In their frantic efforts to stop the Palestinian leadership from going to the UN, Israeli officials and propagandists pose what appears to be a mistaken choice.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Palestinians to have direct talks, and even offered to meet Palestinian officials anywhere if they choose what he called direct talks instead of unilateral action.
On the surface of it, this position seems logical, but if one digs just beneath the rhetoric, it becomes obvious that the position is a continuation of Israel’s policy of obfuscation and political manoeuvring.
Palestinians have been in direct negotiations with Israel since the Madrid peace conference in 1991. Despite the signing of a five-year interim agreement in 1993, which was supposed to lead to an independent Palestinian state, Palestinians are nowhere nearer a state today than they were back then.
With the exception of some administrative and municipal controls and autonomy in major populated areas, the Israeli occupiers continued to control the movement of people and goods within Palestinian areas and between Palestinian areas and the rest of the world. This military control is a 44-year-old unilateral action that contravenes international law and violates the spirit and text of important multilateral and bilateral agreements.
Not only have direct talks failed to produce the desired results, their continuation has also contributed to masking widespread acts of land thievery.
Palestinian lands continue to be confiscated, Jews-only settlements continue to be built (Ehud Barak, the Israeli minister of defence just approved close to 300 housing units in the settlement of Ariel) and the security wall strangulates the Palestinians. The International Court of Justice at the Hague ruled that the wall built inside Palestinian territory is illegal according to international law.
US and Israeli officials tried different ways to dissuade Palestinians from following through with their intention of obtaining statehood at the UN. Both carrot and stick (more stick) have been dangled in an attempt to get Palestinians to change their mind, but for once, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership seem determined to go to the UN.
It is still not clear which route the Palestinians will follow. Will they go to the Security Council on September 20, when the Lebanese government will hold the presidency of the council, and ask to be recognised as a state?
Media and political reports have repeatedly stated that the US will most likely veto such a request. Addressing the Palestine National Council two weeks ago, Abbas said that no US official directly told him so.
It is also possible that before or after a Security Council vote the Palestinians will go to the UN General Assembly.
The assembly cannot recognise a state (the way the Security Council does), but if two thirds of the members agree, they can recognise Palestine as a state with observer status, similar to that of the Vatican. After such a vote, and the Palestinians are confident that they have the two-thirds majority, the Palestinians might try to invoke the rarely used United for Peace resolution, which the General Assembly is entitled to approve.
If such a resolution is voted on positively, the international community will be obliged to begin sanctions against any party that is denying Palestine the right to be a fully functional and sovereign state.
The Palestinians’ desire to obtain a UN vote on statehood (in whatever form) does not mean that they cannot have direct negotiations with Israel. Palestinian spokesmen, including Abbas, have said that they see no reason why representatives of the newly approved state cannot negotiate with representatives of the state of Israel.
What is not clear is whether after September the Palestinians will be represented by the PLO, the Palestinian Authority or some other entity.
The PA, which was established as part of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the PLO, is certainly the address that most of the world recognises and deals with, and it will most likely be that way after the UN vote.
Threats by Israel that it will stop recognising the Oslo Accords were quickly withdrawn when it became clear that this does not deter Palestinians and that, in fact, Oslo does more for Israel (security coordination, A, B & C areas) than it does for Palestinians.
Despite the overblown Israeli hype, Palestinians in the occupied territories are not holding their breaths as to what will happen in September.
Israel and its army will continue to rule Palestinian territories no matter what the international community will say. Palestinians can and will have direct talks with Israel regardless of what status they hold after the UN vote.
It is accepted by all concerned that the Palestinian move at the UN will not, by itself, bring about a Palestinian state. But this move, which reflects Palestinian and international aspirations, will strengthen rather than weaken the Palestinian position when it returns to the talks.