The day after the UNESCO vote to admit Palestine as full member

Quiet satisfaction in Jerusalem — East Jerusalem, that is — the day after UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a full member state.

According to one adviser to UNRWA, the vote count has been revised to 114 votes in favor [not just 107, as was reported yesterday]… But, because my internet was down from morning till evening [apparently, a Washington Post blog reports that it was a hostile attack on Palestinian servers, and affected both the West Bank and Gaza], I haven’t had a chance to check who, how, or why…

A Swedish diplomat expressed shock and more at Sweden’s negative vote, in a conversation with a friend on the terrace of the Ambassador Hotel this evening.

A UN person said that he believes France’s decision to vote yes is because of the recent Tunisian vote, with an Islamist party taking the overwhelming majority, as well as changes in the air in Morocco and Algeria.

Personally, I think the explanation for the French “yes” is that UNESCO is based in the French capital Paris [where it would likely have received a rather mixed reception], and France is UNESCO host country…

Daniel Levy writes on FP’s Middle East Channel here that “France has stated that it would support Palestine at the UNGA but not at the UNSC”.

Yes, this is also a good explanation — it is, in so many words, indeed what French President Sarkozy said in his speech at the UNGA High Level Debate in September, before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally filed the Palestinian “UN bid” for full membership via the Security Council.

If you extrapolate a bit more widely, you could postulate, from factoring in the UNESCO vote, that France will support Palestine everywhere but in the UN Security Council …

What is clear is that the Europeans don’t have a common position, at least not yet — though I still suspect one may firm up by the time we come to the UNSC vote on the Palestinian vote. A common European position to abstain will mean that the Palestinian request will fail to get the necessary number of votes to pass — so the U.S. will not be obliged to exercise its veto power, as threatened. This is a slightly more gentle way of deferring the Palestinian request, and telling them to “come back later”.

Here on the terrace of the Ambassador Hotel in [East] Jerusalem, the consensus is that Saudi Arabia will pay any deficit in UNESCO’s budget due to the near-instantaneous U.S. announcement that it is withholding a $60 million payment in November.

But who will make up the shortfalls in funding to the Palestinian Authority? The U.S. has already — and since August — withheld some $200 million in money earmarked for USAID projects in the West Bank, in anticipation of the Palestinian “UN bid”. Now, again today, the Israeli government has once more decided, in response to the UNESCO vote, to suspend transfer of tax money collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday night that Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said that “The talk about freezing tax revenues belonging to the Palestinian Authority is a provocation and theft of our money … We call on the Quartet and the US administration to put an end to these practices, which will have a negative impact on the whole region”. This JPost report is published here.

Meanwhile, the estimable Craig Murray [a former career diplomat and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who now calls himself simply a “human rights activist”] has written here on his blog that, as a result of the UNESCO vote yesterday, “Palestine is now a state. Membership of the United Nations is not in international law a pre-condition of statehood, and indeed is not compulsory for states. The existence of states not members of the UN is recognised in international law, not least by the UN itself. Palestine has just joined UNESCO for example under a provision which allows states which are not members of the United Nations to join if they get qualified majority support – which Palestine overwhelmingly did. So the UNESCO membership is crucial recognition of Palestine’s statehood, not an empty gesture. With this evidence of international acceptance, there is now absolutely no reason why Palestine cannot, instantly and without a vote, join the International Criminal Court. Palestine can now become a member of the International Criminal Court simply by submitting an instrument of accession to the Statute of Rome, and joining the list of states parties … There is an extremely crucial point here: if Palestine accedes to the Statute of Rome, under Article 12 of the Statute of Rome, the International Criminal Court would have jurisdiction over Israelis committing war crimes on Palestinian soil. Other states parties – including the UK – would be obliged by law to hand over indicted Israeli war criminals to the court at the Hague”…

As was pointed out in the comments section on this Craig Murry post, “On 22 January 2009, the Palestinian National Authority lodged a declaration with the [ICC] Registrar here, under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute which allows States not party to the Statute to accept the Court’s jurisdiction”.

