Walsh: Palestinian statehood bid challenged

On Friday Sept. 23, president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is scheduled to address the forum at the next general debate of the United Nation's 66th session.

The purpose of his speech is to seek United Nations' recognition of an official Palestinian state, a move that would make Palestine the body's 194th member as well as shake up the politics of the region and beyond.

While the immediate outcomes of Abbas' attempt already appear certain (the United States, the only permanent council nation other than the United Kingdom not on the record for Palestinian statehood, has stated that it will veto any proposal made to the Security Council), the long-term effects remain to be seen. The likely consequences, however, are bound to be negative for all involved.

For the U.S., a veto for Palestinian statehood would be seen as yet another broken promise to the Arab world, especially given the conciliatory rhetoric of the current administration. Blocking Abbas' statehood gambit would further alienate the U.S. and Israel, squandering what little goodwill the U.S. currently has in the Middle East and further empowering Iran in the region. Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally in the region, has already threatened a cooling of diplomatic relations should statehood be vetoed.

While some might scoff at the notion of worrying about how the U.S. is perceived in the region, or about our partnership with a regime like Saudi Arabia, the Obama White House is assuredly not. Good public relations might not be a primary concern, but Saudi Arabia is still a pivotal ally for the U.S. as recent events during the "Arab Spring" have exemplified. This has left the U.S. scrambling for other Security Council votes against statehood so as to avoid having to use the veto – a move of increasing desperation – since attempted last minute compromises with Abbas to get him to drop the bid have been rejected.

The true victims in the statehood bid, however, would most likely be the Palestinian people themselves. While the majority of the coverage so far has displayed the Palestinian people as being supportive of the statehood bid, this is far from the whole truth. Action taken by the Palestine Authority can also hardly claim to fully represent the Palestinian people, as it leaves out those currently living in Israel, the Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Palestinian Diaspora.

While the Palestinian Authority has pushed a major campaign to bring up support, the mood on the ground is still mixed at best, with a number of people – especially youth –questioning the wisdom of the move.

Some have even compared it with the failed Oslo peace accords, claiming both were undertaken without a full public understanding of the initiatives and their consequences. This shows foresight, since increased recognition in the U.N. would be a largely toothless measure. A state without certainty of its borders, full control over its regions or the power to gain concessions from its main adversary is not much of a state at all.

The U.S. has also threatened to withdraw financial aid, which would put a substantial hurt on the Palestine economy. The worst result for the Palestinians, however, would come from Israel's reaction – both officially by the state and actions undertaken by settlers. Israel may choose to annex parts of the West Bank, abolish the Oslo accords and tighten the already harsh stranglehold on the region. The Israeli spy agency Shin Bet has warned of settler groups planning attacks, organizing themselves into what they refer to as "terrorist cells" that plan to target not only Palestinians, but potentially the Israeli military.

A bid for statehood that leads to no actual improvements in the daily lives of Palestinians could fuel anger and lead to another uprising, pushing peace – or at least Palestinian sovereignty – back even further.

So while the Palestinian people most assuredly deserve statehood, this U.N. bid appears to spell only tragedy for all sides.