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Palestine Officially Seeks Statehood Recognition at UN

Palestine submitted their petition to the United Nations Security Council for membership as a state today, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a rousing speech before the General Assembly in support of the measure.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was greeted by sustained applause and appreciative whistles as he approached the dais in the General Assembly hall to deliver a speech outlining his people’s hopes and dreams of becoming a full member of the United Nations. Some members of the Israeli delegation, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann, left the hall as Abbas approached the podium.

Negotiations with Israel “will be meaningless” as long as it continues building on lands the Palestinians claim for that state, he declared, warning that his government could collapse if the construction persists.

“This policy is responsible for the continued failure of the successive international attempts to salvage the peace process,” said Abbas, who has refused to negotiate until the construction stops. “This settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence.”

To another round of applause, he held up a copy of the formal membership application and said he had asked U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to expedite deliberation of his request to have the United Nations recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Security Council action on the request will not be immediate. The vote will be put on hold to allow for an opportunity to renew peace talks with the Israelis. But the reaction of the Israeli delegation tells you how far that will go. And each day of delay will lead to more pressure from Palestine and its wellspring of international support. Abbas has received a lot of praise and stature internationally for focusing attention on Palestine’s plight over the past few days.

But the Security Council resolution won’t pass. The United States is committed to a veto, and France and Britain will likely abstain. If Palestine gets 9 votes for statehood at the Security Council, however, a distinct possibility, the measure could move to the General Assembly, or they could petition the GA for Observer Status, which cannot be vetoed and would likely succeed. If there’s no movement at the Security Council, the Palestinians are likely to move to the General Assembly, but we’re not there yet.

Israel braced for protests and rallies among gleeful Palestinians by deploying 22,000 police officers around the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Protests are expected to be peaceful, but obviously this is a volatile part of the world, and provocateurs could lead to violence.

While the statehood bid will not automatically confer a state or peace in the Middle East, Palestine is using the only leverage they have to advance their interest in an independent state. The idea that this bid for statehood would “threaten the peace process,” as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech after Abbas, assumes that there’s any peace process to begin with. The statehood proposal, in fact, kicked off the first diplomacy toward the peace process in many months.

The one problem for Abbas is getting unified support at home:

The U.N. recognition bid has won Abbas broad popular support at home, but it is opposed by his main political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas movement that violently wrested control of Gaza in 2007.

Gaza’s Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accused Abbas on Friday of relinquishing Palestinian rights by seeking recognition for a state in the pre-1967 borders. Hamas’ founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and a state in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, though some Hamas officials have suggested they would support a peace deal based on the 1967 lines.

“The Palestinian people do not beg the world for a state, and the state can’t be created through decisions and initiatives,” Haniyeh said. “States liberate their land first and then the political body can be established.”

Former Obama State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter chided the US veto threat in the pages of the Financial Times. “The move is likely to trigger violence in Gaza and possibly the West Bank; Israeli countermeasures risk igniting more anti-Israel demonstrations across the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, and possibly in Syria. In both cases a direct clash between the Israeli and Egyptian or Syrian soldiers in the Sinai or the Golan Heights is all too possible, with potentially catastrophic consequences,” she wrote.

More from JTA and Reuters.

UPDATE: The full speech is available here.

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David Dayen

David Dayen