PLO chairperson, Mr. Abbas, seems to be determined to achieve a UN General Assembly resolution changing the status of the Palestinian mission from an "observer" entity to an "observer non-member state". If accomplished, this change will not have meaningful implications on the rights and privileges the Palestinian mission already has in the UN. It will not equal the acceptance of "Palestine" as a full UN member state, which the Palestinians tried, and failed, to achieve at the UN Security council last year. However, UN recognition will reinforce the Palestinian's arguments in support of the claim that a Palestinian state already exists.
According to some news reports, the Palestinians are trying to convince some European and other Western States to vote for their bid, indicating the internal competition within the Palestinian society, between Hamas, controlling the Gaza strip, and the PLO-lead Palestinian Authority, controlling the West Bank. As the argument goes, since Hamas's recent armed clash with Israel resulted in what the Palestinians perceive as achievements, it is important to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that the diplomatic and political route can be as effective in promoting their national aspirations as the route of violence and terrorism practiced by Hamas.
The problem with this argument is that Mr. Abbas does not juxtapose force and coercion against communication and conciliation. His UN bid is no less a unilateral attempt to coerce Israel than Hamas's attacks. Of course, diplomatic coercion attempts are morally better than attempts to coerce Israel by targeting its civilian population with rockets. However, when it comes to achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, unilateral steps of all kinds are the wrong way.
Indeed, negotiation can be long and frustrating, but it is the only way to achieve a peace agreement acceptable to both parties. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-faceted and complex conflict. Even the right wing Israeli PM Netanyahu has accepted the two-state solution as the goal of negotiations, so the Palestinians do not need international support to coerce Israel to acknowledge the Palestinians right to self-determination within their own nation state. Nor is the conflict a simple dispute over borders. Both sides have agreed in the Oslo Accords that the permanent status talks will engage difficult issues such as Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, security arrangements and the status of Jerusalem. While it is clear that regarding territory the Palestinians will be the receiving side, in other critical issues they will have to make painful compromises, too. Having all pending issues negotiated together allows more leverage for both sides to reach a fair and balanced deal. Entering the negotiation with two significant issues, statehood and borders, believed to be already resolved in their favor, may lead Palestinians to stick to rigid positions on other issues, compromising the ability to reach an agreement.
Furthermore, it is likely that such a unilateral step by the Palestinians, especially so close to the general elections in Israel, will be matched by unilateral steps from the Israeli side, such as the partial annexation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This may drive peace even further away.
No less detrimental might be the effects of the Palestinian bid on the Israeli public's willingness to trust any future agreement with the Palestinians. Indeed, if the Palestinians feel free to break their commitments under the Oslo Accords, why should Israel risk trading tangible assets for promises not worth the paper they are written on?
Perhaps, with Hamas bragging about their "victory" over Israel, Mr. Abbas, like a hero in a Greek tragedy, is pushed straight into an inevitable bad end. Maybe, with the automatic majority the Palestinians enjoy in the General Assembly the bid will be approved anyway. However, true friends of the Palestinian people, as well as those genuinely interested in peace should do their best to convince the Palestinians to leave this ill-advised endeavor and choose constructive negotiations for the historic settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.