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Palestinian leaders see validation of their efforts

Under most circumstances, an Israeli leader’s frank admission that he would never agree to a Palestinian state would be a disaster for the Palestinian leadership. But when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said precisely that in the heat of the recent election campaign, it seemed to have the opposite effect, validating the unilateral approach the Palestinians have decided to follow.

“We will continue a diplomatic intifada. We have no other choice,” said Assad Abdul Rahman, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central council and executive committee, its top decision-making body.

With Mr. Netanyahu having dropped, for now at least, the pretense of seeking a two-state solution, the Palestinians can argue to Europe and the United States that they no longer have a negotiating partner, strengthening their case for full statehood and recognition in the United Nations, as well as membership in important international bodies. They are already members of the International Criminal Court and UNESCO.

“If somebody said, ‘We are with two states, and real negotiations,’ we would return to negotiations,” said Assad Abdul Rahman. “But there is no partner for that.”

In addition to considering seeking full statehood at the United Nations, the Palestinians may now curtail security coordination with Israel, reducing Israel’s ability to seize suspected militants in the West Bank, two P.L.O. officials said.

“There is a feeling that if there really is no hope for the peace process, the best thing they can have is an Israeli government that will advance its own isolation,” said Nathan Thrall, senior analyst with the Middle East and North Africa Program of the International Crisis Group.

The P.L.O.’s executive committee is expected to meet Thursday to discuss how President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority should respond.

The P.L.O.’s central council had called for curtailing security coordination on March 5, part of a cycle of retaliation between Israel and the Palestinians over the past several months. It was framed as a response to Israel’s withholding since January of $127 million a month in taxes it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf.

That, in turn, was Israel’s way of punishing the Palestinians for joining theInternational Criminal Court, where they hope to pursue war crime accusations against Israeli officials. But the decision on when, or whether, to take such a step was left to Mr. Abbas and the P.L.O.’s executive committee. Mr. Abbas appeared to be waiting until after Israel’s elections.

If Mr. Abbas does approve curtailing security coordination, he is likely to move in small steps that would be reversible, Mr. Abdul Rahman said. One move could perhaps be to refuse to withdraw Palestinian forces when Israeli troops raid a Palestinian-ruled area, said a P.L.O. official who spoke anonymously because he was discussing secret deliberations.

The official said the Palestinians were studying various United Nations treaties to see which they might join. They were focusing on what the official described as “technical” treaties such as on tourism, water and the environment. He did not provide further details. The official said they were unlikely to take the bolder step of seeking membership in United Nations organizations because of United States laws that would cut financing to United Nations bodies that accept Palestine as a member state.

In a news briefing on Wednesday, a United Nations spokesman, Farhan Haq, said: “It’s incumbent on the new Israeli government, once formed, to create the conditions for a negotiated final peace agreement with the active engagement of the international community that will end the Israeli occupation and realize the creation of a viable Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. This includes the cessation of illegal settlement-building in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Responding to this statement, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said, “If the U.N. is so concerned about the future of the Palestinian people, it should be asking why President Abbas is in the 10th year of a five-year presidential term or why Hamas uses the Palestinian people as human shields.”

Palestinians were also likely to step up lobbying for more European countries to recognize Palestine as a state. Most countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa already do. “The battlefield now is Europe,” the P.L.O. official said.

“Whenever we go to Europe and ask, ‘Why aren’t you recognizing Palestine?’ they say, ‘We will recognize it when it’s good for the peace process,’ ” he said. “Now you have an Israeli P.M. who says he doesn’t recognize a Palestinian state.”

Palestinian officials said they were still weighing whether to try to seek full statehood recognition from the Security Council. They failed in a previous bid, in December, for a Council resolution that would have set a deadline to establish a sovereign Palestinian state. The United States and Australia voted against it.

Riyadh Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, said it would make sense only if the United States “goes along with such an idea,” which is far-fetched, in the estimation of most diplomats.

There is also the possibility that, having accomplished his purpose of eking out a victory, Mr. Netanyahu may now try to reassert his support for a two-state solution, no matter how tenuous. Yet in light of his statement that “anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” analysts said reversing course would be difficult.

“Having heaped a rhetorical disavowal of his two-state position on top of all the practical policies he implemented which undermined the credibility of that position, he’s now got an awfully long distance to walk that back,” said Daniel Levy, head of the Middle East program for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Levy suggested that the Palestinians might first test Mr. Netanyahu’s good will toward negotiations by demanding that he resume transferring the tax revenue to the Palestinians. “You have to get him to do that, and let’s see what happens,” he said.

Mr. Abbas has long preferred negotiations for statehood rather than acting unilaterally.

But even if Mr. Netanyahu agreed to peace negotiations in principle, it would be difficult for Mr. Abbas to accept without tangible successes to show Palestinians, like a halt to building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank or releasing Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention, said Ghassan Khatib, the vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

After all that has been said, Mr. Khatib added, “Abbas cannot politically afford negotiations without any achievement at all.”

Source: The New York Times

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