Incomprehensible opposition to Palestinian move in UNGA to upgrade status to observer state [non-member]

Opposition by Israel [backed strongly by the US, at least until now, see below, and by some of its allies] to the current proposed Palestinian move to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade its states from observer “entity” or “organization” to observer [but still non-member] state [STATE] is, frankly, incomprehensible.

True, Palestinian President [PLO Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas was very strongly advised to do this [which we’ll refer to hereafter as the “UN move”] last year — before making the full “UN bid” to seek, through the UN Security Council, full membership for the State of Palestine in the international organization [the UN].

Israel bitterly opposed the “UN bid”, saying it was a “unilateral move” that should instead be resolved through “negotiations” [though Israel itself makes plenty of unilateral moves].

Mahmoud Abbas has argued that the “UN bid”, and now the “UN move”, are in fact a way to save negotiations that have stalled since the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead attack supposedly on Hamas in Gaza that started on 27 December 2008 and ended with two separate truce declarations just hours before the inauguration ceremony for U.S. President Barack Obama.

Two or three brief unsuccessful subsequent attempts at resumptions — first in March 2010, then again in September 2010, and then meetings held in Amman under Jordanian auspices in early 2012 — stalled over the issue of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. [There were often announcements of building tenders at about the time the talks were supposed to resume].

A formula advanced by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when the issue of settlements arose during the George W. Bush Administration’s Annapolis Process of negotiations, was that if the borders could be defined, it would then become clear where the settlements were… [The Annapolis process was supposed to begin in November 2007 and were supposed to end with the realization of a Palestinian state about a year later.]

This reasoning appears to be part of the argument behind Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to seek state status [even if non-member] through the UN General Assembly in the month of November. Once Palestine is given state status at the UN, the general outline of the borders will be set, and the status of territory in the West Bank [and the Gaza Strip] will become that of a state under occupation.

Hanan Ashrawi, now a member of the PLO Executive Committee has recently stated, several times, that it’s completely unacceptable that Palestinians should be forced to negotiate their way out of occupation. Ashrawi came to international attention when she emerged as the spokesperson for the Palestinian component of the Jordanian teama at the Madrid Peace Conference that began in October 1991 [the PLO was not allowed to participate alone], and who ran in 2006 Palestinian Authority [PA] elections on a small ticket that included current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad…

Ashrawi is standing on firm grounding in international law.

Israel is, and has been, doing what it can to prevent and to block Palestinian self-determination.

University of Geneva Professor of International Law, Marcelo G. Cohen, has argued that prevention of another people’s self determination has been regarded, in international law and at the UN itself, as a great violation of international law.

That principle of international law is now slipping, at best, with the intense pressure being brought by Israel and its greatest supporter, the United States, which has a veto power it said it would use in the UN Security Council to block the “UN bid”. It earlier threatened, and Congress continues to threaten, all kinds of sanctions if the Palestinian leadership continues — but the U.S. State Department recently pointed out that 2011 Congressional legislation providing. for punitive measures against the Palestinians, if they go forward in the UN, can in fact be waived by the U.S. Secretary of State, in the interest of U.S. “national security”.

Akiva Eldar reported yesterday in Haaretz that “the report of a UN Security Council subcommittee on the PA’s bid for recognition as a state. The report said the PA doesn’t fulfil the conditions for statehood because it doesn’t control the Gaza Strip”… Akiva Eldar’s report in Haaretz is posted here.

In fact, the report [UN Security Council Document S/2011/705, dated 11 November 2011] summarized the differing views of the Council members [all of whom were represented on the Membership Committee], and on this matter it said [in paragraphs 11 + 12] only that the following differing [unascribed] views were presented:
“Questions were raised, however, regarding Palestine’s control over its territory, in view of the fact that Hamas was the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip. It was affirmed that the Israeli occupation was a factor preventing the Palestinian government from exercising full control over its territory. However, the view was expressed that occupation by a foreign Power did not imply that the sovereignty of an occupied territory was to be transferred to the occupying Power. With regard to the requirement of a government, the view was expressed that Palestine fulfilled this criterion. However, it was stated that Hamas was in control of 40 per cent of the population of Palestine; therefore the Palestinian Authority could not be considered to have effective government control over the claimed territory. It was stressed that the Palestine Liberation Organization, and not Hamas, was the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

This confirms and supplements something I was told by an American former official last spring/summer in Jerusalem: that the “UN bid” failed, in an informal vote inside the UNSC’s membership committee [composed of representatives of all 15 members of the UN Security Council] to gather the 9-vote majority necessary to be recommended to the UNGA for a vote. This information has not been publicly reported before.

