The US has made official its intent to veto the Palestinian Authority statehood bid at the United Nations in September, Gulf News reports.
While two-thirds of PA Arabs reportedly support the UN bid, which has whipped up a furor for sovereignty, PA officials had already admitted PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was standing on a precipice he couldn't back away from.
But now, with the bid just two months away and the paperwork due this month, PA officials appear not to know what to do.
PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat had previously told reporters the US had privately told PA officials they would exercise their veto, but a public declaration all but seals failure for Abbas and company in September.
While the UN could instead make a symbolic declaration or upgrade the PA's observer status, officials are increasingly worried such a toothless measure could prompt popular frustration and anger that would further weaken the PA and its rival Hamas.
"We need practical help in ending the occupation. Symbolic or declarative achievements [are] not exactly what we are looking for — although useful — [they're] not good enough," PA spokesman Gassan Khatib said. "The Palestinian leadership has been promising or expecting to deliver in September. When it fails, it will undermine its public standing and strengthen the standing of the opposition."
The PA says it is considering their options. On Thursday they sought the advice of neighbors on the UN move at a meeting of the Arab League in Doha, while Erekat drew up a paper laying out the pros and cons of various strategies at the UN, according to Israel Radio.
The Arab League later announced that it will ask the UN for recognition of an independent PA state.
No Way Out?
President Barack Obama and US lawmakers, viewing the UN move as a challenge to its leadership on the peace process, have strongly opposed the statehood bid.
On June 29, the US Senate passed a unanimous resolution urging Palestinian leaders to "cease all efforts at circumventing the negotiation process," specifically calling out the UN campaign. If the PA fails to cease such efforts, the resolution warned, Congress could place restrictions on the roughly half billion dollars in annual aid it sends to the Ramallah-based PA coffers.
Palestinian analyst Hani Al Masri believes that Abbas' aides are looking for an exit strategy. "They are afraid of stopping aid from the US. They are afraid of Palestinian protests," he says.
The UN move coincides with a deadline for a peace deal declared by Obama last year at a peace conference with both Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Detractors On All Sides
Indeed, members of the Hamas movement in charge of the Gaza Strip argue that the statehood bid is fundamentally flawed.
"[Yasser] Arafat had announced a state in the 1980s, and many countries recognized Palestine as a state, but what did he gain?" asks Ammar Ahmad, a young Hamas policeman and member of a Hamas armed wing in Gaza, told Gulf News.
"Nothing but a stupid useless peace process that has harmed the Palestinian cause and the legal struggle of the Palestinians to defy the Israeli occupation," he said. "Even if [PA Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas succeeded and got some support from the Arabs and some friendly countries, Israel may reoccupy Gaza and intensify its occupation of the West Bank."
"This may be the last nail in the coffin of the already bankrupted PA. This once again proves that legal armed resistance is the best way to get statehood," he added, expressing concern over Israel's potential response to the PA bid.
Observers note the PA, amidst a year-long financial crisis and corruption scandal, faces an Israel prepared to scuttle the Oslo Accords and exact "an eye for an eye" in the diplomatic arena should the PA declare a state. Such a move could result in cessation of all official contact, renewed Israeli security presence in PA administered areas, and a cessation of water, electricity, and tax revenues.
But on the surface PA officials appear undeterred by the prospect of conflict; three in four expect the PA to follow up the UN vote with moves to assert sovereignty in Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem, according to a late June poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in Ramallah.
"Obviously, those most worried about this are the commanders of the security services who are concerned about the increased chances for conflict with demonstrators," says PCPSR director Khalil Shikaki in an e-mail.
Analysts note that while PA security forces number some 41,000 -- more than that allowed by the Oslo Accords - and have been trained and equipped by US military advisers, they would prove little match for the IDF should Israel's leaders choose to bring the hammer down.
Israeli security forces, too, are bracing for the possibility of a third intifada linked to the UN move and inspired by the spirit of popular demonstration and civil disobedience spreading through the region.