Report By: Nina Rai
New York, Nov. 29, 2012
The stage is set for a historic formal recognition of Palestine as “sovereign state” by the UN General Assembly today, despite warnings by the US and Israel of punishing the former for its indirect attempt at statehood by holding back much-needed funds for the West Bank regime.
By all accounts, a resolution by Palestine in UN is expected to be passed by its General Assembly comprising of 193 nations. It would then in one stroke upgrade the UN observer status of Palestinian Authority from being a mere "entity" to a "non-member state," akin to that of Rome’s Vatican. Note the word "state" in that recognition by UN.
Naturally, this is not something that is being taken well by the US, Israel and a few other members who are already thinking of voting against the Palestinian move to change its U.N diplomatic status, something which the aforementioned nations consider as being largely symbolic and counterproductive.
Spearheading the campaign for Palestine statehood is Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been trying hard to garner support for the resolution. Already, more than a dozen European governments have promised to back him. The move comes after the conclusion of a week long conflict this month between Israel and Islamists in the Gaza Strip, who have vowed to annihilate Israel and are against Abbas’ efforts toward peaceful negotiations to defuse the crisis.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said that William Burns, deputy secretary of state, and David Hale, America’s Middle East peace envoy, traveled to New York on Wednesday in a last ditch attempt to make Abbas change his mind. Burns even made a personal appeal to Abbas promising that President Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if he gave up his effort for statehood. However, the Palestinian leader refused to budge from his stance, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.
US Secretary of Stateon Wednesday told media in Washington the American view that the step taken by Palestinian was a misguided one, when instead its efforts should have been focused towards reviving the stalled Middle East peace process. According to Clinton, the UN vote will not fulfill their goal of independent Palestine, "The only way to get a lasting solution is to commence direct negotiations," between Israel and Palestine, she added.
Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokeswoman, also reiterated the warnings that the move could result in reduced US economic and financial support for the Palestinians. The Israelis too have threatened taking significant deductions out of monthly transfers of duties that it collects on behalf of Palestine.
After the voting at UN today, if Palestine wins it will be conferred the title of "non-member observer state." This does not amount to full UN membership, something for which the Palestinians tried for last year and failed. However, being a non-member would allow them access to the International Criminal Court and some other prestigious international bodies, something they will surely join if they become a UN non-member.
There has been a logjam in peace talks for the past two years, mainly over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have boomed despite being considered illegal by most of the world. In their draft resolution, the Palestinians have vowed to re-start the stalled peace process immediately after the UN vote.
While its quite clear which way the US will vote when the Palestinian resolution on its statehood status at UN is put to a vote today, sometime after 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT), the Palestinian Authority is leaving no stone unturned concentrating its efforts on lobbying rich European states, inform diplomats.
It may be noted that in the UN General Assembly, unlike the Security Council, no country has veto power, so the US which opposes the initiative, can’t block it. The developing nations in UN strongly support the Palestinian statehood bid and since they dominate the world body as its members, the resolution is virtually assured of getting more than the requisite simple majority. Presently, over two-thirds of UN member states have recognized the Palestine State.
The Palestinians have been trying hard to woo as many European votes as possible, as it is crucial to enhance their standing internationally. As per latest reports, the "yes" votes include France, Spain Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal and Switzerland, all of whom have pledged to support the Palestinian resolution.
Britain said it was ready to give a positive vote provided certain conditions are fulfilled, such as Palestinians commiting to talks without preconditions and agreeing not to sign up to the International Criminal Court. Those opposed or abstaining include the US, Israel, Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Estonia and Lithuania. A high "yes" vote could shoot up Abbas’ international standing substantially.
A win for Palestinians with majority of European nations backing at UN could also make it difficult for Israel to impose stringent punitive measures on it. Naturally, Israel would not want to antagonize Europe. However, if the Palestinians upon winning the UN vote go to the International Criminal Court over war crimes, crimes against humanity and other alleged crimes by Israel, then the Jewish state’s response would not be well-measured and it could retaliate strongly.
Israeli officials also appear to be wary of taking drastic measures against the Western-backed Abbas. This is particularly so after the staunch rivalsreceived a strong political boost by visits to Gaza Strip by top officials from Egypt, Qatar and Tunisia. The Hamas group which controls Gaza had chilly relations with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Unexpectedly, however, they offered Abbas their support earlier this week.
One Western diplomat, who plans to vote in Palestinian favor, had this to say about the Palestinian move and its impact on the United States. According to him, it was almost an insult to recently re-elected US President Barack Obama. "It's not the best way to convince Mr. Obama to have a more positive approach toward the peace process. Three weeks after his election, it's basically a slap in the face."
Opinion: Without beating around the bush, its time for the United States and its closest ally Israel to see the writing on the world wall and stop playing spoil sport like they did last year when they foiled the Palestinian bid for full membership status at UN.
In any case it will become clear from today's voting in the UN that majority of the European, Western and Asian member nations are all in favor of Palestine being granted the non-member state status, with a majority of the countries favoring Palestinian people’s right to autonomy and being an independent entity in the West Bank.
It will be in the US (the world’s largest democracy’s) own interest to facilitate a process whereby Palestine is granted diplomatic status at the UN. Palestinians have struggled for this status for decades. Even otherwise, a belligerent US and Israel can manage to merely stall, not completely stop something that is inevitable.
The US and Israel believe, a tad unrealistically, that the recognition of an independent state of Palestine in the UN General Assembly will not promote the Palestinians' quest for a homeland. But gaining an upgrade in status at UN will be a first major step for the long-suffering, stateless people of Palestine.
At the same time, it will help too if the Palestinians, in a spirit of give-and-take, make all efforts to recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, make concerted attempts to end their long-running fued with the Jewish state by returning to the negotiating table to broker lasting peace. As British Prime Minister David Cameron rightly told lawmakers: “The only way we’re going to see a peace process that works is if Israelis and Palestinians come to the table.”
For Abbas, the Palestinian leader, the UN bid is crucial on a personal level. A victory here will bolster his leadership image and relevance in the region, which had taken a beating following the recent conflict between his Hamas rivals and Tel Aviv in the Gaza strip. The eight-day long conflict this month saw the Islamic militant group claim victory. It raised their stature in the Arab world, while themovement of Abbas was largely ignored and marginalized.
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