Media Mention of Ziad Asali in The Augusta Chronicle - September 19, 2011 - 12:00am

This week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to propose a resolution requesting admission for a Palestinian state to the United Nations. Refusing to return to direct negotiations with Israel, Abbas has chosen instead to pursue a unilateral declaration of independence, ceasing all efforts to reach an agreement through negotiations.

Unfortunately, if Abbas goes ahead with his plan at the United Nations, no one will suffer more than the Palestinian people themselves.

BY UNILATERALLY circumventing bilateral negotiations – over the strong objections of the Obama administration and both houses of Congress, as well as many leaders around the world – Abbas has chosen the easy road. It’s no real achievement to pass a resolution at the United Nations, which is biased against Israel since there is an automatic majority in the U.N. General Assembly for any resolution initiated by the Palestinians and the Arab League, no matter how counterproductive.

Unfortunately for the Palestinian people, this path also is a road to nowhere. Palestinian political leaders might get the symbolic victory they seek, but daily life for the Palestinian people won’t change for the better. On the contrary, it might just get worse.

As the single largest contributor of aid to Palestinians, the U.S. Congress has issued a serious warning that financial assistance may be in jeopardy if Abbas persists, which should cause concern. Indeed, some high-level Palestinian officials, including the current and former prime ministers, Salam Fayyad and Ahmed Qureia, have questioned Abbas’ tactics.

THEIR CONCERNS ARE echoed in the nongovernmental organization world, where Ziad J. Asali, founder of the prominent American Task Force on Palestine, warned of the negative repercussions Abbas’ plan might have. A longtime advocate for Palestinian rights, Asali warned in The Washington Post that “a potentially dangerous confrontation looms in September over the question of Palestinian statehood, one that threatens significant negative consequences for all parties.”

Completely disregarding these warnings by trusted Palestinian leaders, Abbas is determined to continue on this destructive path.

While Abbas has claimed that his U.N. bid is a campaign for the Palestinian people, a poll conducted over the summer by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinions, showed that a mere 4 percent of Palestinians considered a unilateral declaration a top priority.

Unsurprisingly, job creation was their main concern – something that will be much harder to address if the United States is forced to pull its funding. In 2010, people took notice of the Palestinian economy’s high growth rate of 9 percent, but that number depended heavily on foreign aid.

The dangers of a unilateral declaration of independence aren’t solely monetary. Abbas has called on Palestinians to gather in the streets in protest. Although he has called for nonviolent resistance, Abbas may be starting a fire he can’t contain.

With backing from Syria and Iran, we already have witnessed two violent provocations against Israel this past year. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known for meddling in international affairs, and he’s called the unilateral Palestinian declaration just the first step in the effort to wipe Israel off the map.

ABBAS MIGHT COME home from the United Nations with a statehood resolution of some kind, but it will be a hollow victory. Imagine what could have been accomplished if Abbas had been willing to hold bilateral, substantive talks with his Israeli counterparts over the past year.

Ultimately, a negotiated agreement is the only way to resolve the conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has recognized the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own, has repeatedly expressed his willingness to negotiate all issues without pre-conditions.

Abbas should change course to leave a legacy of peace and independence for his people.

(The writer is executive director of the Augusta Jewish Federation and Community Center.)


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