taxes and municpal fees.

"The PA cannot afford another fight with their donors,'' said Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a non-governmental organisation based in Washington, DC.

''It is still unclear when Mr Abbas will attempt the UN vote but in deference to the US, most believe it will not happen until after the American presidential election on November 6.

For many Palestinians, however, the issue has become a sideshow to their struggles under Israeli occupation.

"There was some hope for the UN thing last year, but now people aren't paying any attention because they have bigger issues to deal with," said Jamal Juma'a, coordinator at Stop the Wall Campaign, an activist group opposed to Israel separation barrier.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017