UNITED NATIONS — Defying U.S. and Israeli opposition, Palestinians asked the United Nations on Friday to accept them as a member state, sidestepping nearly two decades of troubled negotiations in the hope this dramatic move on the world stage would reenergize their quest for an independent homeland.
In the West Bank, the core of that hoped-for state, a Palestinian man was shot dead in a clash with Israeli soldiers and settlers as antagonisms flared over the statehood bid.
Earlier in the week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rebuffed an intense, U.S.-led effort to sway him from the statehood bid, saying he would submit the application to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon as planned.
“We’re going without any hesitation and continuing despite all the pressures,” Abbas told members of the Palestinian diaspora at a hotel in New York on Thursday night. “We seek to achieve our right and we want our independent state.” Shortly before noon on Friday, Ban’s spokesman tweeted, “President Abbas just handed the Palestinian application to the Secretary-General UNSG.”
In his letter to Ban accompanying the application, Abbas asked the U.N. chief to immediately forward the request for full U.N. membership to the Security Council and the General Assembly, according to a top aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the documents were submitted. The General Assembly will likely be asked to approve a more modest status upgrade if the bid in the council founders as expected.
Palestinian officials said they were not authorized to release copies of the document until Ban delivers it to the Security Council at an unspecified time.
To be sure, Abbas’ appeal to the U.N. to recognize Palestinian independence in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip would not deliver any immediate changes on the ground: Israel would remain an occupying force in those first two territories and continue to severely restrict access to Gaza, ruled by Palestinian Hamas militants.
Beyond that, Security Council action on the membership request could take weeks or months.
The strategy also put the Palestinians in direct confrontation with the U.S., which has threatened to veto their membership bid in the Council, reasoning, like Israel, that statehood can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties to end the long and bloody conflict.
Also hanging heavy in the air was the threat of renewed violence over frustrated Palestinian aspirations, in spite of Abbas’ vow — perceived by Israeli security officials as genuine — to prevent Palestinian violence. The death on Friday of 35-year-old Issam Badram, in gunfire that erupted after rampaging Jewish settlers destroyed trees in a Palestinian grove, was the type of incident that both Palestinians and Israelis had feared would spark widespread violence. There were three other incidents of small-scale unrest, but most of the West Bank was quiet.
Yet by seeking approval at a world forum overwhelmingly sympathetic to their quest, Palestinians hope to make it harder for Israel to resist already heavy global pressure to negotiate the borders of a future Palestine based on lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967.
In recent weeks, international mediators have been furiously trying to piece together a formula that would let the Palestinians abandon their plan to ask the Security Council for full U.N. membership, and instead make do with asking a sympathetic General Assembly to elevate their status from permanent observer to nonmember observer state. The other part of that formula would include the resumption of negotiations in short order.
The U.S. and Israel have been pressuring Council members to either vote against the plan or abstain when it comes up for a vote. The vote would require the support of nine of the Council’s 15 members to pass, but even if the Palestinians could line up that backing, a U.S. veto is assured.
The resumption of talks seems an elusive goal, with both sides digging in to positions that have tripped up negotiations for years. Israel insists that negotiations go ahead without any preconditions. But Palestinians say they will not return to the bargaining table without assurances that Israel would halt settlement building and drop its opposition to basing negotiations on the borders it held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza in 1967.
Israel has warned that the Palestinian appeal to the U.N. will have a disastrous effect on negotiations, which have been the cornerstone of international Mideast policy for the past two decades. Netanyahu, who is to address the General Assembly later Friday, shortly after Abbas makes his own address, opposes negotiations based on 1967 lines, saying a return to those frontiers would expose Israel’s heartland to rocket fire from the West Bank.
He also fears that if that principle becomes the baseline for negotiations, then Palestinians won’t settle for anything less, despite previous understandings between the Palestinians and previous Israeli governments to swap land where settlement blocs stand for Israeli territory.
Talks for all intents and purposes broke down nearly three years ago after Israel went to war in the Gaza Strip and prepared to hold national elections that ultimately propelled Netanyahu to power for a second time. A last round was launched a year ago, with the ambitious aim of producing a framework accord for a peace deal, but broke down just three weeks later after an Israeli settlement construction slowdown expired.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair cautioned that the move at the U.N. must be followed by negotiations.
“You can pass whatever resolution you like at the United Nations, or at the Security Council, and it doesn’t actually deliver you a state,” Blair told BBC Radio. “And if you don’t have a negotiation, whatever you do at the U.N. is going to be deeply confrontational.”
The U.N. recognition bid has won Abbas broad popular support at home, but it is opposed by his main political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas movement that violently wrested control of Gaza in 2007.
Gaza’s Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, accused Abbas on Friday of relinquishing Palestinian rights by seeking recognition for a state in the pre-1967 borders. Hamas’ founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and a state in all of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, though some Hamas officials have suggested they would support a peace deal based on the 1967 lines.
“The Palestinian people do not beg the world for a state, and the state can’t be created through decisions and initiatives,” Haniyeh said. “States liberate their land first and then the political body can be established.”