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Right Turn
Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 08/28/2011

Did the Palestinian Authority think through its U.N. gambit?

The conventional wisdom is that the Palestinian Authority has outwitted Israel, the United States and the “international community” and stands poised to get a a declaration of statehood from the United Nations. Yes, the United States will be obligated to veto any measure in the U.N.Security Council, but the PA can go to the General Assembly, get an impressive vote and then have a club to use against Israel in its lawfare operation to discredit and delegitimize the Jewish state.

Well, the evidence is now mounting that this may have been a good career move for Mahmoud Abbas, who can retire with a feather in his cap, but a disastrous move for the Palestinians.

This week former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams wrote:

For years the Palestinian leadership has taken legal advice from a law professor at Oxford University, Guy Goodwin-Gill. But now it seems that they forgot to consult him before demanding a U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood. In a recent legal brief for the leadership, the good professor demolishes the arguments for U.N. recognition.
As reported in the Palestinian media, the brief argues that a U.N. decision to recognize Palestinian statehood replaces the . . . [Palestine Liberation Organization] with the Palestinian Authority, and this would have what the article calls “dramatic legal implications” . . . .

These include the legal and practical limitations on the PA (Its lawyer says that the PA “is a subsidiary body, competent only to exercise those powers conferred on it by the Palestinian National Council. By definition, it does not have the capacity to assume greater powers.”) And there are three more knotty problems for the Palestinians.

The first, of course, concerns U.S. aid. A report in Ha’aretz claimed that the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, Daniel Rubinstein, told chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat that “in case the Palestinian Authority seeks to upgrade its position at the U.N. through the General Assembly, the U.S. Congress will take punitive measures against it, including a cut in U.S. aid.” Alas, this refreshing clarity was swiftly disclaimed by the State Department. A State Department official authorized only to speak on background told me Friday afternoon, “While we cannot get into private diplomatic discussions, this report is not an accurate portrayal of the U.S. position, nor did CG Rubenstein make the comments purported in the media.” So much for that. (The official added the usual boilerplate that the only way forward is for the two sides is to engage in “serious and substantive negotiations between the parties, and that remains our focus.”)

But Congress is another matter. There is broad, bipartisan support in Congress to cut off the PA should it take the step of seeking a U.N. declaration. Moreover, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is preparing to introduce a bill to cut off funds to the United Nations as well. In an op-ed in the Miami Herald she explains:

In 1989, Yasser Arafat’s PLO also pushed for membership for a “Palestinian state” in UN entities. The PLO’s strategy looked unstoppable until the George H.W. Bush administration made clear that the U.S. would cut off funding to any UN entity that upgraded the status of the Palestinian observer mission in any way. The UN was forced to choose between isolating Israel and receiving U.S. contributions, and they chose the latter. The PLO’s unilateral campaign was stopped in its tracks.
This example demonstrates a simple but needed lesson: At the UN, money talks, and smart withholding works.
With Arafat’s successors up to the same tricks today, the U.S. response must be as strong. . . .
I will soon introduce the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act, which will reflect the executive branch’s previous successful policies by cutting off U.S. contributions to any UN entity that grants membership or any other upgraded status to the Palestinian observer mission. This legislation will also leverage U.S. taxpayer dollars to make sure they do not fund biased or wasteful UN activities, and to achieve other much-needed reforms that will make the UN more transparent, accountable, objective, and effective.

In addition to cutting off funding, the PA’s U.N. tactic may result in expulsion of the PLO and the closing of its offices in the United States. The reasoning is simple. As a Middle East hand explained to me, “There was until Oslo no Palestinian representation in the U.S.” Once we bought into the notion that Yasser Arafat had agreed to participate in the peace process, “we allowed them to open an office, so State could talk to them all the time.” However, Congress was not enamored of a terrorist organization being allowed to do business in the U.S. Congress and passed a law requiring the president every six months to waive the prohibition on terrorists groups and allow the PLO to operate here. This has gone on for two decades.

But there are good arguments why that should come to an end if the PA gets its upgraded status from the U.N. Jonathan Schanzer from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies lays out several grounds for kicking the PLO out of the United States.

First, “In declaring independence, the Oslo Process will be null and void. This, in turn, will nullify the Palestinian Authority, which drew its legitimacy from Oslo. As such, the new Palestinian government would become the new representative of the Palestinians moving forward. Thus, the PLO — formerly the only entity that could negotiate on behalf of the rights of Palestinians — would have no role to play. Why would the U.S. want both PLO offices and a PA mission?”

Second, Schanzer argues, “The PLO has openly challenged the administration and the U.S. Congress” in going to the United Nations. Congress could well decide (along with a cutoff in funding) to change the law and make it illegal for the PLO to operate in the U.S. Indeed, Ros-Lehtinen argued well before the U.N. gambit that the PLO should not be allowed to operate here. In July 2010, she put out a statement: “Abu Mazen refuses to negotiate directly with Israel, instead praising the recently deceased mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and sending condolences to his relatives. But the U.S. rewards his corrupt, autocratic PLO with more symbols of legitimacy, treating it like a sovereign state. On the other hand, Israel continues to be an indispensable democratic ally — but the U.S. still refuses to move our embassy to Israel’s chosen capital. Instead of giving more undeserved gifts to the PLO, it’s time for us to kick the PLO out of the U.S. once and for all, and move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, where it belongs.” There is all the more reason to carry through on that threat if the Palestinians snub the United States and the entire peace process.

And finally, Schanzer points out that the “sputtering” reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas is still going on. Should that proceed, there would be a basis to argue that Hamas taints all the Palestinian entities including the PLO, which then must be tossed out of the country.

In addition to the loss of funding and the expulsion of the PLO, the PA risks a violent reaction in Israel that it will not be able to contain. Israeli police and military are preparing for the worse in the wake of a U.N. declaration, namely a third intifada. When Palestinians look around the day after the U.N. “victory” and see that absolutely nothing has changed, will there be uncontrolled violence, in part directed at the PA that over-promised and under-delivered? Abbas may think he can control or limit demonstrations, but, if the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that demonstrations take on a life of their own.

Given all the serious blows to the Palestinians (economically, diplomatically and politically) that could well flow from a U.N. action one has to wonder: Did they think this through? Until recently it does not appear there was any realistic planning or assessment of the adverse consequences of a U.N. vote that, after all, would at most get the PA the status of the Vatican at the U.N. A very small gain in exchange for many real problems.

A final note: Have any of the European cheerleaders for the U.N. action thought this through either? Which Palestinian state are they supporting — a Hamas failed state or a Fatah state? And given the inevitable departure of the only marginally credible financial figure in the PA (Salam Fayyad), how do the Europeans expect the new state to operate? It is hard to imagine they would continue to pour their money into a chaotic and corrupt regime that would follow Fayyad’s departure.

Maybe there are good answers to all these dilemmas. But oddly, I haven’t heard a single world leader explain how this would all work out.

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 08/28/2011

Categories:  foreign policy, Israel

 
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