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Palestinians’ U.N. Statehood Bid: What Comes Next?

Palestinians cheer leader Mahmoud Abbas’ return from the United Nations on Sept. 25. Israelis also hailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions at the U.N. meeting. Photo by Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both returned to their homelands as heroes after championing their causes at the U.N. General Assembly last week. But the euphoria has petered out, and Israelis and Palestinians are now waiting for something to happen, said Noga Tarnopolsky, a GlobalPost contributor based in Jerusalem who has been reporting on developments from Israel and the Palestinian territories.

On Friday Abbas submitted an application for full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state, which Netanyahu argued against, saying assurances for Israeli security were needed before Palestinian statehood.

The U.N. Security Council will take up the Palestinians’ bid on Wednesday, though a vote is not expected for weeks. The United States has said it would veto the measure if it has the nine of 15 votes needed in the Security Council for passage, which would prevent the bid from moving to the larger General Assembly for a needed two-thirds vote. The United States contends that granting Palestinian statehood would circumvent the peace process necessary to work out deep-seated matters such as control of Jerusalem and citizenship status.

The Mideast Quartet — made up of the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — has urged Palestinians and Israelis to return to direct talks within a month and to reach an agreement on outstanding issues by next year.

Further complicating the situation, on Tuesday Israel approved the building of 1,100 new settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians oppose Israeli settlements on land they consider part of their future state.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, emphasized that although the United States opposes Israeli settlements, it does not agree with Palestinian calls to halt settlements as a pre-condition to restarting peace talks.

The Palestinian U.N. membership bid has been a hot topic of conversation in the region, Tarnopolsky told us by telephone. Many Israelis were feeling anxiety and fear, fomented by the media and right-wing politicians about possible eruptions of violence, coupled with a misunderstanding of U.N. procedures, she said.

Israelis thought Abbas was going to present his request and “within a day there’d be a vote on Palestinian statehood and ‘it’s all going to fall upon us’ and people are going to be protesting in the streets,” she said.

But among Palestinians, there was a feeling of jubilation and a sense that the bid is a sort of declaration of independence and will make them recognized in the whole world, said Tarnopolsky. “I’ve been surprised at both extremes.”

But after these strong emotions, everything’s been quiet, she continued. “Nothing has happened on the ground, nothing has really changed.”

It’s as though people did not think beyond the headlines into the procedural matters that have to be addressed at the United Nations and the responsibility and duties of statehood, Tarnopolsky said.

Little has been said lately about the more substantive, but less sexy, issues involved in statehood. And now on all sides, there is a feeling of stasis, she added. “There was this melodramatic high-noon in New York and now both guys have come home and nothing’s happening. A whole lot of treading water.”

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