As the U.N. General Assembly session in September approaches, Israel is flexing its muscles against a Palestinian bid for statehood, but such a move could only spell trouble for both sides, at least according to Elliot Abrams, a former top Reagan and Bush administration official and now senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Israel's latest saber-rattling comes in the form of Knesset Speaker Danny Danon declaring that if Palestine brings a vote for statehood to the U.N. floor, "Israel will unilaterally annex Judea and Samaria," known to the rest of the world as the West Bank, where Israel has planted hundreds of thousands of settlers.
Of Danon's chest-thumping, Abrams was unimpressed, saying, "It's not his decision [to annex the West Bank]. It's a government decision, and no such claim has been made by anybody in a position of authority."
Danon himself, known for not holding back his opinions, took a somewhat more moderate line Tuesday, saying Israel "has to be critical" of the Palestinian Authority. "They will try to make a bid [at the Assembly], and we have to be critical. That is the plan for how we deal with the Palestinians."
The Palestinian Authority, for its part, doesn't seem fazed by the bellicose statements. "This is something we are familiar with," said Rabii Alhantouli, a spokesman for the Palestinian Mission to the U.N. "The occupying power is acting in an illegal manner, but this will not change the reality that Palestine is occupied."
Alhantouli also said that it was "very possible" that the statehood issue could come to a vote. "We are still waiting for the declaration of the exact timing," he said.
But Abrams said he saw nothing but a "downward spiral" if the Palestinians do achieve international statehood recognition. "The Palestinian leaders are talking themselves into a corner," he said. "They're going down a road that's going to be increasingly difficult."
"Suppose they get the vote," he continued. "It would be a propaganda victory for them, and presumably there'd be a clamor to get Israeli leaders or generals declared war criminals in the International Criminal Court, which will embitter relations with Israel."
Abrams also noted that when the Palestinian Authority joined Unesco, the U.S. withheld its 25 percent of the organization's budget. "So they're going to join 10 more U.N. agencies and bankrupt those agencies. But if they get statehood and don't do any of that [join agencies or go to the ICC], then what's the point?
"The Palestinians have tough decisions around the corner that they may not have thought through," Abrams concluded.
The Palestinians may indeed have some new considerations to face between Israel's threats and some American politicians' support for them, Abrams cautions. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., one of Danon's declared allies in Congress, sponsored a bill last September that "supports Israel's right to annex Judea and Samaria in the event that the Palestinian Authority continues to press for the unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations."
The bill attracted 44 co-sponsors. Walsh said Tuesday that he "absolutely" backs Danon's threats, and that if the Palestinians make another bid for statehood, "we will try to step up the bill," and that Congress will do "whatever we can to block this effort."