Abbas appears to delay bid for Palestinian statehood


PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas appeared to put off efforts to achieve full statehood at the United Nations as he told the world body time was running out for a lasting peace with Israel.

Mr Abbas (77) is facing a cash crisis at home and returned yesterday to the setting where last year he waved an application for statehood recognition from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly. This time he is seeking a limited upgrade from observer “entity” to “non-member state” in the 193-member assembly. Mr Abbas offered no timeline and gave little sense of urgency, an indication he will hold off on any new initiatives until after the US elections in November.

“We have begun intensive consultations with various regional organisations and member states aimed at having the general assembly adopt a resolution considering the state of Palestine as a non-member state of the United Nations during this session,” said Mr Abbas. “In our endeavour, we do not seek to delegitimise an existing State – that is Israel; but rather to assert the state that must be realised – that is Palestine,” he said.

While becoming a non-member state may open the door for the Palestinian Authority to sign treaties such as the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court, it would alienate the US, the UN’s biggest financial contributor and a key aid donor to the Palestinians. When the Palestinian Authority was accepted last year into UN cultural agency Unesco, the US response was to cut off funding that provides almost a quarter of the agency’s budget.

Meanwhile, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu concentrated his attention at the assembly on convincing the leaders gathered there that military action may be required to stop Iran’s nuclear programme from advancing. The dispute over Iran has drawn attention away from the difficulties facing the Palestinians.

Deteriorating economic conditions in the West Bank have fuelled social welfare protests. In the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians say the situation is becoming untenable. Palestinians are also no closer to achieving statehood, either in terms of territory or UN recognition, and the Israeli- Palestinian peace process is moribund.

Mr Abbas acknowledged as much, attacking Mr Netanyahu for not wanting to engage in “serious” peace negotiations. The last round of direct talks broke down in 2010 over the issue of limiting Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

“Developments over the past year have confirmed what we have persistently drawn attention to and warned of: the catastrophic danger of the racist Israeli settlement of our country, Palestine,” he said. In what appeared to be a gesture to Israel’s PM, Mr Abbas cited the Holy Land’s connection to Muhammed, Jesus and Abraham. Last year he omitted Abraham, the biblical progenitor of Jews and Muslims, from his UN address – a slight noted by Mr Netanyahu when he said: “We are both sons of Abraham.”

Mr Abbas said chances for a two-state solution were disappearing. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon this week also said “the door may be closing” on that option. “Despite all the complexities of the prevailing reality . . . there is still a chance – maybe the last – to save the two-state solution and to salvage peace,” said Mr Abbas.