Wednesday, June 29 2016

Palestinian move for recognition of statehood at the UN

  With the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the UN just days away, there is fierce deliberation in the US and the EU bloc on how to respond to  the UN vote which will take place on Friday, 23rd September. 

The EU Observer reports that senior personalities in the EU have issued a joint statement calling for EU member states to support the Palestinian move at the UN.

Signatories include former European leaders, cabinet ministers and foreign ministers from traditionally pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli countries, including Finland's current foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja; former French prime ministers Lionel Jospin and Michel Rocard, ex-Irish president Mary Robinson; former Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio; former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzales; former German president Richard von Weizsacker;  ex-prime ministers of Italy Giuliano Amato and Romano Prodi and former Dutch leader, Andreas van Agt.

The European leaders' statement argues that "Should this request [for full UN membership] be made, the EU should support it, coupling it with a clear expectation that an independent Palestine would be prepared to conduct negotiations with Israel."  

Acknowledging the Palestinian Authority's progress in institution building and readiness for statehood, the statement urges EU leaders that "Backtracking from this commitment now would demonstrate inconsistency, weakness and an absence of political will.”

The letter mirrors a similar call for action earlier last year, in which the European Former Leaders Group sent a letter to EU President Hermann Van Rompuy and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, calling for the EU to take stronger action against Israeli settlement building.

The letter was a strong statement to what the EU and US have long promised the Palestinians. The efforts by the EU and US to deter Abbas from going to the UN are disingenuous given previous commitments and support by both the EU and US to establish Palestinian statehood.  Obama’s commitment to the rights of Palestinians to their own state were mentioned, and lauded, in his Cairo speech as well as his speech earlier this year on the Arab Spring.

The Independent today reports an exclusive on news that David Cameron has been seeking advice from former British Prime Minister, Labour Party leader and now Quartet envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair, on how best to deal with the Palestinian move at the UN. How advice could possibly be fair and impartial is beyond understanding- in 2010, Blair stated on Israeli television that he is “100% on Israel’s side when it comes to security”.

The UK is yet to state a position on whether it supports the move, and is “agonising over how it should respond”, the Independent describes.

 The European Former Leaders' Group statement also refers to the redefining of relations of the EU with the Middle East in light of the Arab Spring and the risk of losing the opportunity to “play a positive and meaningful role" should EU member states fail to support the Palestinian bid.

 Meanwhile, a diplomatic crisis is ensuing in last-ditch efforts to resume negotiations between the two sides. This includes efforts by the US, the Quartet and Israel, who have all called for President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the PA, to ditch the UN bid and return to negotiations. The PA has been threatened with punitive measures by both the US and Israel if it presses ahead with presenting its unilateral declaration of independence to the UN.

In an excellent piece in the Independent, Robert Fisk lucidly describes the ironies rampant in the Middle East conflict and the double standards and paradoxes of the US and EU's handling of the conflict over the last 60 years.

Fisk writes:

“The State of Israel may have been created unjustly – the Palestinian Diaspora is proof of this – but it was created legally. … But it had been the UN, which met to decide the fate of Palestine on 29 November 1947, which gave Israel its legitimacy, the Americans being the first to vote for its creation. Now – by a supreme irony of history – it is Israel which wishes to prevent the UN from giving Palestinian Arabs their legitimacy – and it is America which will be the first to veto such a legitimacy.”

“In the new Middle East, amid the Arab Awakening and the revolt of free peoples for dignity and freedom, this UN vote – passed in the General Assembly, vetoed by America if it goes to the Security Council – constitutes a kind of hinge; not just a page turning, but the failure of empire. So locked into Israel has US foreign policy become, so fearful of Israel have almost all its Congressmen and Congresswomen become – to the extent of loving Israel more than America – that America will this week stand out not as the nation that produced Woodrow Wilson and his 14 principles of self-determination, not as the country which fought Nazism and Fascism and Japanese militarism, not as the beacon of freedom which, we are told, its Founding Fathers represented – but as a curmudgeonly, selfish, frightened state whose President, after promising a new affection for the Muslim world, is forced to support an occupying power against a people who only ask for statehood."

Fisk is perhaps right to argue that the vote will change little by way of "facts on the ground." If however, the Palestinian move is designed to shove the US and EU into proving their commitment to Palestinian rights, including the right to self-determination, the diplomatic scrambling presently underway is but a sorry reflection of the lack of political will from world leaders and a grand rehearsal in platitudes and rhetoric that the Palestinians have grown weary of hearing.

You can read ENGAGE’s briefing note on support for recognition of Palestinian statehood here.

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