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Palestinians Defy Obama With UN ‘Observer State’ Bid

November 08, 2012

Palestinians defied newly re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama by pushing ahead with a second statehood bid at the United Nations that will raise their profile at the world body and highlight the stagnation of the Mideast peace process.

The Palestinian Authority yesterday circulated a resolution to put the Palestine Liberation Organization on a par with the Holy See, according to a draft that will be put to a vote in the UN’s 193-member General Assembly, where the initiative has enough support to pass and the U.S. lacks veto power.

The latest steps by the Palestinians present Obama with his first foreign-policy challenge three days after he won a second term. A year ago, the Palestinians abandoned an attempt to be recognized as a full member state through the Security Council after Obama indicated the U.S. would use its veto there.

The PLO, which currently is an observer “entity,” is seeking a nonmember “observer state status,” according to the draft obtained by Bloomberg News.

By resurrecting the statehood issue in the General Assembly, the Palestinian leadership is trying to force the White House to pay attention to a moribund Palestinian-Israeli peace process that has dropped off the list of foreign-policy priorities for Obama.

In doing so, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is jeopardizing relations with Obama, as well as about $500 million in U.S. economic and security aid that members of Congress have threatened to cut if Palestinians proceed at the UN.

Issue Fades

The Palestinians have seen their cause fall into relative obscurity internationally since formal peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government were frozen two years ago.

Peace talks stumbled over the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Abbas said he wouldn’t return to negotiations unless Israel froze all settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Netanyahu has refused to renew a 10-month freeze on construction that expired in 2010.

Abbas will present the resolution in person in New York, according to a UN official speaking on condition of anonymity. A vote is expected to take place by the end of the month, the official said.

Still, the move isn’t without risks.

When the Palestinian Authority was accepted last year into the UN cultural agency UNESCO, best known for its designation of “world heritage” sites, the U.S. response was to cut off funding that provides almost a quarter of the agency’s budget.

The U.S. has said that American law would require similar cutoffs for any UN agency that grants the Palestinians the same status as member states.

International Criminal Court

The upgrade may open the door for Palestinians to join other UN agencies, including the International Criminal Court, where they could ask for Israel to be tried for war crimes.

“Israel’s main worry is the ICC,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said in an Oct. 24 interview. “They don’t want me to have a sword on their neck.”

The initiative could also jeopardize international aid that accounts for about 14 percent of the Palestinians’ gross domestic product and invite retaliatory measures from Israel.

As for the U.S., the administration’s position hasn’t wavered. The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has said repeatedly that “unilateral actions,” such as the upgrade of the Palestinians’ UN status, would only derail efforts to restart direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

To contact the reporter on this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson in United Nations at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

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