The United States and its allies have all but abandoned an effort to convince Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end his bid for Palestinian statehood in the United Nations Security Council on Friday and are instead pivoting towards mitigating its effect.
They are trying to develop a scenario that allows both Abbas and world powers to save face and establish a path back toward negotiations with Israel, according to American and European officials.
The ideal plan, as described by diplomats, would allow Abbas to fulfill his promise to seek statehood at the United Nations, but then either water it down or delay the process of actually voting on it, allowing the United States to avoid a promised veto that could damage its image in the Middle East.
The White House announced today that President Obama will meet with Abbas on Wednesday evening. Obama is expected to reiterate a request that Abbas not to pursue statehood at the UN and, failing that, will press him not to pursue it past Friday. Diplomats are working to defuse the appearance of a diplomatic showdown between the two leaders.
Diplomats from the so-called “Quartet” of Mideast peace mediators (the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia) are also working furiously to assemble a package deal that would entice both Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations and convince Abbas that delaying U.N. recognition is worth it. That package is now likely to be presented only after Abbas makes his case before the United Nations on Friday, and may even come days later.
If both sides of the conflict agree to the package deal, it could still be weeks before negotiations resume and would likely come only after choreographed posturing on both sides before their publics.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Abbas on Monday but, according to a European diplomat, was unable to determine what he plans to do when he presents a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations requesting upgraded Palestinian recognition at the world body.
Envoys from the Quartet met today for the third day in a row, trying to hammer out the details of a complex package of incentives for both sides to return to negotiations. According to American and European officials the plan includes the resumption of negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines, which Obama called for in May, and would satisfy a Palestinian demand by having a fixed end date. It would also recognize the Jewish character of Israel, which threads the needle between Israeli demands for such recognition and Palestinian resistance that Israel be defined as a Jewish state.
Whether this all works out, of course remains to be seen. Beyond the challenge of getting both parties to sign off on such a plan, Quartet members faced resistance from one of their own. Russia has complained that they were not adequately consulted on the plan ahead of time and have expressed concern about some of its elements. If Moscow maintains its opposition, U.S. officials say they are prepared to go ahead with a package under a new diplomatic configuration that does not include Russia.
American and European diplomats acknowledged that initial talks with the Russians did not go well today ahead of the Quartet envoy’s meeting.
If such a grand deal falls through, the United States and its allies have also discussed alternate ways to avoid a diplomatic showdown. One includes convincing Abbas to seek lesser recognition at the U.N. General Assembly, which would only upgrade its membership but not declare it a full member state.
Officials describe a possible new definition for Palestine that falls short of the ability to join the International Criminal Court and other international organizations where officials fear the Palestinians could sue Israel for occupying its territory. That scenario, officials caution, is messier because it involves a discussion about how much authority to give the Palestinian state.
If a Palestinian recognition resolution does come to a vote in the Security Council, the United States is assembling a block of countries to vote against or abstain, which would also defeat the measure while also avoiding a U.S. veto.