Sept. 20 (Bloomberg) — Just what is Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas thinking? At the new United Nations session, he has announced, the Palestinian National Authority will ask the Security Council to recognize Palestine as a state. The application will be dead on arrival: The U.S. has already said it will veto.
Abbas, in other words, wants to lose. The veto, he must hope, will tell the world that Israel, backed by the U.S., is the barrier to peace.
At first blush, this exercise looks purely symbolic — classic defeatism brought to you by the people who, according to the nasty adage, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
But such a dismissal would be too hasty. Faced with a continuing impasse in negotiations, Abbas is thinking outside the box. Perhaps inspired by the Arab Spring, he is pursuing nonviolent diplomacy, often the road not taken in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it turns out that, appearances to the contrary, he has more options than immediate defeat.
Abbas’s situation isn’t promising. He is blocked on one front by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has so far been unwilling to negotiate on terms the Palestinians will accept, and has continued to build what the world (including the US) considers settlements in East Jerusalem. On the other front is the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, fires rockets into Israel, and won’t recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist, much less negotiate with it.
Making matters worse is the failure thus far of the so-called peace process, which is increasingly viewed as a joke in the region. It has produced little but frustration over the last two decades, providing an excuse for violence. In this perverse cycle, the worse things go, the more Hamas gains. Those on the Israeli right who believe peace is a naive dream see all this as confirmation of their own preferred policies of expansion and rejection.
Given these constraints, it is understandable that Abbas would act on his own and internationalize the issue. Israel says, accurately, that unilateralism bypasses the negotiating framework of the peace process. But it is worth remembering that, just a few years ago, it was Israel pursuing a unilateral path. In 2005, refusing to wait for a Palestinian deal, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli forces and settlers from Gaza.
That decision is now widely considered a failure. Hamas came to power in Gaza and began its rocket attacks on civilians, leading to Israeli military action. At the time, however, the Israeli public approved of the withdrawal despite — or maybe because of — the fact that it was unilateral.