But, the report published officially by Security Council Committee on the Admission of New Members states only that “the Chair stated that the Committee was unable to make a unanimous recommendation to the Security Council”. There is no mention of any straw poll or informal voting, and no numbers are given.

The report does generally describe three different positions among the Committee members, as follows:
“The view was expressed that the Committee should recommend to the Council that Palestine be admitted to membership in the United Nations. A different view was expressed that the membership application could not be supported at this time and an abstention was envisaged in the event of a vote. Yet another view expressed was that there were serious questions about the application, that the applicant did not meet the requirements for membership and that a favourable recommendation to the General Assembly would not be supported”.

In any case, it could be argued that it is in Israel’s best interests to support the full Palestinian “UN bid” in the UNSC, even more than the current rear-guard “UN move” in the UNGA, where the Palestinians should be able to get a majority vote of support…barring surprises resulting from huge political [and economic] pressure.

Current indications are that the American intention will be to block the move politically, but not necessarily to punish the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority with economic sanctions.

Brent Sasley has just argued, in a post entitled “Cutting off its nose to spite its face”, which is published here, that: “Given the Israeli government’s reaction to the Palestinian Authority’s plan to ask the UN for non-member observer state status, you’d think the PA was asking the General Assembly to resolve Israel out of existence. The government has threatened to “go crazy,” while the Prime Minister’s office apparently intends to show the Palestinians “what’s what.” The most extreme measures contemplated are building lots more settlements and halting transfers of tax revenue to the PA. [n.b. – the most extreme measures contemplated are even more, and do include unilateral Israeli annexation, or more likely partial selective annexation of the West Bank, and cutting off of all relations with the PA] Put another way, Israel is being extremely short-sighted, and if it follows through with its threats, will put itself at great risk”.

Sasley then writes that “Israel’s over-reaction is creating a situation in which it will be responsible for the collapse of the PA. It’s hard to see how this would benefit Israel”.

Then, Sasley concludes [taking only Israeli’s interests into account] that “This is the moment for hard decisions in Israel, most of which go against long-standing assumptions and expectations. A broader policy framework needs to be constructed, one that incorporates policy toward Hamas/Gaza and the PA/West Bank. A firmer assertion of the state supremacy over domestic groups should complement this. And a more realistic assessment of the settlements is necessary.
The nature of governmental decision-making in Israel combined with the continual threats to the country hasn’t facilitated this kind of long-term thinking. The experience of surviving and prospering under all kinds of adverse conditions also engenders a kind of we-will-persevere-no-matter-what presumption. These conditions are dangerous for the country’s future security, welfare, and stability. What will it take to get the country to take all this seriously?”

His is not the only voice.

Alon Ben-Meir has just written that “However uncertain the prospect of such a move may be from the PA’s perspective, there is very little to lose at this juncture and perhaps much to gain in taking such a unilateral step…From the Palestinian standpoint, the Netanyahu government does not want to negotiate in earnest and does not believe in seeking a resolution to the conflict based on a two-state solution. They point to the continuing expansion of existing settlements and the building of new ones as evidence of this. Moreover, the fact that Israel refuses to accept, after four years of calm, a renewed freeze on settlements, a release of additional prisoners, broader freedoms of movement and its acquiescence to the settlers’ harassment of Palestinians, all suggests that the Israeli government only talks about a two-state solution but has no intention of preparing the groundwork to achieve such an outcome. The recent union of Netanyahu’s Likud Party with Yisrael Beytenu, led by Foreign Minister Lieberman, seriously suggests that the new Israeli coalition government should be led by Netanyahu, and will hold onto even more extremist views than the current one, which will further diminish any hope for achieving a peaceful solution if the political dynamics are frozen in place. In addition, a growing majority of Palestinians believe that many Israelis have given up on the prospect of a two-state solution, as they have taken several one-sided actions in the past, including the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the expropriation of Palestinian land. Even now Israel is considering further unilateral actions, as was recently suggested by Defense Minister Ehud Barak who proposed withdrawing from 60 percent of the West Bank”.

