Palestinians seek historic state backing at UN

Published Nov 29, 2012 09:21am

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.—AFP Photo

UNITED NATIONS: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will head to the UN General Assembly on Thursday with huge backing for his bid for upgraded diplomatic status despite strong US and Israeli opposition.

Abbas will ask for the Palestinians to be recognized as a UN “non-member observer state” and indicate his conditions for talks with Israel in a key speech to the 193-member assembly, set to convene at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT).

The Palestinians say 132 countries recognize their state bilaterally, but some of those are expected to abstain while many European nations are expected to vote in favor even though they have not recognized a Palestinian state.

Thursday’s motion requires a simple majority of those members present and voting in order to pass, and the bid is widely expected to be approved.

The Palestinian leadership is determined to make the 65th anniversary of a UN resolution on the division of Palestinian territory a “historic” landmark in their quest for an independent state.

The United States, a staunch ally of Israel, has launched an aggressive campaign against the bid, warning that the vote will do nothing to improve the prospects for new peace talks aimed at ending the decades-long conflict.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Middle East envoy David Hale met with Abbas at his New York hotel on Wednesday but failed to get the resolution withdrawn or amended, officials said.

“It would be like changing my name,” Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters when asked if the Palestinians would change their request.

Abbas also held talks with a host of ministers and top diplomats in the day before his speech, including Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who pledged his country’s support, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Canada has said it will join the United States in opposing the resolution.

Only two European countries, Germany and the Czech Republic, are expected to vote against.

Britain announced it would abstain unless the Palestinians pledged not to seek an International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Israel and promised an immediate return to negotiations with the Jewish state.

The recent Israeli military onslaught against rocket attacks from Gaza could increase support for the Palestinians, diplomats said.

But several European countries, including some backing the bid, believe the Palestinians should have waited until after US President Barack Obama installed his new administration and Israel held elections, diplomats said.

The foreign ministers of Canada, Turkey, Jordan and Indonesia are also scheduled to speak at the General Assembly meeting starting at 2000 GMT.

Success will give the Palestinians access to UN agencies and treaties and allow them to apply to join the ICC – a prospect that worries Israel.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi said Abbas resisted “intensive pressure” to make concessions on the ICC.

Palestinian envoys have said Abbas will not rush to join the court but could use it if Israel does not change its policies on settlements and other matters.

The United States blocked the application for full membership of the United Nations that Abbas made in September 2011.

The United States and Israel say a Palestinian state can only emerge from direct negotiations, which have been frozen since September 2010.

“We have made very clear to the Palestinian leadership that we oppose Palestinian efforts to upgrade their status at the UN outside of the framework” of talks with Israel, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

The Palestinian Authority and UN agencies that admit the Palestinians could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in financing because of the vote. US law prohibits funding for any international body recognizing a Palestinian state.

Washington has warned Abbas he risks losing around $200 million in aid, which is currently blocked in the US Congress.

Israel is considering freezing the transfer of tax and customs funds it collects for the Palestinians, while one Israeli foreign ministry policy paper even suggested “toppling” the Palestinian Authority.

But ministry spokeswoman Ilana Stein said Israel would most likely not take any punitive measures unless the Palestinians used the upgrade “as a platform for confrontation” at the ICC.

“Israel’s reaction to the Palestinian move depends on what they choose to do. If they use this resolution as a platform for confrontation, we will have to act accordingly,” Stein said.


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