So the scaled-down bid this year has the feeling of an anticlimax.
Facing stalled peace efforts with the Israelis, an impasse in attempts to heal the rift between his Fatah movement and the Islamist group Hamas, and economic unrest in the West Bank, Abbas returns to the U.N. after a year in which the Palestinian issue has been sidelined by concerns about the Iranian nuclear program and the unfolding Arab Spring.
While Abbas will try to use his speech to refocus world attention on the Palestinian quest for statehood, it is far from clear that his words will be followed anytime soon with a draft resolution to change the Palestinians’ status at the U.N. from an “observer entity” to a non-member “observer state.”
Though Security Council approval is needed for full membership in the United Nations, an upgrade in status need only be approved by the General Assembly, where resolutions cannot be vetoed. As an observer state, Palestine could join U.N. agencies such as the International Criminal Court, where Palestinian officials have suggested they could bring cases against Israel.
A majority at the 193-member General Assembly likely would favor granting the Palestinians observer-state status, but Israel and the United States oppose the move, calling it a unilateral step to decide an issue that should be resolved through negotiations.
If the resolution is submitted, Abbas could risk losing promised financial aid from Washington as well as tax and customs transfers from the Israelis. Those are funds the Palestinian Authority, mired in a deepening fiscal crisis, desperately needs.
Caught between those external pressures and public discontent over the lack of movement toward ending the Israeli occupation, Abbas appears to be walking a tightrope: He is going to the United Nations in a show of diplomatic resolve, while remaining unclear about when a draft statehood resolution would actually be submitted to the body.
At a news conference at his Ramallah headquarters this month, he was deliberately vague about the timing of the step, saying the Palestinians would consult with allies about a draft that would be submitted for a vote “at the appropriate time.”
Palestinian officials acknowledge that any such resolution is unlikely to be presented in the weeks leading up to the U.S. election, so as not to antagonize President Obama at a politically sensitive moment.