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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: September 30, 2011 NO. 40 OCTOBER 6, 2011
Game Changer
Whether or not Palestinians get a UN seat, Mahmoud Abbas has changed the way the game will be played

BIRTH OF A NATION?: Residents in the West Bank city of Ramallah rally on September 23 in support of the Palestinian UN membership bid (CHEN XU)

Possible endings

Members of the UN Security Council reacted differently to the Palestinian statehood move. China and Russia declared firm support. China has not changed its stance on supporting Palestine and Arab nations to resume legal rights of their nations, said Hong Lei, spokesman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It will not change this stance, whether or not Washington uses its veto in the Security Council, Hong stressed. Russia also expressed a similar opinion.

Maintaining its inseparable links with Israel, Washington has opposed the statehood bid. In his address to the UN General Assembly on September 21, Obama said he believes the Palestinian people deserve "a state of their own," but opposes their unilateral move for statehood. Obama said he is convinced that "there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades."

European nations are split three ways on this issue. The first group is represented by France, which supports Palestine joining the UN. The second group, represented by the UK, opposes the application, believing it may destroy peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The third group might abstain when voting, because they don't want to enrage either side. "The whole of Europe now doesn't have a united stance," said Li.

Although Washington has threatened to veto Palestine's bid, Palestine insisted on submitting its application to the UN Security Council. It may also apply to the UN General Assembly if it fails in the Security Council.

Palestine risks losing a huge amount of U.S. assistance, which is worth about $500 million annually. Israel also might withhold the tariffs it collects for Palestine, worth about $1 billion every year. These two sources account for more than 60 percent of Palestine's total financial budget. To cope with possible economic sanctions, Palestine has actively lobbied for more assistance from Arab countries. For example, Kuwait and Algeria respectively donated $50 million and $26 million to Palestine.

The Palestinian leadership said they would study proposals presented by France to accept the position of an observer state in the UN and agree on a one-year time schedule to reach a permanent peace agreement with Israel. Palestinians also said the resumption of any direct peace talks with Israel must be based on an Israeli commitment to the two-state solution according to the 1967 borders and halting settlement construction.

Li said Palestine has prepared for two results. If the United States and other UN Security Council members accept its bid, it will realize its dream of becoming an independent state; if they don't accept it, it will at least obtain a more preferential position in future negotiations with Israel. If Palestine submits its application to the General Assembly, it might gain recognition as a UN observer.

China's Special Envoy to the Middle East Wu Sike said if Palestine becomes a UN observer, it will win more international support at least morally. As a UN observer state, it will be able to join UN agencies such as the International Criminal Court, paving the way for the eventual establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Zhang Guoqing, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, warned that if Palestinians' demands were completely rejected, Israel would pay a price: It might face the most dangerous security problems ever. Likewise, the United States would also suffer for its tough stance.

Zhang said Israel's arrogance and a U.S. "betrayal" would disappoint Palestinians, fueling anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiments. Conflicts might frequently burst out between Israelis and Palestinians. "This is not good news for Israel, especially given its pressing economic problems at home."

Moreover, other anti-Israeli forces, like Egypt, would have more excuses. The new Egyptian leadership has decided to play the anti-Israeli card, and Egyptians are showing more anger at Israel, said Zhang.

Washington has no extra energy to cover Israel as usual, Zhang said. Domestically, it has huge economic and social problems. Internationally, it is still mired in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The Middle East may enter a new period of turbulence if Palestine's bid for UN membership gets vetoed," Zhang said.

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