Just over a year after his failed attempt to convince the UN Security Council to adopt a unilateral declaration of statehood (UDI) for Palestine, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas defied President Obama and decided to take a similar proposition for vote in the General Assembly, a forum within which the Palestinians enjoy an automatic majority. Ironically, Abbas' vote took place on the anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Had the Palestinians accepted that resolution they would be enjoying their 65-year anniversary of independence. Instead, they will leave the UN with only a symbolic victory that upgrades the PA's permanent observer status to non-member observer state status, similar to that held by the Vatican.
While Abbas maintains that the resolution "is the first step to achieve all our national Palestinian rights," the reality is that the resolution changes nothing on the ground and may lead Israel and the United States to take punitive measures against the PA for trying to make an end run around negotiations after being warned of the possible consequences.
With 138 nations supporting the motion (and only 9 opposing), Abbas hopes the resolution will be the first step towards leveraging the international community to force Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands. This has not worked before and will not succeed now. The only way the Palestinians will achieve statehood is through direct negotiations.
For the last four years, despite the best efforts of US President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to encourage and facilitate talks, Abbas has refused to sit at the bargaining table. During that time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly invited Abbas to talks without preconditions and he renewed that call for talks even after Abbas’s provocative decision to go to the UN.
Though the UN may have granted the PA a higher observer status, "Palestine" still lacks the basic elements of statehood. The Palestinian Authority only controls a fraction of the territory it claims for its state and part of the land it demands infringes on Israel’s sovereignty. In fact, the PA itself is divided - Abbas controlling only the West Bank while Hamas rules Gaza - and a number of the various Palestinian terror groups opposed the UN gambit. "The UN bid doesn't have practical significance," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman. "The Palestinian Authority didn't poll the public before making its decision. A UN request should be based on a Palestinian consensus." The Islamic Jihad's Abdullah al-Shami added: "We will never support Abbas' UN bid. Our goal and our ideals extend beyond the UN General Assembly."
Moreover, the PA lacks an independent judiciary and free press, denies many basic rights to Palestinians under its jurisdiction, and is unable to financially support itself, remaining totally dependent on international aid to pay its bills. Abbas was elected eight years ago to the presidency, but has repeatedly cancelled elections out of fear he and his Fatah party would lose power. And with such limited power, Abbas cannot control his “state.” As the November 2012 Hamas rocket attacks on Israel demonstrated, Abbas is impotent to influence Hamas and therefore cannot prevent the group from pursuing its goal of destroying a UN member state. In fact, he has not even been able to put a stop to all terror from the West Bank.
The fate of existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians are in doubt now that Abbas has violated the Oslo accords by unilaterally seeking to change the status of the West Bank. This is in addition to ongoing violations to prevent terror and incitement. Israel would now be justified to either cancel the agreements or to violate their provisions. It is unlikely to do so because of the desire to achieve a just peace despite the Palestinian breach.
Sixty-five years after rejecting the UN partition resolution that would have created a Palestinian state, the Palestinians still do not recognize that peace and statehood will not come through the international community; they are only possible through direct negotiations with Israel.
Prior to Abbas's speech on September 26 2014 in front of the UN General Assembly, Palestinian officials met with all 15 members of the United Nations Security Council to gauge their responses to a Palestinian bid for statehood and an end to the Israeli occupation of Gaza. The Palestinian individuals who spoke to the countries recieved positive responses from China, Russia and Jordan, but were met with no response or a negative one from the other 12 members. The United States, Britain, and Australia all gave the Palestinians definitive answers of "no". Even if the United States is going to use their Security Council veto to nullify any Palestinian statehood resolution, the Palestinian delegation is hoping to get the majority of members of the council (9) to support a statehood bid. Any of the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom) can use a veto and kill any resolution.
On Monday December 8 2014 the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations became observers at a meeting of members of the International Criminal Court for the first time. This upgrade represents a largely symbolic change and will not have any discernable effect on the peace process or Palestinian statehood attempts.
Sources: JTA (November 29 2012); BBC (November 29 2012); Seattle Times (November 27 2012); Washington Institute for Near East Policy (November 28 2012); CNN (November 28 2012); United Nations (November 29 2012); New York Times (December 8 2014)