RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A week of Washington speeches calling on the Palestinians to abandon plans to take their search for statehood to the United Nations seems only to have increased the likelihood of them going down that path.
Observers in Ramallah say addresses by President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have left the peace process in a deeper hole than before, and see no alternative to going it alone for the Palestinian leadership.
For President Mahmoud Abbas to back out now, with prospects of a resumption of talks on terms he could accept faint at best, would amount to political suicide by a leader seeking to leave some kind of legacy.
Abbas, 76, has built his career on the idea of negotiating the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel on land it occupies — the “two-state” solution — backed by world powers but now seemingly further than ever from becoming reality.
With the peace process at a standstill, his plan to seek U.N. recognition of Palestine in September has been criticized in Washington by both Obama and Netanyahu over the last week.
Palestinian observers were more skeptical than before about the chance of any resumption of peace talks.
“The Palestinians must go to the United Nations,” said Samir Awad, a lecturer at Birzeit University in the West Bank. “I am sure Abbas will face great pressure, but I hope he will not yield, and will go ahead despite Obama and Netanyahu.”
Aiming to exploit support for the Palestinians among many U.N. member states, Abbas has said he will go to the General Assembly if there is no breakthrough in the peace process.
Though the plan is sure to be blocked in the U.N. Security Council by the United States, supporters say even a non-binding demonstration of General Assembly support can boost the Palestinians’ quest for statehood and help to isolate Israel.
Abbas had been hoping Obama’s major Middle East policy speech last week and his Washington meeting with Netanyahu would yield enough progress to would allow a resumption of talks.
In that speech, Obama generated a degree of hope when he stated his backing for the idea of a state of Palestine being based largely on the borders envisaged by the Palestinians, with land swaps mutually agreed with Israel.
But Palestinian hope gave way to disappointment in a second Obama speech viewed by Palestinians as stridently pro-Israeli.
“In the final summary, Obama did not meet the requirements for a resumption of talks,” said Bassam al-Salehi, a leading figure in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is headed by Abbas.
The PLO executive committee will convene on Wednesday to discuss the Palestinians’ options ahead of a meeting of the Arab League’s peace process committee in Qatar on Saturday.
“Despite the warnings of Obama, we must continue to the United Nations,” Salehi said.
Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday only added to the pessimism. Netanyahu, while saying he was ready to make “painful concessions” for peace, reiterated ideas rejected long ago by the Palestinian leadership.
Palestinian officials said he had thrown more obstacles in the way of talks.
“It confirms once again that the Palestinian leadership’s room to maneuver is very narrow,” said Hany al-Masri, a Palestinian political commentator.
He advocates a new strategy including diplomatic pressure on Israel and non-violent activism, or “popular resistance” on the ground. “If the leadership doesn’t seek a new political track, it will commit political suicide,” he said.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Kevin Liffey