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UN Upgrades Palestinians’ Status

Samara Greenberg

The United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Thursday, changing it to “non-member observer state” from “non-member observer entity.” The resolution passed with 138 members voting in favor, nine voting against, and 41 abstaining.

The United States, which voted against the bid, responded with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling the resolution “unfortunate” and “counterproductive,” and with UN Ambassador Susan Rice saying it “places further obstacles in the path [to] peace.” Israel, for its part, rejected the UN’s decision and said it would withhold transferring the approximately $100 million in tax payments to the PA that it collects each month. Instead, the money will be put toward paying the PA’s debt to Israel’s Electric Corporation, according to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Palestinians in Ramallah held pictures of President Mahmoud Abbas as they celebrated the United Nations vote. (Photo: Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Aside from increasing PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ standing amongst Palestinians for a short time, it is unclear what good the Palestinian bid at the UN will do for Abbas or the Palestinians. The resolution will hardly “breathe new life into the [peace] negotiations,” as Abbas told the General Assembly the day of the vote. During that speech, the PA president also accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” blamed it for the peace process’ failure, and said recent actions in Gaza prove “the Israeli Government’s adherence to the policy of occupation, brute force and war.” Abbas doesn’t sound like an interested peace partner.

Moreover, the resolution won’t likely change the West Bank-Gaza relationship. While Hamas leaders in Gaza voiced support for Abbas’ bid, they maintain that the recent Israel-Gaza fighting did more to advance the cause of statehood than the Palestinians’ upgraded status. “We don’t oppose his [Abbas’] going back to the UN,” said Ahmed Yousef, a senior aide to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “We just don’t think it’s going to do much for the political aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Of course, with its new status at the UN, the Palestinians could try to join agencies such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and press for investigations against Israel. But that would only draw the ire of the United States. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has already announced plans to introduce legislation that would cut off aid to the PA if it tried to use the ICC in such a manner. Last year, Washington stopped funding the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after it admitted a state of Palestine into the organization as a member.

Rather than spend time at the United Nations, President Abbas should be spending time at the negotiating table with Israel. But with his unilateral move at the UN that only serves to push the two parties apart, the chance of real negotiations happening anytime soon remains slim.