Tired of talks and under pressure, Palestinians turn to UN

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - With peace talks exhausted, pressure building on the streets and increasing international support, the Palestinians are hoping the time has finally come for a UN resolution on ending the Israeli occupation.

Jordan is expected to submit an Arab-backed draft resolution to the UN Security Council as early as Wednesday, seeking a two-year timetable for Israel to withdraw its forces from the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Washington is all but certain to veto any resolution setting a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal, and Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting European allies and senior Israeli and Palestinian officials this week in a bid to head off a diplomatic crisis.

But after the latest round of US-backed peace talks broke down in April, and with increasing violence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, experts say the Palestinians see a UN resolution as the only way forward.

A resolution is the "only option left to the Palestinian leadership," political analyst Abdel Majid Sweilem said.

"Any further talks must be carried out on a new basis, with an internationally agreed timetable," he said, adding that only the pressure of a deadline would force Israel to make concessions to a two-state solution.

Successive rounds of peace talks have failed to resolve the key questions in the conflict -- the creation of a Palestinian state with defined borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and the status of Jerusalem.

Frustration among the Palestinians has grown, fuelled by the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands and calls from rightwing groups to expand Jewish rights at a Jerusalem holy site.

That anger boiled over in this summer's Gaza war, in a series of deadly "lone wolf" attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank and in frequent clashes between Israeli security forces and stone-throwing Palestinians.

- PA a 'glorified administration' -

Under pressure to take action, the Palestinian leadership is following the only course it can, said George Jiacaman of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

"The Palestinian leadership has been forced to go to the Security Council as an alternative to measures the Palestinian street is demanding, such as halting security coordination with Israel," he said.

The Palestinians agreed to security cooperation with Israel under the 1993 Oslo peace accords, which also set up the Palestinian Authority (PA) to administer the occupied territories until an agreement could be reached within five years.

Two decades later, without any long-term deal in sight, PA officials feel their power has been eroded.

It is a "Palestinian Authority without any authority," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told foreign journalists in Bethlehem recently.

"They love us to call ourselves an authority, but the reality on the ground (is that) since 2009 we have been deprived totally of any jurisdiction on any domain," Erakat said.

Jiacaman compared the PA's power to that of a city hall.

"The PA's legitimacy is threatened because the Palestinian street thought its formation would lead to the creation of a state -- rather than it just remaining a glorified regional administration," he said.

The Palestinians' frustration has been mirrored by many in the international community, in particular in Europe where British, French and Spanish lawmakers recently voted in favour of recognising Palestine as a state.

"We're being helped a great deal," Erakat said of the European votes, suggesting that Washington might also be more open to some sort of UN resolution given its engagements elsewhere in the region.

"The United States is (in) a coalition with Arab and Muslim countries, fighting wars in two Arab and Muslim states called Syria and Iraq," he said, referring to the US-led alliance carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group in the two countries.

"We are trying to internationalise our cause," he said.

A European diplomat at the UN has said there is a "window of opportunity" for a resolution and a willingness from the United States to "consider options at the UN".

France is reportedly putting together a more nuanced version of the resolution, setting a two-year timetable for concluding a peace treaty, without mentioning the withdrawal of Israeli forces.