NEW YORK – Palestine is no longer an “entity,” but a state – or, to be precise, a non-member observer state of the United Nations, just like the Holy See. The Palestinian bid received the support of 138 member countries (Germany, Britain, and 39 other countries abstained), while only seven, including the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Panama, joined the US and Israel in opposing it, leaving both more isolated than ever.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was furious; he called Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas a liar, and gave permission for 3,000 new Jewish homes to be constructed on occupied Palestinian territory. His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had already threatened to crush the PA government on the West Bank if the UN vote went ahead.
But Israel has only itself to blame for what happened. Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, have been more moderate, and more open to serious negotiations with Israel, than any Palestinian leaders before. The Palestinian police have cooperated with the Israelis to contain violence on the West Bank. Improving the economy, rather than violent confrontation, has been the PA’s main concern.
But, by continuing to build settlements on Palestinian land, the Israeli government has undermined the authority of Abbas and his Fatah government almost to the point of impotence. More and more Palestinians, fed up with the futility of what is still called the “peace process,” believe that Fatah’s fierce rival, Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, has more effective ways to break the current impasse. The failure of Abbas’s peaceful methods has made the alternative of violence look increasingly attractive.