While there is some debate as to who emerged as the real winner from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, there’s little doubt that the big loser was the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party were shown to be irrelevant to the Middle East conflict as Hamas demonstrated once again that it is running an independent Palestinian state in all but name. The firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel boosted Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians who still view violence as the only credential that brings political credibility. But Abbas still has one card to play: his attempt to get the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the PA’s status at the world body to nonmember observer status. The proposed resolution would recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”
There’s little doubt that a majority of UN member states will vote for the resolution, but the value of this move was enhanced by the announcement today that France will vote for it. This gives Abbas a much-needed shot in the arm, as it appears that the West will be split with the French being joined by some other European nations while the U.S. and Germany will oppose it. But any expectation that this vote will ensure that Abbas will hold onto the West Bank, let alone lead a state of Palestine some day, is unfounded. Though the vote might make some mischief for Israel at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, most Palestinians understand this is about symbolism, not power. Since Abbas can’t or won’t pay the price of genuine independence — making peace with Israel — his UN gambit remains nothing more than posturing intended to help him avoid the negotiations that could actually help him get something Hamas can’t achieve. Until that changes, any effort to help Abbas via the UN won’t do a thing to undermine Hamas.
Those worried about Hamas’s ascendancy keep telling us that the only way to answer the Islamist threat is to bolster Abbas’s corrupt and discredited government. That seems to be the motivation for the French whose president, Francois Hollande, is also not adverse to firing a shot across the bow of an Israeli government that the doesn’t like. But as the reservations expressed by the British government — which is equally hostile to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu but more attuned to political reality — make clear, the UN vote won’t bring the region closer to peace.
As the New York Times notes:
A British official told The Financial Times that Britain was prepared to back the Palestinians but wanted three assurances: that the Palestinians would not then seek to join the International Criminal Court; that they would not follow with a bid for full membership; and that Mr. Abbas return to negotiations without conditions.
These are assurances that Abbas knows he cannot honestly make since the whole point of the UN effort is to help him avoid negotiations which complicate his efforts to compete with Hamas for popularity on the Palestinian street, not to revive them.
France’s betrayal will help heighten the isolation of Israel. But this won’t do a thing to help the lives of ordinary Palestinians or to bring them closer to the independence they say they want. The only thing that can do that is to talk directly to Israel. Yet Hamas’s growing influence internationally as the result of their alliances with Egypt and Turkey means that Abbas has even less room to maneuver than before.
The problem those promoting the UN initiative fail to address is that as long as Fatah is locked in a contest with Hamas to see who can be the most hostile to Israel that it can never win, there’s nothing that anyone in the West can do to help it.
The last time Abbas tried to outmaneuver Israel and the U.S. at the UN the result was a humiliating rebuff that showed his “diplomatic tsunami” was nothing more than an embarrassing drizzle. Though he may do better this year, the disconnect between an illusory diplomatic victory and the facts on the ground for the Palestinians will do more to loosen Abbas’s hold on the West Bank and help Hamas gain ground there than another UN defeat. Those seeking to undermine Hamas via the UN are doing the Palestinian people no favors.