Palestinians head for UN state showdown

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tours Israel's border with Egypt, in southern Israel (13 Sept 2011) Israel has seen the political landscape rapidly transform around it

Not for the first time this year, Israel finds itself a nervous spectator as tumultuous events in the region around it rapidly change the shape and nature of the Middle East.

The domino-like fall of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, not forgetting the violent turmoil in Syria, caught almost everyone by surprise and, arguably, left Israeli politicians floundering for a coherent policy response.

The Israeli government was criticised in many quarters for its lukewarm response to the Arab Spring - concerns about regional security and the rise of Islamic political parties were perhaps seen as more important than expanding political pluralism in the Middle East.

Justifiable criticism or not, those were events almost exclusively beyond Israeli control and over which it could ultimately have had little or no influence.

The thorny issue of recognition for a Palestinian state is different story.

The right-wing coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it abundantly clear that it opposes "unilateral" Palestinian moves towards statehood, either as a full member of the UN, via the Security Council, or for "Enhanced Observer Member" status, via a majority vote in the General Assembly.

Israel says either option seriously undermines negotiations towards a two-state solution - Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side - saying that such a course of action will not lead to peace or the establishment of a Palestinian state.

There have also been threats, from Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy Danny Ayalon, that if the Palestinians go to the UN, Israel would consider changing the status of east Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements.

Palestinian UN Statehood Bid

  • Palestinians currently have permanent observer entity status at the UN
  • They are represented by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)
  • Officials now want an upgrade so a state of Palestine has full member status at the UN
  • They seek recognition on 1967 borders - in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza
  • Enhanced observer member status could be an interim option

"If the Palestinians independently take blunt unilateral steps to declare statehood, then all [previous] agreements are nullified," said Mr Ayalon on his Twitter account earlier this week.

Warnings and threats aside, Israel stands accused of doing little to offer the Palestinians a constructive and viable alternative.

The airport limousine services and VIP security details must have been stretched to their limits as a succession of senior US and European diplomats shuttled between Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah this week.

The goal of Tony Blair, Catherine Ashton, Dennis Ross and David Hale to extract some genuine concession or initiative from the Israelis that would persuade the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to drop his bid for statehood at the UN and to return to peace talks.

There has been considerable international pressure on the Palestinian side, too, to refrain from the UN option but the Palestinians are confident momentum - and much of the world - is on their side.

Israel's long-established position is that there can be no "pre-conditions" to the resumption of talks and refuses to countenance suggestions that it should stop building in illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land or offer any other concession to Mr Abbas.

Time 'running out'

There has been much analysis in Israel that, as consistent and firm as the position of Mr Netanyahu is, it only serves to increase the country's isolation at a time when Israel is losing friends and supporters in the region.

President Barack Obama The US believes Palestinian statehood should only come through peace talks

Recent difficulties with Egypt and Turkey aside, many Israelis feel their government is being out-manoeuvred by the Palestinian UN initiative and is not coming up with a credible, coherent response.

Israel knows the United States will use its veto in the Security Council to oppose the declaration of a Palestinian state, should it come to that.

And while it will back its strongest ally in the region, Washington would rather not have to use that veto because of the message it would convey in the wider Arab world.

US President Barack Obama has, after all, declared his wish to see the Palestinian flag flying at the UN, albeit as a consequence of successful peace talks with Israel.

That is why, on this occasion, Europe is arguably a more important player than the United States.

If a majority of EU countries - especially the French, Germans and British - support Palestinian recognition at the UN that could make life very uncomfortable for Israel.

The position of European governments is not yet clear - that is what the diplomats are busy finalising this week - but recent polls in Europe suggest their populations strongly support the idea of Palestinian membership at the UN.

Israel's diplomats around the world have been busy too, putting forward arguments against Palestinian upgrading or full recognition at the UN.

An aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu this week told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: "Israel is not isolated... we should stop the self-flagellation as if we were to blame for everything."

But many senior Israelis are convinced that a return to negotiations with the Palestinians will allay tensions, not only in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel but in the region as a whole.

With time running out, what might be required now is a gesture from Israel that can make that a reality and avoid a showdown in New York next week.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    There are 3 Uniteds that have helped to the creation of israel.Together they have helped israel to gradually and eventually sweep through Palestine wiping away any traces of their existance, to the point where there's hardly any land left for palestinians to remain.This is a country that has an endless tail of UN resolutions behind it but still free to do what it does best " STEAL MORE LAND".

