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All eyes on Abbas ahead of historic Palestinian statehood bid

Some 23,000 Israeli troops are deployed around the Palestinian West Bank and in several Arab-Jewish parts of Israel as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is about to submit an historic application for the recognition of Palestine as a member of the United Nations.

Palestinians have been urged by their leaders to come to the centre of all Palestinian cities and towns in a massive demonstration of support for the statehood initiative. There is very little indication of potential violence, but Israeli security chiefs are taking no chances.

For Mr. Abbas and those Palestinians who support a two-state solution to the 63-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this day is a moment of truth. The Palestinian leadership insists it is going to the United Nations only as a last resort, after 20 years of negotiations have left them with little to show for their efforts.

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For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists he is open to further negotiations with Palestinians, but has insisted that Mr. Abbas accept the notion that Israel is the Jewish homeland. Mr. Abbas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership reject this effort. They are seeking recognition of the right of Palestinians who fled from Israel in 1948 to return to their birthplaces. If such a position on a Jewish state is to be agreed to, Palestinian leaders say it should be done at the conclusion of negotiations, not as a pre-condition for talks.

The Palestinians have demanded that negotiations take place only if there is a complete halt to construction of Israeli settlements on the West bank, territory the Palestinians claim as exclusively their own. Mr. Netanyahu has hinted he would accept some termination of construction (as he did two years ago) but is under great pressure from the right wing supporters of his coalition government not to give up a single housing unit.

The bid for UN recognition will not end today with Mr. Abbas's application for membership. The matter will be referred to the UN Security Council where a committee will certainly be struck to consider the matter. That committee is expected to take several weeks at least before returning with its recommendation about the application. Only at that time will a vote be conducted.

The Palestinian bid requires the support of nine of the 15 members of the Security Council (and no votes against by any of the five permanent members who have the power to veto any decision) before the application goes before the General Assembly where a two-thirds majority must vote its approval of a new member.

The question that both Palestinians and Israelis have about today's speech by Mr. Abbas to the United Nations is: Will it be anti-Israel or pro-peace?

A lot will flow from the choice Mr. Abbas makes.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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