Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sounds like a man calling for help. He insists he is determined to go through with his bid for U.N. recognition but at the same time he seems to be looking for a way out.
He repeated it again this weekend, insisting he will be in New York on September 20 to make the formal request, and then said he wouldn't if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would only agree to his demands ‚Äì which are prone to change depending on when asked.
He said Israel must first agree to "full (Palestinian) sovereignty over all the territories occupied in 1967" and freeze all settlement construction. He also renewed his demand for full right of return for Palestinian refugees, although Palestine Papers revealed greater flexibility than publicly admitted.
And what does he offer in return?
It sure isn't recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. He emphatically rejected that once more this weekend. The PA will never agree to that, and he told the international community to stop telling him he should. "Don't order us to recognize a Jewish state," Abbas said. "We won't accept it."
Some of his close advisors, reportedly including his own prime minister, Salaam Fayyad, and other Arab leaders have been telling Abbas his UN strategy was a mistake, but he keeps climbing farther out on that limb. The one holding the escape ladder is Netanyahu, but he is so far unwilling to give Abbas the face-saving concessions he demands, especially with nothing big in return.
Not that Abbas won't have the votes in the General Assembly. The Israeli Foreign Ministry concedes he'll probably get support from 130 states ‚Äì but then again he could get an easy GA majority even on a resolution declaring Israel a turnip ‚Äì but nothing will change, and that's the big risk Abbas is taking.
Membership requires Security Council approval and Abbas' application faces a certain veto by the United States, which insists he return to the negotiating table that he walked away from 11 months ago.
Abbas had thought he had painted Netanyahu into a corner by threatening to go to the U.N. unless the Israeli leader met his demands. But Netanyahu, with strong backing from Barack Obama, refused.
Abbas's big worry now is going home empty handed, without a U.N. membership card and a seriously damaged relationship with the United States, the only country that has any clout with Israel.
The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem said PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat falsely accused Consul-General Daniel Rubenstein of threatening "punitive measures," including cutting off U.S. aid, unless Abbas dropped his bid for UN membership. The administration may not be threatening to cut aid ‚Äì though it does say relations will be very strained -- but there is a strong bipartisan movement on Capitol Hill to take a big bite out of the half-billion-dollar annual aid package and possibly impose new restrictions on dealing with the PA.
Abbas reminds me of the story of William Heirens, a serial killer who in 1945 wrote in lipstick on the mirror of one of his victims, "For heaven's sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself."
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