The Palestinians may appeal to the United Nations for statehood. Again.
That was the message out of Ramallah on Sunday, June 24, when Fatah, the dominant Palestinian faction in the West Bank, concluded a meeting of its congress.
If you listened closely, you might have heard a collective head slap halfway around the world at Foggy Bottom. The U.S. State Department fought hard last year to derail this very process at the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in Manhattan. The Palestinians delivered their request, but failed to garner enough support in the Security Council, thanks to heavy U.S. and Canadian lobbying. U.S. diplomats then prevailed upon the Palestinians to shelve their application for nonmember observer status, which would have granted them some of the rights afforded to sovereign states, including the ability to sue the Israelis for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Palestinians backed down last year. This year, they may not take no for an answer.
Although deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak once single-handedly reined in Palestinian adventurism and prodded Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, his successor, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, may not follow suit. To put it mildly, encouraging diplomacy with the Israelis has never been part of the Brotherhood's platform.
Even if the military retains full control of foreign policy in Egypt (a likely scenario for the foreseeable future), it is still doubtful that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will stand in the way of the Palestinian statehood campaign. Indeed, it's doubtful that any Arab state will. With the Arab Spring in full bloom, regional supporters of Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy have long since scurried for cover.
Abbas now cites Israeli settlement activity as the reason he refuses to negotiate. It was never a red line for him in the past, but it's now a convenient formula for him that can't lose. Palestinians support it. And you hear no complaints from the region, where anti-Israel rhetoric is growing increasingly strident.
According to Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, the PLO, which is leading the charge to Turtle Bay, is now following the lead of a different regional player: Qatar. In late March, Erekat announced that the Palestinian leadership had reached an agreement with Doha to try again at the U.N. Other Palestinian insiders confirm that the Qataris are leading the charge, and one former official says they're even funding the legal effort for the PLO, producing analysis on the costs and benefits of the statehood initiative.
Throughout the spring, in one way or another, Palestinian officials affirmed this new, yet familiar strategy. For example, Abbas told Tunisian representatives as much in late April, and an unnamed Palestinian official echoed the same sentiments to Xinhua in May. Citing this anonymous source, the Chinese news agency reported that Abbas was "drumming up support for another battle in the United Nations to get a recognition of an independent Palestinian state."