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UN recognition: Palestine, Israel and the path forward

A Palestinian girl in Gaza atop a destroyed house on the day President Abbas formally requested UN recognition of Palestine. AAP

President Mahmoud Abbas has formally submitted Palestine’s application for full member status of the United Nations.

The United States has already promised to veto the application at the Security Council stage but the Palestinian decision has changed the terms of debate over how to solve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

The move also forced President Obama - who had previously made a series of speeches outlining his desire for new thinking in the Middle East - to publicly affirm the United States’ unbending support for Israel.

The Conversation spoke with Middle East expert Mat Hardy about the road forward for Israel and Palestine now that statehood has formally been sought.

What happens now? The request for statehood has been formally made.

The next step for the Palestinians is to get their house in order because they are still bickering between and amongst themselves.

Israel has no firm push to go to the negotiating table, when Hamas and its more militant factions are leading calls for violence.

It is easy for the Israelis to sit back from the negotiating table while the Palestinians fight among themselves. You can imagine [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu sitting with his feet up on the table.

That is the classic “we don’t have a partner for peace” line the Israelis often employ?

That is right and it is quite easy for Netanyahu to prove that, it isn’t a long reach at all. You saw Netanyahu sitting next to Obama at the UN saying that he was proud of Obama and that Obama was doing the right thing.

That is a bit like Tony Abbott saying that he approves of my position on climate change. It isn’t the person you want saying you have the right idea in life.

Has Obama gone back on his Cairo speech stance? Has he nailed his colours to the Israeli mast now?

It is no surprise that Obama has stood with Israel and Israel only. This is the continual bind that American presidents find themselves in. Israel is too important to them historically and strategically and domestically and there is just no way that you can leave Israel out in the cold if you’re an American president.

It doesn’t matter how many beautiful speeches you make about peace, you are always stuck with that conundrum.

Some European countries – particularly the French under President Sarkozy – want a bigger role in negotiations. Has the US lead role in Israeli/Palestinian talks ended?

I’m not necessarily sure the Europeans are seen as the heralds of peace in the Middle East either. Remember that Sarkozy like Obama has got an election looming in the medium term future.

Often when Presidents get round to their second term they start to look for some sort of international legacy and what they’ve achieved during their Presidency and the Middle East is the reef that many of them steer their boat very firmly towards.

The thing is Sarkozy can say all he wants, but really [it is about] whether he is acceptable as a negotiator. What is in it for the Israelis to have the French negotiating with them?

Has Hamas been sidelined by this? Has Fatah regained momentum and credibility among Palestinians?

I don’t know if it is right to say that Fatah has gained the momentum. I think if you were a Fatah supporter you always were and if you were a Hamas supporter you always will be.

Fatah is always brought forward by outsiders as the party we need to negotiate with and that is because they are the least worst option as far as anybody is concerned.

As I have said before, there will be those now amongst the more militant factions who will say “Fatah is a joke, all they’ve done is take this to the UN and it was a farce”. [They will say] it has proved that diplomacy will never work and therefore now is the time for more direct action.

If there is no traction in peace negotiations, is another intifada inevitable?

There is always the potential for violence. Another intifada? I’m not sure. This is not the situation of ten or 20 years ago. It is much harder for Palestinians to move around, it is much harder to get explosives into Israel proper, so whether there is any real possibility of a large scale campaign of violence, I’m not sure.

But I am sure some of those frustrations will start to seep out.

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