Palestinians will go to the UN – to preserve two-state solution

PLO official Sa’eb Erekat confirmed in Ramallah today that the Palestinians are going to go to the UN Security Council to seek UN membership — even if they fail, at first.

Erekat was speaking just before leaving on a trip with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Qatar, for Arab League meetings later this week.

The paperwork for going to the UN is now being prepared, Erekat said, and the UN is being consulted.

Other states had to make multiple tries before being admitted to UN membership, Erekat noted.

He did, however, call on the U.S. to revisit, or to revise its position: American administration officials have made it clear on several occasions that they consider the move unwise, and they have indicated they will veto it.

But, Erekat argued, the presence of a Palestinian state in the UN is the only guarantee of the two-state solution that the US and the Quartet have advocated, because “this Israeli government now has one aim: to destroy the prospect of a Palestinian state”.

He indicated that he believed the resistance of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was due to a refusal to accept two states, (each) in 1967 borders.

President Obama proposed in May that negotiations should re-start on the basis of the 1967 borders with agreed swaps (and should concentrate first on those swaps, in order to define an agreed border).

But, Erekat said, the U.S. “should not leave our fate in the hands of our occupiers”.

“We have recognized the Israeli government’s right to exist.  We are talking now about adding Palestine as a peace-loving member of the UN — as a country under occupation, rather than as disputed territory — if we really want two states”.

The aim is to preserve the two-state solution, he stressed.

“Occupation corrupts”, Erekat said — an argument used by the Israeli “left” (meaning those who are opposed to the occupation) — “and it must be stopped by admitting the State of Palestine to the United Nations”.

He said he has heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say publicly that he would talk about 1967 borders with swaps, only if the Palestinians agreed to accept an Israeli military presence along the Jordan Valley, no return of refugees, and Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State — but, Erekat said, “we haven’t been asked anything”, and added: “I urge all of you not to stand against international law”.

The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat proclaimed an independent State of Palestine at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers in November 1988, and repeated that declaration at a specially-displaced meeting of the UN General Assembly in Geneva (because the U.S. would not issue Arafat a visa to go to New York) in December 1988. At a press conference at the same time in Geneva, Arafat made various (coached) commitments that then allowed the PLO to have official, though low-level, contacts with the U.S. State Department.

After that, the status of the PLO — which was already recognized in the UN as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people — was slightly upgraded from an observer national liberation movement to an observer “organization” called “Palestine”.

[This happened a few years before the Oslo Accords, which began with an exchange of mutual recognition between the Government of Israel and the PLO in September 1993, then allowed the establishment of the Palestinian Authority inside the occupied Palestinian territory (West Bank + Gaza)…]]

Erekat outlined the steps that the Palestinians are now preparing to take: “we have to submit an application to the UN Secretary-General, who then should send it to the UN Security Council, which forms a committee to examine it … and we’re going to do it very soon”. He mentioned a date of the 15th of August, then noted that few if any states had been required to abide fully by all the procedural requirements — “but we won’t leave any loopholes”, he added.

Erekat indicated that an option being considered now in Ramallah is to go to the UN General Assembly to ask to upgrade the present status of Palestine from “observer organization” to [non-member, or not-yet-member] “observer state”.

It is possible that this may be done first, even before approaching the UN Security Council, Erekat added.

The advantages for Palestinians to go to the UN General Assembly to up grade status in September, before going to the UN Security Council, include: (1) to eliminate possible objections that only states can apply for UN membership + (2) to avoid possible delay of months if their demand for full membership is tabled in the UN Security Council — because both organs cannot be seized of the same matter at the same time.

There is no precedent for a state to become a full member of the UN organization without a positive recommendation from the UN Security Council (in which five countries — the five Permanent Members: US, UK, France, Russia, China — do have the power to veto any decision).

And, 9 of 15 Security Council members must vote in favor of approving any decision, even if no veto is cast.

There is a procedure, called “uniting for peace”, that allows taking a matter to the UN General Assembly in the event of a veto by one or more of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council.  But, it is very doubtful that this could be done in the event of a veto against a state’s application for UN membership.

Erekat has said recently, after South Sudan was just admitted as the 193rd UN Member State, that he hoped Palestine would be the 194th.

It is an iconic number for Palestinians — UN General Assembly Resolution 194, adopted in December 1948, recommended that Jerusalem have a special international status, and even more famously it called for the return to their homes as soon as possible of those Palestinian refugees willing to live at peace with their neighbors, and for compensation for their losses.

“We are going to the UN to gain a Palestinian independent state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital”, Erekat told journalists.

Erekat has long described himself as the chief Palestinian negotiator. One of his associates said today that this title has been confirmed by President Abbas himself.

There has been confusion, however, because Erekat resigned late last year in the wake of leaks of documents from the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit (NSU) he headed. Documents were also leaked from the Palestinian Security services, and from the office of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Al-Jazeera satellite television channel broadcast a sensational five-day series of programs discussing the documents, and reenacting the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations sessions described in the documents.

Some Palestinians say that President Abbas refused to accept Erekat’s resignation.

But, Erekat’s associate pointed out, Erekat never resigned as Chief Palestinian Negotiator — only as head of the PLO’s NSU.

Now, the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department is merged with its Negotiations Support Unit + the whole thing (with fewer staff members, whose contracts all ended on 31 March) is headed by President Abbas himself, who is said to be much more involved…

There is also a five-member negotiations “Steering Committee”, including Sa’eb Erekat, Nabil Shaath, Mohammad Shtayyah, and Hanan Ashrawi (the 5th member might be Yasser Abed Rabbo?).

Erekat is also a member of the PLO Executive Committee, and of the PLO’s National Council (or Congress). He was also elected to the Palestinian Authority’s now-dormant Legislative Council (or parliament) in the West Bank. And, Erekat has been elected to the powerful Central Committee of Fatah, which is headed by President Abbas. Fatah is the largest Palestinian political movement.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority could only pay half the salaries it owed to its employees on payday this month (July 5), due to a shortfall in donor contributions (this time, Arab countries are being blamed, though servicing of the PA’s relatively new bank debt may also be part of the explanation). President Abbas has warned that that the same thing or worse could happen next month. The U.S. Congress has just voted to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinian leadership continues with plans to pursue “unilaterally” its options at the United Nations.

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