So far, the story of President Obama’s “negotiations based on 1967 borders” has been one of failure, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refusing the initiative to come to terms with the Palestiniana. A French proposal, which was not different in essence but used the vehicle of an international conference, was dismissed by Washington, since it risked becoming a forum for criticism of Israel’s position.
Thus, no progress. Netanyahu may have accepted the principles of the borders last November, but he will not do so now, unless the acceptance is traded for Israel's position on settlements, water, refugees, and security arrangements. In addition, the Prime Minister is not going to risk his “united and forever-lasting” capital of Jerusalem, for which he refused to extend moratorium on settlement activities in the eastern part on the city. And there is domestic politics: Bibi cannot push the limits of his grand coalition.
So Netanyahu sets other pre-conditions: the recognition of Israel’s “Jewish nature”, Hamas' acceptance of the framework of the US-EU-UN-Russia Quartet --- renouncing terror, recognising Israel, and abiding by previous agreements signed between Israel and Ramallah --- and release of the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In contrast to Netyanahu’s tactical manoeuvres, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has taken a different path, accepting the US proposals for negotiation, showing the world that it is the Palestinians who side with the rest of the world in a pursuit of peace with Israel.
But, according to Haaretz, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat will turn to the United Nations as early as 15 July if there is no progress is seen regarding desired Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, despite of Obama’s warning that “symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state". The Palestinians will urge external powers to put extra pressure on West Jerusalem to come to the table on the basis of the 1967 borders. At the same time, they will seek recognition of a "legitimate” state so they can start negotiations from a stronger position. T
The US Congress has already countered with a resolution saying that it would oppose a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations. Last week, the Senate reiterated the Quartet’s demands on Hamas and called on Ramallah not to “insist on” seeking the UN recognition which could bring “restrictions” (read as partial or total freeze of funds).
According to Haaretz, the pressure has had some effect: senior Palestinians such as Palestianian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, former Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, and the former Palestinian UN envoy Nasser al-Qudwa oppose an unilateral declaration of statehood by the United Nations. They fear that relations with Washington will be seriously damaged and the reality of occupation will be continuing even after the vote.
According to the UN Charter, the Palestinian application must be considered and passed by at least nine members of the Security Council, without a veto from any of the five permanent members, and then adopted by 2/3 of the states in the General Assembly. The latter condition is likely to be met --- about 150 states have already stated that they would vote Yes --- but despite the Palestinian delegation’s intense lobbying efforts, Washington seems determined use its veto in the Security Council.
Some observers say Abbas will not go so far to risk a veto because endangering the relationship with Americans and putting the 1993 Oslo Accords into jeopardy will result in the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, both financially and politically. That prediction is shaky: public US opposition is likely to highlight the integrity of the new alliance between Hamas and Fatah.
And, for the first time, Palestinians will show the whole world, and especially Washington, that it is not bluffing in the face of US opposition. There has already been success: several Latin American countries have recognised a Palestinian state and many European Union counties have upgraded Palestine General Delegations to diplomatic missions and embassies.
Nor can Washington stop funds to Ramallah since it will risks a vacuum of power, as the Arab Spring continues; Iran, Syria, and Libya are at boiling point; and the collapse of any Israel-Palestine peace process could be exposed.
In the worst case scenario for Washington, a combination of the European Union --- including Britain, France, and Germany --- and Russia could back a new, long-term Palestinian unity government, pursuing a slower institution-building process rather than bilateral negotiations. (In April, the EU initiative to produce the outlines of a final settlement was blocked by Washington.) Or, in a worst-worst case scenario, the West Bank economy will collapse and Americans will see another intifada, further damaging US influence in the Middle East.
On 11 July, just four days before the deadline given by Ramallah, the Quartet will be gathering. This time, Washington has to bring something more than Obama’s speech, with more flexibility for the EU initiative, to the table. One possibility? Acknowledging Hamas behind closed doors, giving Abbas a guarantee that Ramallah will never need to recognise a “Jewish state”, and promising a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital in a year.
At the same time, a sign can be given to Netanyahu that he can be a peace-making hero ahead of Israeli elections. How? The release of Gilad Shalit, the detained Israel soldier, by Hamas.
And if this is not pursued? Well, get ready for the September display at the United Nations.