Now it's official. The Palestinian Authority has announced that it will seek full membership from the U.N. on September 20th of this year. As peace talks with Israel remain deadlocked, the PA hopes to win U.N. endorsement for Palestinian statehood in the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians have signaled they will seek an upgrading of their status from observer entity to non-member state. This is expected to pass as it does not require Security Council approval.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will send the request to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on the occasion of the 66th General Assembly. The date was chosen by the PA because Qatar will chair the General Assembly and Lebanon will hold the rotating presidency of the Security Council, PA officials said.
“Lebanon will hold the presidency of the Security Council in September and this will help us because the president of the council has special prerogatives, which is crucial,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki said on Saturday.
Abbas is likely to send the request to the Security Council first where it will most likely be vetoed by the U.S. The request will then go to the General Assembly and is expected to be passed by a significant majority, changing the Palestinian Authority's observer status in the U.N. to 'non-member state.'
The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem issued a terse statement to the Palestinian declaration. "[PA President Mahmoud] Abbas has apparently chosen to avoid direct negotiations with Israel. It is an expected yet regrettable step," the PMO said Saturday night. "Only direct negotiations can advance the peace process, not unilateral decisions, " it said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "Forum of Eight" senior ministers is set to meet in the coming days to formulate an Israeli response to the Palestinian bid and discuss its national and security repercussions. Conclusions drawn from the Forum will then be taken to the Security Cabinet for discussion and vote.
"The Prime Minister’s hand is outstretched for peace still, and has been for some time. But it has been left suspended in the air. The Palestinians have decided not to go forward and look for a solution,” Cabinet Secretary Zvika Hauser said Sunday morning.
Speaking on Army Radio, Hauser said that the Palestinians “have no chance [for their statehood bid] in the Security Council [where the U.S. has veto power], but in the General Assembly there is an automatic majority in favor of the Palestinians. If the Bin Laden assassination came up for a vote at the GA it would have received an overwhelming no vote,” Hauser said.
Though the U.N. vote is largely symbolic, the Palestinians believe it will send a powerful message to Israel. Israel has been leading a campaign to rally nations together to oppose the Palestinian bid, focusing on the U.S. and European nations. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that, while the vote is symbolic, it will unleash powerful pressure on Israel. "The sky won’t fall in September, but a process will start that delegitimizes Israel," Barak said on Army Radio.
Meanwhile, Kadima chairperson Tzipi Livni on Sunday laid the blame for the diplomatic impasse with the Palestinians squarely at the feet of the prime minister. "The Palestinian declaration is bad for Israel, and there is only one person responsible for this diplomatic failure - Netanyahu," the Opposition leader told Israel Radio on Sunday.
In response, Gilad Erdan, minister for Environmental Protection said, "Livni wants to deepen internal divides in Israeli society." It was Palestinian refusal and Abbas' preconditions that derailed negotiations, he said.
The Palestinian move in the U.N. puts relations between the PA and the U.S. in danger of being re-evaluated, a U.S. government official said over the weekend. U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, which currently stands at a grand total of $740 million according to a 2010 State Department report, could be put on hold as a result of the Palestinian declaration.
The Ma'an News Agency reported this weekend that in talks with U.S. legislators on Thursday, Abbas stated his goal is to create a Palestinian state "free of settlements." Abbas added that security for his proposed Palestinian state would be provided by "a third party, NATO under U.S. command."
The 194th nation
The Palestinian Authority has begun its advocacy campaign for its statehood bid at the U.N., named "Palestine - The 194th Nation." The Palestinian Authority has enlisted all of its diplomatic resources, Palestinian community leaders around the world and student organizations to advance their plight. Mass rallies and events in support of statehood are to be held throughout the West Bank on the day of the vote and Palestinian's around the world were asked to place PLO flags on their homes in support.