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Palestinians at the U.N., Again
International Herald Tribune

With peace negotiations at an impasse since 2008 and unlikely to resume any time soon, the Palestinians have only one diplomatic card left — their status at the United Nations — and once again they are trying to play it.

Last year, the Palestinian Authority toyed with submitting an application for full United Nations membership, but backed off in the face of overwhelming opposition from the United States and Israel. Instead, it won membership in an affiliate, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, where Washington does not have veto power.

Now the Palestinians plan to seek admission as a ‘nonmember’ observer state in the General Assembly. The 193-member Assembly is dominated by developing nations that are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and are expected to approve the application next month.

It is not a move that will do anyone any good. It will not change facts on the ground, and it will come at a cost. After last year’s initiative, Israel withheld millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority; the United States halted funding for Unesco, and Congress is withholding $495 million in assistance for the Palestinians, the State Department says. Both countries are likely to react the same way again, although there is a danger in bankrupting the Palestinian Authority, which has begun to build the institutions of a state, including a police force, that also contribute to Israel’s security.

Israel and the United States say unilateral moves like these by the Palestinians violate the 1993 Oslo accords, which were intended to pave the way to a “final status agreement” within five years. And it is clear that a negotiated deal is the only way to ensure the creation of a viable Palestinian state and guarantee Israel’s security.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has refused to make any serious compromises, and the two-state solution seems to have a diminishing chance of ever happening. Mr. Netanyahu’s recent decision to jointly field a slate of candidates with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party in parliamentary elections in January suggests his approach could become even more hard-line.

Whatever chance exists of a new American peace initiative after the election is likely to vanish if Mitt Romney wins; at a private fund-raising event, he said the Arab-Israeli conflict was “going to remain an unsolved problem” and seemed unconcerned about it.

Israel, the United States, the Palestinians and the entire region will pay a high price if Israel merely settles more firmly into the role of occupier over a growing Palestinian population that is left indefinitely without any hope of statehood and self-rule.

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