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Return to the Table

September 14, 2011
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When Mahmoud Abbas marches into the United Nations later this month to seek a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, he not only is likely to fail, he is also likely to set back the already elusive prospects for peace with Israel for the foreseeable future.

By blindly plowing ahead with this act of folly, Abbas is demonstrating once again that he is not interested in peace. He is burying the prospect of revived negotiations by egregiously abrogating the fundamental principle upon which any agreement with Israel depends: the principle that all issues must be determined through negotiations between the two parties.

With the United States committed to vetoing a statehood bid in the U.N. Security Council, Abbas is expected to head straight to the larger General Assembly, long a hostile environment for Israel.

It would be too much to hope that the General Assembly will recognize the foolishness of granting even an upgraded status to the Palestinians, similar to that of the Vatican. The only hope at this point is that the nations of the world salvage the situation by adopting language that does not address borders or boundaries and emphasizes the need to return to the negotiating table.

Jewish groups have been engaged in a frenzy of activity, lobbying for such a watered-down resolution. And the effort appears to be gaining some traction.

There have been some even in the Arab world who have said that "this is not going to work, it's not going to advance the goal of a Palestinian state, it may backfire, it may set the prospects for peace back, and the Palestinians may be blamed because this was their idea," said David Harris, the director of the American Jewish Committee, which has been leading the diplomatic effort.

Whatever Pyrrhic victory Abbas might achieve, the potential fallout is vast, including a renewed outbreak of Palestinian violence that could further rock an already turbulent region. He also risks losing nearly $500 million in annual aid from the United States, not to mention straining relations with the Obama administration.

That Abbas thinks the risks are still worth it is hard to fathom. Or maybe, as a Haverford College professor notes in our cover story this week, "At this point, the Palestinian Authority has climbed a tree and they cannot back down."

What comes next is anyone's guess. One thing is certain: Israelis are willing to take risks for peace when they feel most secure, not when they're backed into a corner. Their already unfriendly neighborhood is getting increasingly ominous, given the recent developments in Egypt and Turkey.

For his part, Abbas has shown himself to be the latest Palestinian official to lead his people astray rather than on the more constructive path to peace. Once again, Israelis and Palestinians are both likely to suffer as a result.

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