Palestinian U.N. Move Carefully Tailored to Avoid Retaliation by Congress

Fine Print Says Mahmoud Abbas Is All Bark Little Bite

getty images

By Reuters

Published April 03, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed onto 15 international conventions on Tuesday, he shocked the U.S. sponsors of troubled Middle East peace talks. But the move was carefully limited to avoid American retaliation.

Abbas’s action may have been designed more as a symbolic act of defiance to shore up his tenuous standing among Palestinians frustrated at the diplomatic impasse with Israel over their goal of statehood than a knife in the heart of peacemaking.

As a non-member state in the United Nations, Palestinians can join 63 international agencies and accords. However, by only signing conventions dealing with social and human rights instead of seeking full membership in U.N. bodies, the Palestinians’ foreign minister said they would not provoke U.S. sanctions.

“Frankly speaking, I don’t expect any consequences coming from the U.S. Congress regarding this step at all,” Riad al-Malki told reporters on Wednesday.

“We did not talk about us becoming members of the U.N. specialised agencies in order for the Congress to activate their decision. We are talking about and we are still talking about letters of submission to protocols and conventions, and that’s it.”

Peace negotiations are near collapse amid mutual accusations of bad faith. In the latest such episode, Abbas inked the 15 conventions in search of more leverage against Israel after it refused to free a batch of Palestinian prisoners under terms of a previous agreement. Israel, in turn, said it would not release those detainees without a Palestinian commitment to continue negotiations beyond an initial end-of-April deadline.

U.S. officials criticised what they called “unhelpful, unilateral actions” by both sides.

Abbas’s limited self-rule administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is dependent on U.S. support. Around $500 million in annual aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority helps keep its bloated public sector and security forces afloat.

But Congress has repeatedly docked payments as punishment for Palestinian political decisions it disagrees with, including an earlier bid for statehood recognition. A 1990 law also bars U.S. funding to U.N. bodies which recognise a Palestinian state.

The law put the United States in the awkward position of losing its right to vote in the cultural and educational body UNESCO last year after Palestinians acceded to it in 2011.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pleaded with a congressional foreign affairs committee last month to reassess its U.N. divestment policies - a sign of how badly his State Department wishes to avoid diplomatic damage arising from Palestinian moves.

“On the next issue of the U.N. waiver, please, I’ve got to tell you, this is a very one-sided event against us…whether or not the United States loses its vote and gets punished for (Abbas) going (to U.N. agencies) is irrelevant to him. He’ll go, because it’s a tool for him to be able to do things he hopes that, you know, make life miserable for Israel,” Kerry said.

“They’ll go again if they think it’s in their best interests. And who will pay the price? The United States of America. We won’t be able to vote.”

“CLEVER”

Palestinians seek an independent state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem - lands captured by Israel in a 1967 war. While all parties say negotiations are the best path to peace, Palestinians say they may eventually resort to international bodies to force the militarily vastly more powerful Israel to make concessions for peace.

The U.N. General Assembly voted to recognise Palestine as a non-member state in 2012, entitling them to join the accords which Abbas signed up on Tuesday, including conventions against discrimination against women and for the rights of disabled people as well as the Geneva Conventions.

They burden the Palestinians with few binding commitments on their government, which has been accused of corruption and abuses of detainees and journalists.

Nor do they court retaliation by immediately empowering them to lodge legal complaints against Israel or rattle U.S. foreign policy, a senior U.N. official told Reuters.

“The nuclear option for Abbas would be to go for the International Criminal Court and International Atomic Energy Agency. Those are the ones that matter,” the official said.

“(The latest signing is) actually quite a clever move. Abbas is saying that the Palestinians want to be part of the global community and improve its state building mechanisms by signing up to a load of well-meaning conventions. He can turn around and say, ‘Why should Israel feel threatened by us signing a convention protecting women’s rights?’”

Peace moves by Abbas, a veteran negotiator who has chosen diplomacy over the violent militancy espoused by his predecessors and Palestinian rivals such as the Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza, have not been welcomed by his countrymen.

Campaigns for recognition at the United Nations, while mostly symbolic, have been praised by many Palestinians.

The 78-year old president - who saw his term expire over five years ago but remains in office because of a stalemate with Hamas over conditions for the next elections - may have been keen to shore up his appeal after Israel over the weekend failed to free a fourth and final group of over two dozen Palestinian prisoners as part of a pledge to restart peace talks last year.

“That’s when he reached his endpoint and said, ‘I’ve got to do another measure that’s going to improve my popularity,’ and going to the U.N. has so far been successful in terms of boosting his popularity,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to Palestinian peace negotiators.

“But as a measure, it’s a weak one. He didn’t go all the way to hold Israel accountable and he didn’t abandon negotiations.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.