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Palestinians Consider UN Options

  • Margaret Besheer

A Palestinian woman reads a local newspaper, which features the Israeli election on its front page, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 18, 2015.

A Palestinian woman reads a local newspaper, which features the Israeli election on its front page, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 18, 2015.

Relations between Israel and the United States are at their most strained in years, following campaign comments by newly-re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there would not be a Palestinian state on “his watch.”

Those remarks angered a White House already at odds with the Israeli leader over his recent speech to the U.S. Congress, which breached protocol.

Despite Netanyahu dialing back on his statement, U.S. President Barack Obama told The Huffington Post on Friday that “we take him at his word” that a Palestinian state would not happen during the prime minister's tenure.

President Obama said the administration would "evaluate" other options, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian "status quo is unsustainable."

Observers say the review could result in the U.S. not automatically supporting Israel in the United Nations Security Council, where Washington previously stood alone blocking a resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion.

Long-time U.N. analyst Jeffrey Laurenti says the United States could move to support a Security Council resolution outlining the broad framework of a peace accord but probably without the 2017 end of occupation deadline the Palestinians have been seeking. "Essentially, a framework settlement of 1967 borders with some land swaps and appropriate security arrangements to ensure that neither party would be a threat to the other," he said.

Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour told VOA that his government has reaffirmed its commitment to the two-state solution and that working through the Security Council is one option for protecting it, including by seeking a resolution on parameters for a comprehensive peace agreement.

He said the Palestinians could also pursue a resolution on the illegality of Israeli settlements. "Then also, we might consider going to the Security Council for submitting a resolution to activate our application for admission. That’s another option," he said.

If the Palestinians want to seek statehood at the U.N., they would need the Security Council’s endorsement. Analyst Laurenti said he does not think "at this stage the Obama administration would be ready to sit idly" and allow that to happen, but it could be leverage over a far-right Israeli government.

Richard Gowan, research director at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said any shift in Washington’s stance at the U.N. would signal a significant break with Israel, but that the odds of the U.N. brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace are "minuscule."

"Netanyahu has never concealed his contempt for the U.N.," Gowan said. "But even if he were to be unexpectedly unseated as prime minister in the next few years, no Israeli government of any ideological stripe could acquiesce to a political agenda or timeline dictated from New York."

Gowan said it may suit the Obama administration to signal its support for such an agenda, but having failed to directly mediate an Israeli-Palestinian deal last year, Washington cannot think that a multilateral push will make much difference.

The Palestinians, however, are not rushing to make any decisions. Ambassador Mansour said there is no draft resolution yet to send to the Council. He added that Arab League ministers would discuss the Palestinian issue at their summit this Saturday in Egypt.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he regrets issuing a warning to his supporters during the country's elections last week that Arab voters were heading to the polls "in droves."

At an event at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told members of the Arab community he recognizes the comment hurt Israeli Arabs, and that it was not his intention to do so.

"I see myself as the prime minister of each and every one of you, of all Israeli citizens, without differentiating between religions, races and sex," he said.

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