09.13.11

Obama Puts Heat on Palestinians

Exactly 18 years after the Oslo accords, the president and U.S. allies are trying to stop the Palestinians from unilaterally declaring statehood at the U.N. Eli Lake on the frantic campaign.

Eighteen years after one of the most hopeful moments in the Mideast peace process, the Obama administration and its allies are waging a frantic, last-minute campaign to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to avoid unilaterally declaring statehood next week at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. 

Former British prime minister Tony Blair was among those trying to keep the Palestinians focused on a negotiated settlement with Israel, and not a declaration that could have widespread ramifications in the region.

Blair was scheduled to meet Wednesday in Ramallah with Abbas, while President Obama dispatched one of his top Middle East hands, Dennis Ross, to help make the case. But the Palestinians’ representative to the United States said there was little in the latest overtures to change minds.

"As long as there is no viable alternative, they are not bringing anything from Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu or the Israeli government, not even a commitment to engage genuinely with us to try to put an end to the conflict, as long as they do not bring anything credible, it will be difficult for us," said Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO's chief representative in Washington.  

Among the preconditions Areikat said the PLO needs is an agreement from Netanyahu to stop all construction in East Jerusalem, a stipulation no Israeli leader has accepted in the past.

Ross was the top diplomat behind the Oslo process, the peace talks President Clinton had hoped would lead to a two-state solution. Tuesday is the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accords at the White House, where the Palestinian and Israeli leaders famously shook hands in agreement on a process toward peace.

One worry for the West over the Palestinian plan to declare statehood is that it may lead to violence in Gaza and the West Bank. Last month Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the peace process, said he was worried about violence in Gaza and southern Israel. The Israelis are also concerned that if the Palestinians win a vote in the General Assembly granting observer status to the Palestine Liberation Organization, then the entity will be able to sue the Jewish state in the International Criminal Court at The Hague. 

Speaking to reporters Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, Areikat said: "The Europeans are talking to us; [EU foreign-policy chief] Lady [Catherine] Ashton was in Cairo yesterday; Tony Blair is going to tomorrow to meet with President Abbas; many countries are talking to the Palestinian leadership." 

Areikat said the PLO delegation planned on asking the Lebanese delegation to introduce the statehood resolution at the U.N. Security Council on Sept. 20 or 21. Lebanon holds the presidency of the council. 

The Palestinians’ representative to the United States said there was little in the latest overtures to change minds.

President Obama has said he would veto the resolution at the Security Council. Areikat said the Palestinians would then take a period of time to regroup before trying the motion at the General Assembly, where they will likely have enough votes for passage for nonmember status at the U.N. This would mean the Palestinians could participate in U.N. committees and bodies, but not be recognized as full members. 

Areikat said the proposed resolution would define Palestine as Gaza and the territory east of the 1949 armistice line that Israel won in 1967’s Six-Day War. That territory includes East Jerusalem and the remains of the second Jewish Temple, as well as settlement blocs that the Palestinians had agreed in prior talks would remain in Israel in exchange for comparable swaps from the Israeli side.