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Palestinians to renew efforts for bid to U.N.

Talks with Israel delayed attempt

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian officials say that they will resume their effort to gain U.N. membership, and that they could launch a nonviolent third intifada because they see no chance of reaching a peace deal with the current Israeli government.

The Palestinians had put their U.N. bid on hold to participate in informal Jordanian-sponsored talks with Israel that began at the beginning of the year in Amman.

The Middle East "Quartet" — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — had urged the parties to submit proposals on borders and security by Jan. 26, with the goal of reaching an agreement by the end of 2012.

But with that proposals deadline approaching, officials here said Thursday that they do not expect any breakthroughs.

"We hear from our Jordanian friends that things are not going well," said Sabri Saidam, deputy speaker of the Fatah Council and an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Saidam and other Palestinian officials told The Washington Times that, barring a last-minute development Thursday, the U.N. campaign would begin anew.

A return to the U.N. would rile the U.S., which has vowed to veto the Palestinian application for membership in the Security Council. The U.S. was spared the headache of a veto in September because the Palestinians failed to gain a nine-vote majority.

"We got 8 3/4," Mr. Saidam said.

The entire U.N. campaign has attained great symbolism here. A giant blue chair bearing the words "Palestine's Right: Full Membership in the United Nations" still sits in Ramallah's central square.

A wall of Mr. Abbas' presidential compound features a giant photo of him holding up the Palestinian application during his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

The Palestinians began the campaign after bolting short-lived U.S.-sponsored peace talks in September 2010, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government did not extend a 10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinians say they will not restart formal direct talks unless Israel freezes settlement activity and agrees to President Obama's formulation that any two-state solution be based on Israel's pre-1967 frontiers — conditions Mr. Netanyahu has refused.

But the U.N. campaign is just one aspect of what many Palestinian officials describe as the "South Africanization" of their struggle — an approach that seeks to isolate Israel diplomatically while engaging in mass nonviolent protests.

"We can learn from the South African struggle against apartheid that international activism works," said Nabeel Shaath, Fatah's commissioner for international relations. "You don't really have to shoot in order to get your rights."

Mr. Shaath said it was "absolutely" a mistake for Palestinians to militarize the second intifada — the 2000-2005 uprising that claimed about 4,000 Palestinian and 1,000 Israeli lives amid suicide bombings and Israeli military strikes.

"I have no qualms about telling you, yes, it was [a mistake]," Mr. Shaath said. "It was not supposed to have gone military, and it did get out of hand. We are much more careful this time around."

Mr. Saidam, the Abbas adviser, posited that a third uprising could be "an electronic intifada," citing this week's hacking attack on Israel's stock exchange and national airline, as well as Facebook campaigns calling for the boycott of Israeli goods.

"When I talk about a third intifada, I'm not advocating, nor am I anticipating, a repetition of the scenes of the past," he said. "It will be a clever, more technology-based approach."

Mr. Saidam and others said their pessimism about the peace process springs from their belief that Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing government is not as serious about peace as its center-left predecessor.

Many Palestinian officials pine for the days of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who helped create a framework for peace with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the 1993 Oslo Accords. Rabin was killed by an Israeli extremist three years later.

"We always say, if Rabin was alive, we would have been in a different situation completely," said Issa Kassissieh, deputy head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's negotiation affairs department. "He was the only one that was able to strike a deal with the Palestinians. He had a vision."

Officials said they also think that Mr. Obama will not pressure Mr. Netanyahu as much in an election year as he did at the beginning of his term.

"My great letdown is how rapidly this administration backed down when it came to Israel, whether on the settlements or on anything else," said Hanan Ashrawi, a longtime Palestinian spokeswoman and lawmaker. "We saw how principle and values were abandoned so quickly in favor of narrow self-interest."

Ms. Ashrawi said she was "alarmed because we're seeing the end of the two-state solution."

"There are already enough Palestinians who are saying it's too late already — that these settlements have done enough damage to prevent a viable, contiguous Palestinian state," she said. "I'm getting to the borderline of saying it's no longer possible. ... I think 2012 is the end."

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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