Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrives as White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley look on at the start of a United Nations Security Council concerning issues in the Middle East, at UN headquarters, February 20, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

To Forge A State Or Demonize Israel: Palestinians To Chair UN’s Group of 77

How the Palestinians use their new pulpit will go a long way towards revealing their ultimate ambitions

Palestinian Authority envoy to the United Nations Riyad Mansour revealed this week that the “State of Palestine” will in January assume the chairmanship of the Group of 77, a bloc of more than 130 UN countries (there were 77 members when it formed in 1964, accounting for the name) ostensibly dedicated to advancing the collective economic interests of the developing world.

While the “State of Palestine” has been recognized by almost 140 nations globally, it is not a full UN member, having only been granted “observer state” status (similar to that of the Holy See) in a 2012 General Assembly vote. Efforts by Ramallah to gain full recognition through the Security Council, the sole entity that can confer such legal standing, have been stymied primarily by the United States which has long maintained, along with most of the West, that a Palestinian state can only arise in the context of an end-of-conflict agreement with Israel.

As such, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon’s response to the latest development was unsurprising. “The goal of the Group of 77 originally was to facilitate the economic advancement of underdeveloped nations. It is unfortunate that it will now become a platform for spreading lies and incitement,” he asserted.

Many experts who spoke to The Media Line had little or no familiarity with the G-77. Often times, they noted, various UN representatives address forums on behalf a bloc, such as the Non-aligned Movement (NAM). But the Group of 77 is nearly never mentioned, as, by most accounts, it is concerned almost uniquely with budgetary issues. Therefore, the “caucus” seemingly has little clout save for a modicum of prestige associated with chairing it.

“The problem is that the Palestinians receive bonuses while countries close one eye or even two to [basic realities],” Ron Prosor, formerly Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, told The Media Line. “The PA is not even a full UN member and it is doing zero in its own [West Bank] backyard, zero with respect to Gaza and then it is rewarded by becoming the chair of a group. But stranger things have happened at the UN, whether it is Iran leading the cause of nuclear non-proliferation or Syria having been nominated for a seat on the Human Rights Council. You cannot invent this.”

The PA, then, appears to have achieved a symbolic, if not Pyrrhic victory. In fact, instead of enhancing the economic prospects of Palestinians, Ramallah may end up harming their financial standing, especially in the short-term, by further alienating the Trump administration and Israel.

Already, the PA’s months-long boycott of the White House has induced a partial cut-off of American aid, with UNRWA—the international body tasked with overseeing Palestinian refugees—having this week laid off hundreds of its workers in the Gaza Strip due to a resulting budgetary shortfall. Concurrently, the PA has rejected out-of-hand Team Trump’s as yet-unveiled peace plan, which, according to reports, includes massive financial incentives.

Accordingly, if, as appears to be the case, “it’s not the economy, stupid,” then, in the opinion of many, the PA is liable to use its new pulpit to pursue old goals; that is, to demonize Israel.

To this end, the PA and its allies have consistently placed the Jewish state in the UN’s docket. This week, for example, the Human Rights Council appointed a panel to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes committed during the ongoing Hamas-initiated and -directed “March of Return” protests along the Gaza border. In December, the General Assembly voted in a landslide to denounce President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Meanwhile, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organization has adopted numerous resolutions denying the Jewish people’s historical connection to holy sites in the Biblical Land of Israel.

“It is likely the Palestinians will up their political warfare against Israel, as they have launched diplomatic ‘terror attacks’ in every possible forum,” Ambassador Prosor contended to The Media Line. “The PA made a point of entering [soccer’s governing body] FIFA but rather than promote the essential [values] of football or the [binding] power of sport, they pushed for bans against Israel. They have shown in the past that the minute they assume a position, their only interest is delegitimizing Israel, without concern for who gets hurt along the way.

“Instead, they should focus on doing constructive things with respect to their own population,” he concluded, “such as stopping incitement or paying salaries to convicted terrorists from the formal PA budget.”

The PA’s strategy has, to date, yielded mixed results at best, with many arguing that the Palestinians are today farther away from achieving full-blown statehood than at any time since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The attempted “internationalization” of the conflict—replete with spates of Palestinian-promoted international diplomatic hostility—has not prevented Israel from becoming the Middle East’s economic and military superpower. To the contrary, Jerusalem’s relations with the U.S., Russia, China, India, among other leading nations, in addition to regional Arab players such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have never been stronger.

Be that as it may, the acceptance of the “State of Palestine” as a fait accompli by eighty percent of the world’s population represented through the Group of 77 reinforces widespread de facto recognition of Palestinian sovereignty; this, even as securing de jure recognition remains elusive.

Hence, Riyad Mansour asserted this week to the New York Times, “We walk like a state. We quack like a state. Therefore we are a state.”

To which one might retort: To what end, though?

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