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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Palestine poised for symbolic but historic victory at UN

The UN General Assembly is poised to approve Palestine's historic bid seeking recognition as an observer state in the UN system, with over 120 countries including India, China, France and Brazil set to vote in favour of the resolution.

A draft resolution tabled by the Palestinian Authority, "reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967".

The resolution which has been co-sponsored by 60 nations including India, will go to vote later tonight and is virtually certain to be approved, much to the chagrin of Israel and the US.

The resolution aims to "accord to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations".

Faced with the prospect of a stinging diplomatic defeat at the UN, Israel Premier Benjamin Netanyahu today warned the Palestinian Authority that its unilateral move to seek an upgraded status at the world body will only make its statehood dreams "more distant".

The hawkish leader said Israel the move will "not change anything on the ground" and regardless of how many (countries) vote against Israel, "no force in the world will get me to compromise on Israel's security".

With the peace process in tatters, the Palestinians, however, would be looking at the vote as a boost that would build moral pressure on Israel.

The PA has chosen the 'International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People' for the vote and PA President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to address the General Assembly before the vote, presenting the case for Palestinian statehood.

The largely symbolic vote would change the Palestinians's UN observer status from "entity" to "non-member state," similar to the one enjoyed by Vatican and would implicitly recognise Palestinian statehood.
Last week, the IBSA nations of India, Brazil and South Africa had expressed their support for Palestine's request to be accorded Observer State status.

Other nations expected to vote in favour of the resolution include Spain, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Turkey, Russia, South Africa and Nigeria.

The resolution will face definite opposition from Israel and the US, while the UK said it will abstain from voting if certain conditions are not met by Palestine. The US has maintained that it would oppose the resolution move altogether.

"The resolution does nothing to get them (Palestinians) closer to statehood, and it may actually make the environment more difficult," US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters yesterday.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace David Hale met Abbas in New York and expressed the US government's "very real concern" about the Palestinian initiative in the UNGA, Nuland said.

"We've been clear, we've been consistent with the Palestinians that we oppose observer state status in the General Assembly and this resolution. "And the Deputy Secretary also reiterated that no one should be under any illusion that this resolution is going to produce the results that the Palestinians claim to seek, namely to have their own state living in peace next to Israel," she said.

Germany would abstain from voting with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying "the decisive steps" towards real statehood can only be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

"In our view there are doubts over whether the desired move by the Palestinians today is supportive for the peace process. We fear it could lead rather to a hardening of views," Westerwelle said in a statement.

The vote has the support of more than a dozen European nations. An applicant state needs to obtain a simple majority vote of the 193 members in the General Assembly to win non-member state standing.

Unlike a proposal for full UN membership, the Security Council?and the threat of veto?is absent from the process.

The Palestinians had last year won membership to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

After the win, Israel had withheld millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority and the US had stopped financing to Unesco, withholding millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

The decision to seek non-member state status for Palestine follows a failed bid to gain full UN membership in 2011. The effort went nowhere as the US made it clear it would veto it.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said UK had asked Abbas not to move a resolution at the UNGA for the time being given the "overriding need for both Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations as soon as possible".

"Our view was that it would be better to give the US administration the opportunity to set out a new initiative. We pointed out that a UN resolution would be depicted by some as a move away from bilateral negotiations with Israel.

"We were also concerned about the considerable financial risks to the Palestinian Authority, at a time when their situation is already precarious, if a vote led to a strong backlash from Israel and within the US political system," he said in a statement.

Hague said Britain would vote in favour of the resolution only if the PA indicates a "clear commitment" to return immediately to negotiations "without preconditions". He added that if the Palestinians sought to build on this resolution and pursue the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories, Britain would oppose the resolution.

A win at the UNGA would enable Palestine to access bodies like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which prosecutes people for genocide, war crimes and major human rights violations.

Britain said it feared that Palestine could complain about Israel at the ICC. Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour told reporters earlier this week that Palestinians would not rush to sign up to the International Criminal Court if they won the UNGA vote.

"I don't believe that we are going to be rushing the second day to join everything related to the United Nations, including the ICC," he said.

In his 2012 speech to the General Assembly, Abbas said in the latest bid for enhanced UN recognition, "we do not seek to delegitimise an existing state that is Israel; but rather to assert the state that must be realized that is Palestine".

A draft of the UN General Assembly resolution cites the "urgent need for resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process" for "a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement" that resolves all outstanding core issues, particularly the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water".

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