This was done a few days after a cease-fire went into effect [on 18 January 2009, just hours before Barack Obama was sworn in as U.S. President] in Israel’s massive Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza. And, the PA Foreign Minister, Riad Malki [who was present in the Paris meeting of UNESCO yesterday] went to the Hague in mid-February to speak with ICC Prosecutor Luis Ocampo. In a press conference in Ramallah in September, Riad Malki said that he was told at that time that it would be better if Palestine filed its request for an ICC investigation into the Gaza operation if it were a STATE.

Craig Murray’s post raises a very interesting point. Now that the State of Palestine has been admitted as a full member of at least part of the UN system, this is a very effective counter to the often-heard Israeli argument that because there has never in history been a Palestinian state , there is no justification for one now. [This particular argument gets worse, and goes on to say there never was and is not now anything such as the Palestinian people, so what are the Palestinians going on about, the whole thing is ridiculous, etc. etc. etc.]…

This Israeli argument about the irreality of anything really Palestinian was previously refuted, at least theoretically, by American international law professor John Quigley, who has argued that the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence means that the state exists [and just “statehood”, which I understand to mean the realization of a state on the ground, that has been lacking].

Now, this Israeli argument about the total absence of Palestinian sovereignty and statehood has been refuted in actual UN practice.

As Craig Murray writes in response to a comment on his post, “Diplomacy is the only chance for Palestinians. They can’t win by force…”

In response to the Palestinian move, the Israeli Government reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu has, as a first step, in response to the UNESCO move, this evening ordered — ordered, not merely permitted — the construction of some 2,000 additional housing units in “the Jerusalem area” [actually, in the West Bank].

The Prime Minister’s media adviser [whoever that is] issued a statement saying that Netanyahu has now “directed that the construction of apartments in Jerusalem, in the Etzion Bloc and in Maaleh Adumim, be accelerated. These are thousands of residential units, in areas that will, under any future agreement, remain part of Israel. The foregoing directive was issued at the end of the first discussion by the forum of eight ministers; the next will discuss future steps”.

Self-determination, an American principle developed by President Woodrow Wilson during the First World War, used to be a very important ideal — and it used to be considered, at the UN, a grievous international wrong for any country to prevent another people’s self-determination. And, the UNGA has many times endorsed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Henry Siegman, former President of the American Jewish Congress, wrote this summer on FP here that “it is in fact Israel that is engaged in the ‘delegitimization’ of the Palestinian people’s right to national self determination and statehood, not the reverse. For proof of this one need look no further than Israel’s near-hysterical efforts to prevent the Palestinians from bringing their case to the United Nations, the institution that happens to be the source of Israel’s own legitimacy, as acknowledged in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. For what Israel’s current government apparently most fears is the legitimacy that the United Nations uniquely can confer not only on Palestinian statehood but on the 1967 borders. A state that since 1967 (i.e. for most of its existence) has imposed a military occupation on its neighbor, confiscating its territory and dispossessing its population, is guilty not only of an abstract challenge to its neighbor’s claim to statehood but of violently preventing it on the ground. Such rogue-like behavior does indeed bring Israel’s own legitimacy into question … Before casting the promised veto at the United Nations that would deny Palestinians their right to national self-determination, President Obama might well want to rethink the fairness, legality, and morality of such a course, not to speak of its damage to America’s credibility in the region and beyond … Surely he must know that no one anywhere believes any longer that the peace process as its exists, to which he has urged Palestinians to entrust their future, promises anything other than hopelessness and despair”…

Meanwhile, throughout the day, diplomats, Palestinian officials, and journalists were discussing — ok, well not really discussing, but certainly at least mentioning — reports attributed to Egyptian officials who said that they have obtained Israeli agreement to hold off until midnight [which just passed] on a massive air assault that is ready to go against Gaza [unless a cease-fire really takes hold], in response to rocket fire from Gaza that killed 1 Israeli man and wounded number of others in the coastal city of Ashdod that continued intermittently an Israeli retaliatory strike on Gaza on Saturday afternoon that lasted through Monday, killing 12 Palestinians and wounding many others.

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