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Middle east

Abbas vows to go ahead with UN membership bid


Video by Louise Hannah

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-09-19

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Monday he would press ahead with plans to seek full UN membership for a Palestinian state, despite frenzied diplomatic efforts to avert a showdown at the UN Security Council later this week.

AP - The Palestinians said they will submit an application for full U.N. membership on Friday, the first step in a process to a declaration of statehood that has already sparked a frenzy of diplomatic activity and vows of a U.S. veto in the Security Council.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon of his plans on Monday, as behind the scenes efforts by key Mideast mediators intensified to try to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Any candidate for U.N. membership must submit a letter to the secretary-general stating it is a “peace-loving” state and accepts the U.N. Charter. Ban is expected to examine the letter and then send it to the U.N. Security Council which must give its approval before an assembly vote. That approval will not be forthcoming because of U.S. opposition.

Abbas said earlier Monday that he would not be deterred from seeking U.N. recognition for Palestine despite what he described as “tremendous pressure.”

His meeting with Ban and the reaffirmation that he would submit the application for “Palestine” to join the United Nations reflected his determination to move forward with setting up an independent nation in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. The new state would be in lands captured by Israel during the 1967 Mideast war.

The U.S. and Israel oppose the Palestinians’ bid, arguing that a state can be established only through negotiations. Washington has vowed to block the move in the Security Council, where it is one of the five veto power-wielding permanent members.

Given that, the most the Palestinians could come away with is a symbolic victory if they then go to the 193-member General Assembly where there are no vetoes and they would easily win approval for a resolution raising their status from a permanent observer to a nonmember observer state.

While it wouldn’t mean U.N. membership, recognition as a state would likely open doors for the Palestinians to join U.N. agencies and become a party to international treaties.

Ban, during his meeting with Abbas, “reiterated his support for the two-state solution and stressed his desire to ensure that the international community and the two parties can find a way forward for resuming negotiations within a legitimate and balanced framework,” said U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Roughly 100 nations already recognise Palestine as a “free and independent state”. Many of the countries recognising a Palestinian state refer to pre-1967 borders, while others don’t specify. Most of these nations, like Russia, China, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, announced their recognition following the Palestinian National Council’s unilateral declaration of statehood in 1988.

The most recent countries to have announced their recognition of a Palestinian state are Uruguay, Honduras, and El Salvador, who followed in the footsteps of numerous South American countries, like Brazil and Argentina.

Europe remains more divided. Only Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, and Romania have recognised a Palestinian state.

The secretary-general and the Palestinian leader also discussed the ongoing efforts by the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators - the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia - to restart negotiations, he said.

Abbas stressed his commitment to “a negotiated solution,” said Nesirky.

The mediators have been meeting over the past few days to try to persuade the Palestinians to drop their U.N. membership bid and return to the negotiating table. Another Quartet meeting was slated for later Monday, officials said, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton might present more ideas to Abbas later in the day.

The Palestinians argue that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision of peace is starkly different than theirs, and that a two-state option which he would support fails to reflect their key demands including halts to settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem as the capital of the new state. Netanyahu, for his part, has said the Palestinians are the ones who are unwilling to seriously enter negotiations.

Full U.N. membership can only be bestowed by the U.N. Security Council, where the recognition bid could be derailed if fewer than nine of the 15 members vote in favor or if the U.S. uses its veto.

U.S. officials believe six other members may vote against or abstain, meaning the Palestinians would fall short. That tally could not be immediately confirmed. An Israeli official said it’s too early to say how the votes would go, while a senior member of Abbas’ delegation said he believes 11 Security Council members will back the Palestinians.

In Warsaw, Poland, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, said it was seeking member consensus on the Palestinian bid for independence.

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said the EU’s position would depend on the wording of the Palestinian request, which is not yet known. Neither Britain nor France, both permanent members of the Security Council, have said how they will vote.

While the U.S. can derail the Palestinian bid at the Security Council in any scenario, the breakdown of the votes is key to both sides. Nine or more votes for the Palestinians would signal broad support for their statehood quest, while the U.S. image in the Arab world would suffer another blow if it uses its veto in this case.

While Abbas appears set to go the Security Council, he has suggested he might change tactics at the last minute and go for the lesser option of General Assembly approval of Palestine as a nonmember observer state. Chances for success are much higher in the General Assembly, which Abbas is to address Friday.

“From now until delivering the speech at the General Assembly, we have no thought except going to the Security Council,” he said. “Then, whatever the decision is, we will sit with the leadership and decide.”

A nod from the General Assembly could give the Palestinians access to international judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. But Israel, which has grown increasingly isolated in the region amid strains to relations with its few regional allies Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, fears such courts would target it unfairly.

But the membership bid also carries some potential costs for the Palestinians, with Abbas saying that he was warned by American officials that “things will be very difficult after September.”

“We don’t know to what extent,” he said. “We will know later.”

Some members of Congress have been threatening to punish the Palestinians.

“Current and future aid will be jeopardized if you abandon direct negotiations and continue your efforts,” Reps. Kay Granger, Republican chairwoman of the House of Representatives Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, and Democrat Nita Lowey, the panel’s senior Democrat, wrote to Abbas this summer, echoing a plea they made to the Palestinian leader in an April letter.

Concerning the possibility of mass protests in the Palestinian territories, Abbas said, “All our people will do is demonstrate peacefully inside the (Palestinian) cities.”

Israeli security forces have been preparing for possible West Bank violence, but Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, played that down. “I am not identifying energy for violence and terror,” he told reporters.

Abbas, however, holds no sway over the Gaza Strip or its rulers from the violently anti-Israel group Hamas, which drove out forces loyal to Abbas during a power struggle in 2007. Hamas opposes the U.N. initiative.

Date created : 2011-09-19


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