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First published in  Public Service Europe
November 29, 2012

Palestinian statehood bid could ‘derail peace process’

Raheem Kassam

Public Service Europe, November 29th 2012

All things considered, the statehood bid is potentially one of the most counter-productive developments for the Middle East peace process in years – argues communications chief

What is left of the Middle East peace process is broadly mirrored by what is left of the credibility of the Palestinian Authority or PA. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA, has in recent years created a situation in which he has become quite irrelevant. His reluctance to come to the negotiating table after numerous offers from the Israelis and insistence by the international community has left him in a situation whereby even the Israeli government is now cautiously and delicately dealing with Hamas in Gaza, more-so than the PA.

While this is not a reflection on the legitimacy of Hamas as representatives of the Palestinian people, for a terrorist outfit can never be regarded as such, it does indicate that Abbas has isolated himself. And yet almost naturally, Israel is urged to outstretch another olive branch. During 2009’s freeze on settlement building, Abbas refused to re-engage in peace negotiations. This year, when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in October that he was “willing to go to negotiations right away without any preconditions”, he was met with stone-cold silence from the Palestinians.

Yet the international community is likely to back Abbas’s bid for non-member observer status at the United Nations General Assembly today. It is a roll of the dice that he hopes will make him relevant again and it might, for a moment. It will mean that Palestine will be eligible for member status of the International Criminal Court – a scenario which is likely to cause more political and legal nightmares for Israel, as it inevitably seeks to use the court for disputes regarding settlement building and occupation of the West Bank.

But this calculation by Abbas is aggressive and naive. While we should all agree that the existence of a Palestinian state is both right and desirable, these are not the conditions under which it should arise. A bitter and controversial establishment of a state, even if in name only, will seed resentment for decades to come; especially, if no negotiations are had. Israel is painfully and historically aware of this, as are the United States and Great Britain due to their role in the establishment of the Jewish state.

Observer status at the UN will only entrench the political rivalries between Abbas and Netanyahu, and deepen the rift between the Palestinian Authority and Israel – with likely tit-for-tat exchanges occurring legally and politically in the foreseeable future. Israel has the ability to cripple trade into the PA-controlled areas, as well as withhold the authority’s funding for general administrative activities such as paying salaries to public sector workers. This is an axe they may not be afraid to wield.

The US Congress may also penalise Abbas and, therefore, the Palestinian people in terms of aid – impoverishing many and thereby breeding further extremism and polarisation. But the burden of blame will fall solely on the shoulders of Abbas. It is evident that this calculation for statehood has been a short-term one. All things considered, the bid is potentially one of the most counter-productive developments for the Middle East peace process in years. If the general assembly votes in favour today, the peace process will effectively be derailed.

Raheem Kassam

About Raheem Kassam

A counter-extremism campaigner and expert in British and American politics, Kassam is also the director of Student Rights, which monitors extremism on UK campuses and has been widely cited for its work in international media. Kassam has written for The Wall Street Journal, ConservativeHome and he is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He has appeared on the BBC, Channel 4 and Al Jazeera. Kassam also serves on the council of The Bow Group and is the Chairman for the Bow Group Transatlantic and Homeland Security Policy Group. Kassam is a regular commentator on US political affairs at tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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