Showdown looms over Palestinian statehood

The Palestinian demand for statehood is expected to go through a sticky patch when the matter comes up for debate at the UN General Assembly

By : JT Nguyen

NEW YORK: The Palestinian demand for UN statehood recognition is heading for a showdown in the UN General Assembly next week, where countries that support a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian settlement are trying to stop the move.

The 193-nation assembly is a pro-Palestinian bastion, and the Palestinian statehood bandwagon appeared unstoppable as it rolled over US and European efforts to block it this week.

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, expects that the assembly will at the least be asked to elevate the Palestinian observer status in the UN to that of “observer state,” which would give the Palestinian Authority equal status to that of the Vatican.

Even though it has roiled the Middle East peace process and upset nations that support a two-state solution, the Palestinian unilateral demand was still ill-defined. The tactical move to test UN support could backfire on UN resolutions and Israeli-Palestinian accords that for years have been the basis for efforts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through peaceful negotiation.

The assembly is dominated by blocs of non-aligned and Arab and Islamic countries which recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as far back as 1948 in a resolution that gave it observer status and privileges in the world body. In 1998, the assembly upgraded the “participation of Palestine in the work of the UN” in a new resolution.

The European Union’s 27 members are a significant bloc of votes. The bloc is a strong proponent of a two-state solution, and some may not support Palestinian statehood outside a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian negotiated settlement. Germany is one of them.

But there may be sympathy for the PA’s move in other European countries such as France.

Right to self-determination

Palestinian statehood, dubbed the September Initiative, has received support from more than 100 governments in the assembly. In a document circulated widely at UN headquarters, the Palestinian observer mission lays claim to an “inalienable right to freedom and an independent homeland” for Palestinians.

The document says the core of the September Initiative is recognition of Palestinan statehood and reaffirmation of people’s right to self-determination.

The only way for a state to gain full recognition as a member of the UN with full voting rights is through the 15-member Security Council. The United States, as one of five permanent members of the council with veto authority, has already signalled it will veto the application.

That means the only other path open to elevating Palestinian status – from “observer entity” to “observer state” – is through the General Assembly. The assembly’s 193 members are their own masters, and no veto can be applied there. But “observer state” would still not give the Palestinians voting rights, although they could become a member in other UN organisations like the International Criminal Court.

The Palestinians could choose to bypass the Security Council and settle for a bid for “observer state,” which would spare the United States further erosion of Washington’s standing across the Muslim world that would likely result from a council veto.

But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to submit the demand after he arrives in New York as early as tomorrow, has already dismissed the US veto threat, and he could decide to go on a confrontation course with the US via the Security Council.

The US, Israel as well as the European Union have argued that Abbas should drop the plan and accept the premise that only a negotiated settlement with Israel could lead to a recognised Palestinian state.

New Palestinian intifada

But last-minute efforts have fallen through, and last Thursday, Abbas’ foreign minister, Riad Malki, said Abbas would request full membership, at the latest at the end of his speech to the General Assembly on Sept 23.

Observers and analysts have warned of a new Palestinian intifada if the UN grants the Palestinian request without a negotiated settlement, because it would deprive the real peace wanted by many Palestinians, who regard the UN recognition as hollow.

Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, said in an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal that the UN would be undercutting its own past resolutions and bilateral actions reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The UN will be responsible for any ensuing bloodshed it stokes (through) the flames of violence by raising Palestinian expectations while lowering prospects for a negotiated peace,” Dershowitz said.

But others warned of a new intifada if the opposite happens, if they are denied statehood.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former director of intelligence services and a former ambassador to the US, said in an editorial in The New York Times that Washington may lose all Arab support if it vetoes Palestinian UN membership.

“Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has,” al-Faisal said. He said the “special relationship” between his country and the US increasingly would be seen as toxic “by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.”

Al-Faisal is currently chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.

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  • Irum  On September 18, 2011 at 4:33 am

    shuker hai saudi’s kuch tu boly.

  • TMH  On September 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Why a legitimate child being denied his legitimate right to exist live on the land of his forefathers, and a bastard is accepted in the comity of nations and use the usurped rights of the legitimate child?
    Only because the supporters and god fathers of the illegitimate child are power full at the moment and get away
    with blue murder? Well if this true, remember the wheel of fortune in never stationary, it always rotate.
    World will wait for its next rotation, and no mater how powerful a power or collection of powers are they can not stop it.


  • Salman Abbasy  On September 18, 2011 at 7:10 am

    The Palestine issue has been with the United Nations ever since that body was formed but it has got nowhere due to Israeli intransigence tolerated by the powerful “group of western and other nations” in that organization. In the current debate, the opponents of observer status studiously avoid the most worrisome outcome of success of the move – it would enable the Palestinians to haul Israeli and American authorities before the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses.

  • Rauf  On September 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Strangest thing about is that, when East Timur became a country, the whole world recognized
    it within a matter of days, so is about South Sudan. Why it should take (or taking) many decades for Palestinians to get their rights ?

    US friendly members should be able to enlighten us with this predicament about
    the people of Palestine.

  • Syed Wajahat  On September 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    In Case of East Timur and Sudan, the idea was to break up Muslim domination.
    Perhaps there was legitimacy, I don’t know. The case of Palestine is
    opposite, recognition of Palestine represents beaking up of Israel. It may
    also set precedence for other Arabian states to push their agenda in the future.

    It is all a game of power play. The West is fighting for its survival as more and more
    non Western states jump into the economic arena.

    Syed Wajahat Hussain

  • Minhaj  On September 18, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Probably, the resolution will be vetoed by US. Palestinians are themselves divided into two parts and this is not helping their cause at all.

  • Faisal Imam  On September 19, 2011 at 9:37 am

    The Americans will be led up the garden path unwillingly

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