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 Leadership Briefing 
The Jewish Federations of North America - The Strength of a People. The Power of Community.
Briefing: Operation Pillar of Defense, Turmoil in Egypt, and Palestinian Statehood Bid
December 3, 2012

Last week, as expected, the U.N. voted to grant the Palestinian Authority (PA) upgraded observer-state status, following their unilateral request for statehood recognition.

The vote, which passed by a majority of 138 countries in favor, with nine opposed and 41 abstentions, won’t create a legitimate Palestinian state, but it will provide enhanced standing for the PA at the U.N., similar to the Vatican's status. The PA now has access to U.N. agencies and international bodies, and most significantly for Israel, the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Palestinians have tended to favor symbols over substance,” David Makovsky said of the news. Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow, and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, spoke to the Jewish community about the U.N. vote and other subjects during a call hosted by The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, together with their shared initiative, the Israel Action Network (IAN), last week. The call was hosted by David Sherman, chair of IAN and Larry Gold, chair of JCPA.

Commenting on the Palestinian’s newfound access to the ICC, Makovsky said, “They will certainly bring a hammer down on Israel if they use it. Even though they are not a full state in the sense of having Security Council recognition, they can still come under the umbrella.”

But don’t expect Israel to turn its back on the PA either. “Israel has voiced concerns, but sometimes the story is not what happens, but what doesn’t happen,” Makovsky said. “A big fear in Washington is that there will be an Israeli cutoff of funds for the PA, which Israel has used as leverage from time to time. But Israel does not want the PA to collapse and has made the decision not to use money as a pressure point.”

The move comes just over a year after the Palestinian Authority last requested United Nations membership through the U.N. Security Council. This request, which has since become known as Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), sought to circumvent peace talks with Israel by going directly to the U.N. The PA ultimately failed to secure the necessary majority in the Security Council, which still remains the case today.

The PA’s status upgrade, voted on November 29, was also the anniversary of the 1947 U.N. vote that formally called for the establishment of a Jewish and Arab state. It was on that day that the Palestinians rejected the partition plan in favor of decades of tension and violence with Israel.

Makovsky pointed to the upcoming Israeli elections as an indicator for what may come next in terms of renewed peace talks. “After the Israeli elections on January 22, the question will be, will Israel expand its government, and will Abbas lift some of his preconditions and come to the table?” he said. “I think, what’s tragic, is to see two groups, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, saying we both want a two-state solution, and yet we can’t find a way to get there.”

Touching then on Gaza, Makovsky looked to the Egyptians, who may take on a bigger role in tunnel smuggling. “That’s the oxygen line for Islamic Jihad and Hamas,” he said. Makovsky warned that Israel’s greatest fear is that Egyptian President Morsi, who facilitated a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel despite refusing to meet directly with Israelis, is interested in seeing Gaza rearm itself.

As for Iran, “I would look at the diplomacy,” Makovsky said. “Israel, in my view, wisely did not want to interpose itself into an American election and they’ve basically taken the view that, given the United States is Israel’s best friend, Israel should wait to see how diplomacy unfolds.”  

If current talks fail however, Israel may need to take necessary action. Makovsky predicted that “there will be an effort to go back to the table in 2013 and see if the U.S. will maybe put together a proposal that says, ‘here is our best offer.’” Makovsky added that while Israel will let diplomacy unfold, “they don’t want to give it forever.”

To listen to a full recording of the call, click here.

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