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    I say let them have their "State".Then they cant complainand if they do good luck to them - Israel has beaten all of its neighbours when they have been at war with them.Once the state is created it will give the extremists one less agrument and expose them as pure anti-semites as they will say now give us Jerusalem and destroy the Jews, Palestine was and is a myth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    To Gylfa and anyone who shares the same arrogance, Israel needs to get out of all occupied land in Palestine and that's period. how they live, who governs is NONE of Israel's business!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Gylfa, how many of those times the PLO walked away from talks came after Isreali movements of one kinda or another during on-going talks?

    Why talk about Hamas and ignore the other groups?

    Why ignore that Isreal occupies a large amount of Palestine?

    The issue is so much more complex than suggested with your posts (and mine, for the record).

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    But most of all.Palestine is a terrorist run area that violates human rights,religious freedoms and world peace.It is a financially dependent ,failed socialism that promotes violence and hate.They have publicly and repeatedly call for a genocide of their neighbors.This does not demonstrate a respectful society ready for statehood.

  • Comment number 244.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    You can not create a state that will have a defined legal status on half truths,broken mandates,a population that is misrepresented and a charter that denies it's own claims.
    Hamas charter states it will never accept a two state solution.
    The UN violated the Balfour resolution to ensure the UK's deal for oil.
    Arab designates a language,not a religion ,political party,nativity or ancestry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    You need to remember "Israel was created by UN" how is it unilateral for the Pals to go to UN for creation of their state? Also the UN is the largest body in the world involving almost every person in the world, therefore a decision by the UN can never be "unilateral", it is always multilateral. Please come out of you little whole and speak honestly in the interest of mankind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    The land in today's "Israel and Palestine" does not belong to White European Jews, does it? 99% population of today's Israel is from Europe, Russai and North Amerca, the so called "Settlers"

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    It's really inevitable that this would happen sooner or later, you can't put one groups homeland smack bang in the middle of another people's homeland without problems. Palestine and the rest of the world v Israel and the US. If the US opposes it then it is setting itself up for a showdown it will inevitably lose. The US doesn't have the clout anymore to dictate to the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Most western countries have so far been dishonest in this issue and have always been totally baised twords Israel but now most European seem to show a little honest. Americans are still showing stuburnness and are behaving like hypocrates as usually. The Questions is "How long will you remain dishonest?". Come on please be honest and stop the Israelis butchering the Pals and stealing their land!

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    The USA has put itself in an extremely difficult position. On one hand, they need to support their ally, and on the other, their own professed principles and morals.

    Obama needs to convince his own diplomats to not use the Veto. Vote No, go with the result. Won't win them friends, but might also just avoid making new enemies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Obama said it himself that the US would like to see a solution based on 1967 borders. Even if not using the veto costs him his presidency in the next elections, he will be remembered as the man who made the two state solution reality. Israel will be forced to behave if the UN recognises Palestine as a legitimate state and the world will be able to move on from decades of Israeli arrogance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    After so many years under a hostile British Mandate, Britain finally turned the conflict of Palestine over to the UN in 1947. That body voted for the partition of Palestine into 2 sovereign states... one Jewish, the other Arab. The Jewish government in Palestine accepted partition while the Arabs rejected it. They went to war 4 times & lost. We will never accept a Palestinian state. NEVER !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Israel is not, and has never been, sincere about negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians. As far as Israel are concerned the Palestinians have no legitimate claim to anything (which is insane) and should just "go away" (to where, who knows?). Israel is a barrier to peace in the region. The United States continued support of Israel makes it a barrier to peace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Barack Obama made history by becoming America's first black president. Now he has a chance to make history again by standing up for what the vast majority of people around the world, including many Americans, believe is right. So what's it going to be, big guy? Take a principled stand or cave in to political expediency (again)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    So sad when USA, the vanguard of democracy, freedom, equality and humanity, sternly announced that she would give the veto and now trying to get the Europeans to support its stand. This is clearly an injustice and inhumane policy. US is losing friends and making more enemies around the world.People remember how quickly US and Britain supported South Sudan and Timur Leste. One veto, what democracy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Palestine deserves it's own nation, the U.S. should step aside and let the international community have a crack at the problem it has failed to solve rather than using it's bully-power to oppress a people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    It would be unreasonable to ask the current Israelis and Palestinians to forgive one another; but maybe a solution like in Cyprus can be found; a big wall (on the 1967 line, not the current Israeli one) with a UN zone in between and check if it can be removed every 50 years.

    The Palestinians should be happy with all the nice settlements the Israelis have already built for them, and let them live.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    That the US should even contemplate blocking this move is beyond belief, and nothing short of hypocrisy. From a nation born out of a revolution , for its leaders to say "statehood should only come through peace talks", well a bit over the top. Stop funding both sides , that will bring them to the peace table.Isreal has snubbed its nose at more nations and more agreements than Iraq or Iran.


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