Ben-Meir then writes that “The advantages, however, outweigh the disadvantages. The Palestinians’ unilateral action is consistent with the upheaval sweeping the Middle East. The message of the Arab Spring has not been lost on the Palestinians. If Arab youth are dying by the tens of thousands in Syria and elsewhere to gain freedom, why should they continue to live under occupation? The pressure of the Palestinian restive youth on the PA to act is mounting, leaving President Abbas little choice but to act before he loses what is left of his legitimacy. Thus, U.N.G.A. membership will internationalize the Palestinian cause and provide transparent support by the international community that will have a propelling political effect. Moreover, regardless of who wins in the U.S. and Israeli elections, the victors will have to confront this new reality and can no longer ignore it without repercussions. Finally, the main advantage is that it thrusts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back into the spotlight, forcing the international community, especially the U.S., to take a new look and push to restart the negotiations with an end game clearly in sight”.

Ben-Amir concludes: “If the Israelis simply retaliate against the Palestinians and the U.S. acquiesces, the situation will become extremely more volatile and dangerous. The U.S. needs to reign in both sides in order to stop the potential deterioration and come up with a practical framework, using the Palestinians’ new standing as an opportunity to constructively push the process forward”.

Indeed, as the U.S. State Department noted about a week ago, the 2011 Congressional legislation providing for a cut of funding to the Palestinians if they make any unilateral move — outside the framework of negotiations — to upgrade their status through the UN does contain a clause allowing the Secretary of State to override, “in the interest of U.S. national security”, any attempts to sanction the Palestinians…

And, Ben-Amir says, “Notwithstanding Israeli and U.S. objections to the Palestinians’ move, it may well unfreeze the peace process or at a minimum demonstrate whether the Israeli and Palestinian claims to seeking a viable two-state solution are mere political posturing or based on an honest desire to end the conflict. Indeed, the changing political dynamics resulting from the Palestinian bid can be turned into an advantage for Israel as well. It will keep the two-state solution alive which ultimately is in Israel’s best interest, provided that vision and realism prevail and the new emerging opportunity is not squandered”.

Among its many other advantages, this Palestinian “UN move” may be one of the only ways that Abbas has to save Gaza.
Would Hamas be able to resist pledging allegiance to a Palestinian state?

Abbas has been dealing with his Hamas rivals — now in control of Gaza after their mid-2007 rout of Palestinian/Fatah Preventive Security Forces — with a stern hand and a maximalist position: Hamas must return to the status quo ante, Hamas must apologize for their rout of the security forces Hamas believes was about to overthrow Hamas, Hamas cannot join the PLO [a goal since an agreement in Cairo in 2005] with seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council anything like the percentage it won in 2005 elections and must settle for what Fatah believes is Hamas’ true electoral strenght [20 to 25% maximum], etc. Unsurprisingly, this approach has failed.

Hamas has recently felt encouraged by the installation in office of Egyptian President Morsi [though he has not violated any of Israel’s “red lines” regarding Hamas or Gaza], and by the recent visit of Qatar’s Emir [and his wife], which infuriated Fatah [yet again]. Hamas has also picked up signals from some in Israel’s military and even political echelons that it might be dealt separately, independently from the PA in the West Bank, with Hamas manages to behave as a responsible “address” Israel can deal with whenever problems arise — this, despite the statements that figure prominently in the most important Oslo agreements in 1994 + 1994 that the West Bank and Gaza are to be regarded and treated as a single political and territorial unit.

But [though the U.S. has] Israel simply hasn’t taken a position on this, and is as usual keeping all its options open. — Supporting the Palestinian “UN move” would change the configuration — true, in conformity with current practice — and would put Israel squarely behind the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which Israel simply hasn’t decided yet it will continue…

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has said several times, each time more convincingly [there is plenty of concern that he will simple cave in, as he did last year] that he is as determined now to go ahead with [sometime in November, and both the 15th + 29th have been mentioned as significant dates] the proposed “UN move” as he decided [for a while] to be last year with the “UN bid”.

Abbas has said — though not directly addressing himself to the Israeli government and people, which some Israelis have urged him would be most effective — that he would return to negotiations with Israel “straightaway” after achieving an upgrade in the status of Palestine in the international organization.

Shaul Arieli wrote in an opinion piece published in Haaretz today that “approval of the Palestinians’ request to win nonmember status at the UN could make PA President Mahmoud Abbas negotiate without the conditions he has been posing”.

{{Last year, the French President [Sarkozy at the time] said in the UN GA that his country would support the “UN move” — if it dropped the “UN bid”. Is this still applicable, as Abbas subsequently pursued, to a rapturous Palestinian reaction? Even if Abbas later dropped the matter, at least “for the time being”?}}

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