US aid threat not deterring Palestinian UN option

As seen on The Media Line

Palestinian plans to petition the United Nations for recognition and membership as an independent Palestinian state are going forward despite intense diplomatic pressure to back down. On Thursday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told foreign journalists that efforts by Israel and the U.S. are “too late” and that even if Israel would present a package of incentives for returning to the bargaining table, “We would first go to the UN and then negotiate.”

While questions remain about the Palestinian gambit and how UN procedure applies to the membership request, it has become increasingly apparent that beneath the downplaying of concern over the UN option by Israeli officials, Jerusalem is, indeed, anxious about an impending diplomatic defeat framed by acceptance of the Palestinian effort by at least 140 nations. According to Abbas, the application for membership will be submitted on or about September 19th to the Security Council and General Assembly even though “many countries do not agree with us and do not like this idea, but we will go there.”

Foremost among those not liking the idea is the United States, which has reiterated its intent to veto any relevant resolution submitted to the Security Council. Lurking overhead are threats by Congressional leaders to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if the UN gambit proceeds. Officials in Ramallah speaking under condition of anonymity have told The Media Line that US foreign aid has become crucial to the PA because of its dependability in large part because of the continued failure of Arab nations to make good on their pledges of funding. Asked by The Media Line whether the UN scenario is worth the risk of losing American largesse, Abbas replied, “We can’t pay our people now so what will be different?” Others suggested confidence that while President Obama will exercise the American veto in the Security Council, he will not take the more draconian step of cutting off aid and risk being accused of propelling the PA and the Palestinian people into deeper fiscal distress. Abbas denied that the Americans have so far issued any threat to suspend funding. He told reporters that US officials “didn’t talk about aid. They talked about some sort of confrontation, which means there will be big differences between the Palestinian attitude and the America attitude, which means there will be a confrontation. We told them we don’t want a confrontation either with Americans or anyone else.”

In explaining confidence that funding will continue, Palestinians point to the multi-tiered system of dispersing US aid, the majority of which is tied to projects overseen by international organizations and unlikely to be part of any suspension of aid. Only about $50 million in direct aid to the PA budget pledged for this year is in the pipeline. Dr. Mohammad I. Shtayyeh, Minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council and member of the Palestinian delegation to negations told The Media Line that, “In 2006, when the American Congress tried to boycott and put sanctions on the Hamas-led government, it’s the year we got the most money from the world.”  Shtayyeh added that “Israel can’t afford to push [the PA] into chaos because they will pay the consequences if security forces are not paid.”

Asked by reporters whether he was willing to back away from Turtle Bay if Israel presented a new package of ideas to resume talks prior to September 20th, Abbas replied that the US and Israel are too late, and that if such a package was presented, the Palestinians would proceed first to the UN and only then consider returning to negotiations.  According to Abbas, “They wasted all this time from the beginning of the year. From the day we went to Washington to talk with Netanyahu… they wasted all this time. Now when they come here to tell us, ‘we have this idea,’ we have this package and don’t go to the United Nations, we will not accept.”

The Israelis seemingly agree that time has been wasted, but the two sides place the blame on the other for the delay.  Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu,  told The Media Line that, “We’ve wasted two and a half years… had the Palestinians agreed to start talking peace with Israel directly, we’d be closer today to peace and independent Palestinian statehood than we are.” He quoted Netanyahu as calling for Abbas to engage in non-stop talks with him, “talks that should be continuous, talks that should be on-going until reaching an agreement; until reaching a breakthrough.”

Referring to the split between Fatah and Hamas, Abbas was asked whom he will be representing at the United Nations. His reply was that, “I represent all the Palestinian people.” Abbas told The Media Line that while “There is a problem between us and [Hamas] concerning the government…the reconciliation between us…is working and Hamas doesn’t reject the notion of the United Nations.” When pressed about the PA’s ability to control the Gaza Strip, Abbas replied that, “Whether there is Hamas or not, we are responsible, they are our people. There are 1.5 million, the territory is ours and we have split it between us, we will manage it.”

When asked whether the Israeli demand for recognition as a Jewish state was still a major issue, Abbas responded as he often does by saying, “It is not our business,” arguing that the demand for Jewish recognition was not part of its treaties with either Egypt or Jordan.