Kerry Downplays Palestinian Application to UN

YERUSHALAYIM -
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) helps Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as he signs international conventions in Ramallah. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) helps Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as he signs international conventions in Ramallah. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

The surprise Palestinian application to the U.N. on Wednesday, say analysts, may not signal the breakup of the peace process, but merely a pressure tactic to get their way in that process.

The Palestinians had been refraining from seeking diplomatic recognition unilaterally while the peace talks continue, but they claim that Israel’s refusal to follow through on the fourth round of prisoner releases freed them of that obligation.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, deputy head of the PLO, asserted they were tired of talks going nowhere, eight months of “negotiating about negotiating.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, in Brussels for a NATO meeting, cancelled a planned visit to Ramallah on Wednesday after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s move, seeming to indicate that the American peacemaker felt there was no longer anything to talk about.

But later, on Tuesday night, Kerry attempted to brush off the matter, saying that Abbas had not applied to the U.N.: “Let me make it absolutely clear: None of the agencies that President Abbas signed tonight involve the U.N. None of them,” Kerry said. “And President Abbas has given his word to me that he will keep his agreement and that he intends to negotiate through the end of the month of April.”

Yet, on Wednesday morning, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki handed the letters to U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry and to representatives from Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The documents requested accession to the U.N. Convention against Corruption, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, The Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, and other international treaties, fifteen in all.

However, the Palestinians did not say they were quitting the peace talks.

Rather, the applications appear to be a pressure tactic, to get their way in negotiations with Israel on such issues as obtaining additional prisoner releases and stopping housing projects in Yehuda and Shomron. Like Israel, they do not want to see the talks fail, and more importantly, they are intent on not being blamed for such a failure.

Rabbo, in fact, told a news conference, “We hope that Kerry renews his efforts in the coming days. We don’t want his mission to fail.”

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declined to comment on Abbas’s move.

Law professor Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, described the deed to Reuters as “merely symbolic.” He noted Abbas had stopped short of applying for membership in international organizations, confining himself to membership in various international conventions.

This is probably what Kerry meant when he downplayed the matter on Tuesday night.

Kerry felt compelled to say once again that it’s “completely premature” to write off the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

But there is no question that the “tireless peacemaker” and his staff are suffering from Mideast peacemakers’ fatigue.

The two sides have taken “unhelpful steps over the last 24 hours, “ an unnamed senior State Department official complained on Wednesday, though he added that “neither party has given any indication … that they want to end the negotiations.”

Privately, the view in Washington is much less sanguine. Senior American officials told The Washington Post on Wednesday that Kerry has “gone as far as he can as mediator” and that the Palestinians and Israelis themselves have to take “significant moves forward … and work through the impasse.”