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Should the U.N. accept Abbas' Palestinian statehood bid? [The conversation]

September 23, 2011 |  2:02 pm

Abbas

In Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' formal bid to the U.N. for member state status Friday, he said he wanted to revive the peace process with Israel by ending all settlement activities and establishing a two-state solution. To that end, he said he needed the U.N.'s support.

Here are excerpts from his speech:

How is it conceivable that negotiations can be held on the borders and on Jerusalem at the same time that Israeli bulldozers are working to change the reality on the ground with the aim of creating a new reality and imposing borders as Israel desires? […]

In this regard, I would like to express our deep appreciation for the important speech delivered before this august body two days ago by President Obama, in which he affirmed the necessity for ending the occupation that began in 1967 and the legitimacy of the settlements. He also stressed the necessity for establishing an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian state and for addressing all of the finance status issues in the negotiations, foremost among these Jerusalem, refugees, borders, water, settlements, and others. We reiterate that adherence to these principles and basis, in addition to a complete freeze of all settlement activities, can salvage the peace process and open horizon for its success. […]

From this podium I conclude by reaffirming our commitment to the road map plan, the Arab peace initiative and to all terms of reference of the political process. And we call upon all parties to respect and abide by them, to provide the opportunity to launch a successful and effective peace process.

We are confident that all our brothers in the sisterly Arab countries will adhere to the Arab peace initiative as a basis for safeguarding our rights and to open the way toward real peaceful relations once occupation is ended and the independent state of Palestine is established.

While Abbas awaits the U.N.'s decision, which could hinge on the U.S. vote, opinionators have been weighing in on our pages. Here are a few of their arguments:

"Face-off at the U.N.," by The Times' editorial board

The U.N. vote, assuming it takes place, will be mostly symbolic. Whether it ends in a Security Council veto or a successful follow-up in the General Assembly, it will not, in fact, result in the imminent creation of an independent Palestinian state. When the vote is over, Israel will still control the territory it controls now, settlements will continue to dot the West Bank, and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority will remain suspicious rivals fighting to lead a stateless people. The Israeli occupation will not come screeching to an end. […]

What holds us back from an unequivocal endorsement of the U.N. vote is concern that the symbolic value of the move will not outweigh its real-life costs. The practical reality is that the only way a Palestinian state will be created (and thrive) is through good-faith, face-to-face negotiations between the two parties that result in a mutually agreeable compromise that both sides have the incentive and the will to abide by. Bypassing talks with Israel and seeking U.N. support for statehood is understandably appealing to those frustrated by the recalcitrance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, but there's no guarantee that it will push the process forward rather than set it back.

"Yes to Palestine," by Reza Aslan

Israel maintains that the Palestinians cannot declare statehood and seal it through the U.N. Yet the Palestinians are merely following the trail blazed by Israel six decades ago. […]
The Palestinian Authority has come to the same conclusion that the Jews apparently came to in 1948: Negotiations will not lead to an independent state; the only way forward is unilateral action. By rejecting that strategy outright, Israel is not only being hypocritical; it is invalidating its own existence as a state.

There is one more reason to support the Palestinians' bid at the United Nations. It is the moral thing to do. During his first presidential campaign, Obama said, "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." Now, he has the opportunity to live up to his own beliefs and promises, and to provide the Palestinian people with the same sense of dignity that Harry Truman gave Israel 60 years ago.

"Abbas' U.N. fantasy," by Ron Prosor

Every state recognized by the U.N. has the obligation to be willing and able to exert its authority over its own territory. Is Abbas willing and able to control Hamas? Perhaps the citizens of southern Israel, semi-permanent residents of bomb shelters, could offer an informed answer. The continued rain of Hamas rockets, mortar shells and missiles on Israeli homes, hospitals and schools provides a vivid illustration that the Palestinian Authority is both unwilling and unable to uphold this basic requirement.

"Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire," by Saree Makdisi

It goes without saying that Palestinians and Arabs are outraged by the idea that the United States is threatening to block recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations.

What is less obvious, perhaps, is that some of the most vociferous critics of the Palestinian bid for upgraded U.N. recognition are Palestinians themselves. How could it be that advocates of Palestinian rights could be suspicious of, if not altogether opposed to, the U.N. gambit? Isn't the creation of an internationally recognized independent state the goal shared by all Palestinians?

Not exactly. The Palestinian cause concerns more than merely statehood. And although much depends on how the statehood bid is formally expressed, there is every possibility that U.N. action on the wrong set of terms could be a setback in the Palestinians' decades-long struggle for self-determination and the right to live normal, dignified lives in their ancestral land.

"The coming U.N. debacle," by Yossi Klein Halevi

[A] U.N. vote that seeks to bypass negotiations and impose a fait accompli on Israel will only undermine a two-state solution. By deepening Israel's isolation, the vote will reinforce the sense among Israelis that this is not a time for concessions but for resolve. […]

The vote to recognize Palestine will almost certainly increase anti-Israel violence in the region. It will also likely encourage the international boycott-Israel movement, which uniquely ostracizes the Jewish state. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has said that upgraded Palestinian status at the U.N. would "pave the way" to press for legal sanctions against Israel. The likely result would be to turn any Israeli act of war, even in self-defense, into a war crime.

Statehood is a responsibility to be earned. And so far the Palestinian national movement has hardly proved its willingness to live in peace beside Israel.

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Palestinian state looms as key issue for Obama at U.N.

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds up a copy of the letter that he had just delivered to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a Palestinian state during his address before the 66th U.N. General Assembly in New York. Credit: Mike Segar / Reuters

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