(Dennis Lamb retired from the CIA in 2002 after serving 30 years in its Directorate of Operations as a Case Officer and as an Intelligence Analyst. He is a native of Chelsea.)
As predicted, Palestinian National Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas won "nonmember observer state" status from the UN's General Assembly on November 29. But did he really win much?
Israel's rightwing government, backed by the United States, strongly opposed the move as a threat to reaching a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and may now take punitive measures against Abbas and the PA by withholding desperately needed funds Israel collects as a duty on any foreign imports destined for the West Bank and Gaza as well as a value added tax on goods and services from Israel destined for the Palestinian territories. Such duties amount to around $100 million a month. Israel has withheld such funds from the PA in the past and appears angry enough over the PA's UN move to do so again. Grappling with a $100-million monthly budget deficit, as is, and owing NIS 800 million (ca. $209 million) to the Israel Electric Corporation, the cash-strapped PA is literally struggling these days to keep the lights on. Israel may also cut the number of work permits issued to Palestinians.
Noting that funding the PA was "important to the security interests of the United States," President Obama issued a formal waiver to the Secretary of State last April that allowed $192 million in financial aid to be restarted after Congress froze financial aid to the PA in September as punishment for seeking independence at the UN. Almost certainly, however, Congress will once again freeze aid to the PA, this time for ignoring strong warnings and requests from the State Department not to proceed in seeking to upgrade Palestine's status at the UN.
It seems unlikely also that Palestine's new status at the UN as a nonmember observer state will give it any significant new leverage in negotiating with Israel for independence. Everything will remain the same. Gaza will remain isolated and the West Bank will remain occupied. Israel's rightwing government has no intention of losing control of the West Bank. It has, in effect, painted itself into a corner in allowing so many settlements to be built there.
What Abbas has won at the UN is his own relevancy, which he was on the point of losing, and access to institutions such as the International Criminal Court. Although Israel's rightwing government will never allow itself to be completely restrained, it seems it will have to be somewhat more careful in its actions in the West Bank and think twice before launching attacks against Gaza. With the PA now having access to the International Criminal Court, Israel could find itself under investigation for violations of various international laws, even war crimes.
Abbas has also infused new pride in the Palestinians and animated and united the people of Gaza and the West Bank in a way that has not been seen in years, to the point that Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, called on Wednesday for the politically divided Palestinians to unite through new Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) elections that would rebuild the organization "on a correct basis that includes all Palestinian forces." If Hamas can reconcile with Fatah, the party of Abbas, and be brought into the PLO to participate in the PA, that will be a significant accomplishment.
Washington, Nov 30, 2012
The thoughts outlined above represent my personal views and not the views of my former employer.