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Palestinians get an upgrade, but there’s still no pilot

Anne Penketh
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  • Last updated: Friday, 30 November 2012 at 1:02 pm

After the celebrations in Ramallah have died down, and the congratulatory telegrams filed away, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will find himself in exactly the same position as he was yesterday, before the UN General Assembly vote on upgrading Palestine’s status to that of a “non-member observer state”.

What happened yesterday was that after the Israeli-Gaza conflict, the international community moved to bolster Abbas who had been further marginalised after the rival Palestinian faction Hamas was strengthened in Gaza by surviving the Israeli onslaught on the territory. Today, Abbas is still the lame duck he was before, despite the diplomatic figleaf obtained by the vote of 138 states at the UN in his favour.

Palestine might have been upgraded to business class from economy in the plane destined for a two-party state, but to keep the metaphor going there is no pilot on the plane. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never been a real partner on that journey, and the United States, which had the opportunity to impose a peace solution on the two parties, has lost whatever credibility it had as an honest broker since the US presidential election forced President Obama to stake out a more explicitly pro-Israel position.

This was reflected by the comments of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after her country opposed the Palestinian move, describing it as “unfortunate and counterproductive” and saying it placed “new obstacles in the path of peace.” Britain lacked the courage even to stand up for the principle of supporting a Palestinian state, and abstained on the grounds that its conditions of support for the UN resolution had not been met.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador, was actually correct when she pointed out that “this resolution does not establish Palestine as a state.” The bottom line is that the United Nations doesn’t recognise states: only states do.

Unfortunately for the Palestinian leader, the international community now has bigger issues to grapple with instead of a festering sore that has run on for decades. Iran – which I believe was the real reason Netanyahu decided to degrade the Palestinians’ rocket arsenal in Gaza before the Israeli elections in January – is still enriching uranium in defiance of the UN despite tough economic sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, and the Syrian conflict grows more alarming every day.

So if Abbas wants to get into the pilot’s seat, he should start being proactive. He should be talking to Hamas and to Egypt, whose ruling Muslim Brotherhood has the chance of being the real power broker with Hamas, if he really believes in the “last chance to save the two state solution” as he said yesterday at the UN. His announced plans to visit Gaza could be the first step along the corridor.


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