The UN votes on Palestine upgrade to state [even if only as non-member observer]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, undeterred, is about to ask the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution upgrading the status of Palestine to [non-member observer] state.

Mahmoud Abbas in the UN about to enter the General Assembly hall for the vote to upgrade status of Palestine to state - 29 November 2012
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas heading towards the UN General Assembly hall for the vote on status of Palestine

Photo Tweeted by Widad Franco — #AbuMazen entering #UN General Assembly Hall
Mahmoud Abbas is in the center, head down, surrounded by UN + other bodyguards. His older surviving son, Yasser Abbas, is the first figure in the right of the photo, leading the way into the UN General Assembly hall.

It was a world-wide live news top story.  The UN General Assembly meeting was called to order at 3:40 pm in New York [10:40 in Ramallah, Jerusalem, and Gaza].

At the request of the [60] co-sponsors of the draft resolution on the status of Palestine at the UN, the Assembly agreed to move directly to take action.  The representative of Sudan, chairman of the Arab group in the UNGA, called on member states “to join in making history”, and said the draft resolution, once adopted,  would be a historic decision: “We are asking the GA to accord to Palestine non-member observer state status”.

When Mahmoud Abbas was introduced, he received sustained supportive and sometimes standing applause — a recognition of his decision to forge ahead to achieve the self-determination of the Palestinian people, despite advice, opposition, and threats.

Highlights of the Abbas speech follow below —

Abbas: “I say with great pain and sorrow nobody in the world required tens of Palestinian children to lose their lives…for the world to be reminded that there is an occupation that must come to an end, and a people who need to be liberated”…

Barak Ravid @BarakRavid  – President Abbas: 65 years after the vote on the partition plans UNGA is standing in front of a moral duty that can’t be postponed

Sara Hussein @sarahussein  – #Abbas: “The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of #Palestine.” #UNbid #Israel

Gaza Youth Break Out @GazaYBO #PalestineState | Abbas: “Every state that votes for palestine proves that it supports peace and reaffirms that justice is still possible.

Cecily Hilleary @VOAHilleary #Abbas to #UN: 65 yrs ago today the UNGA adopted Res. 181 partitioning #Palestine into 2 states

Abbas: When the Palestine National Assembly decided in 1988 to pursue the Palestinian peace initiative… it was a historic decision to turn the page on war and aggression.  “We have heard. and you too have heard. the incessant soundof Israeli threats to peaceful, political, and … endeavors for Palestine to attain observer state status at the UN…We have not heard any sincere word from any Israeli leader to pursue the peace process…”

Abbas: “Israel believes it is above international law … the moment has arrived for the world to say clearly, enough of aggression and occupation”

Abbas: “On behalf of the PLO, we will not give up…and our people will not give up their rights [including their right to defend themselves against aggression]… What we will do will be to continue peaceful resistance… We want nothing less than independence”…

Abbas: “Is there a surplus people in the Middle East?  Tell us… Or is there a state waiting to be born…” [Again, Haidar Abdel Shafei language from the opening session of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1990.]

Abbas received a standing ovation.

The Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor began by saying: “I stand before you tall and proud because I represent the world’s one and only Jewish state. A state built in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland, with its eternal capital Jerusalem as its beating heart.  We are a nation that values idealism, but acts with pragmatism. Israel is a nation that never hesitates to defend itself, but will always extend its hand for peace.  Peace is a central value of Israeli society. The  Bible calls on us to ‘seek peace and pursue it’…Israel’s Declaration of Independence states, ‘We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help…’ This week was the 35th anniversary of President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem. In a speech just before that visit, President Sadat famously stood in the Egyptian parliament in Cairo and stated that he would go ‘to the ends of the earth’ to make peace with Israel…This morning Prime Minister Netanyahu stood at the Menachem Begin Center and said this about the resolution that you are about to vote on: ‘Israel is prepared to live in peace with a Palestinian state, but for peace to endure, Israel’s security must be protected.  The Palestinians must recognize the Jewish State and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all’.  None of these vital interests, these vital interests of peace, none of them appear in the resolution that will be put forward before the General Assembly today and that is why Israel cannot accept it”.

But then, Ambassador Prosor went on to say the opposite of  almost everything Mahmoud Abbas had said.  He told the Assembly that “President Abbas described today’s proceedings as ‘historic’. But the only thing historic about his speech is how much it ignored history.  The truth is that 65 years ago today, the United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate [n.b. — the full name is the British Mandate for Palestine, a/k/a/ Palestine Mandate] into two states: a Jewish state, and an Arab state. Two states for two peoples.  Israel accepted this plan. The Palestinians and Arab nations around us rejected it and launched a war of annihilation to throw the ‘Jews into the sea’…”

He said: “Time after time, the Palestinian leadership refused to accept responsibility.  They refused to make the tough decisions for peace. Israel remains committed to peace, but we will not establish another Iranian terror base in the heart of our country”.  He said that Israeli PM Netanyahu had, at the UN in September, said that “a demilitarized Palestinian state [should] recognize Israel as a Jewish State”.

Then, moving fully into attack mode, Ambassador Prosor said: “In fact, President Abbas, I did not hear you use the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’ this afternoon. In fact, I have never heard you say the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’. Because the Palestinian leadership has never recognized that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.  They have never been willing to accept what this very body recognized 65 years ago. Israel is the Jewish state.  In fact, today you asked the world to recognize a Palestinian state, but you still refuse to recognize the Jewish state.  Not only do you not recognize the Jewish state, you are also trying to erase Jewish history. This year, you even tried to erase the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. You said that Jews were trying to alter the historic character of Jerusalem. You said that we are trying to ‘Judaize Jerusalem’.”

Then, perhaps it is the Twitterers can best describe what he said next:

Tovah Lazaroff @tovahlazaroff  — Prosor: Palestinians rejected 2 state solution 65 years ago and did so again today. #JPost

New York Times World @nytimesworld – Israeli amb on #UNbid: “Jerusalem had a Jewish character long before most cities in the world had any character.”

UN Web TV @UNwebcast – “President #Abbas, instead of revising history its time you started making history by making peace with #israel”- #Israel at #UNGA #UNbid

Meanwhile, American-Israeli amateur actor + ideological hasbarist Avi Mayer Tweeted: @avimayer – Mahmoud Abbas’s suits are crafted in Tel Aviv and bear “Made in #Israel” labels. How’s THAT for symbolism? #Palestine194  [How does he know that?]

Prosor then made a series of arguments that seemed designed to confront rather than to convince:
1.)”the Palestinian Authority has no control over Gaza…President Abbas, you can’t even visit nearly half the territory of the state you claim to represent.  That territory is controlled by Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization that rains missiles on Israel’s civilians…
2.) This resolution will not confer statehood on the Palestinian Authority, which clearly fails to meet the criteria for statehood.
3). This resolution will not enable the Palestinians Authority to join international treaties, organizations, or conferences as a state.
4.) This resolution cannot serve as an acceptable terms of reference for peace negotiations with Israel — because
a) this resolution says nothing about Israel’s security needs;
b.) it does not call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish State;
c.) it does not demand an end of conflict and a termination of all claims”.

Prosor added: “This resolution violates a fundamental binding commitment. This is a commitment that many of the states here today were themselves witness to. It was a commitment that all outstanding issues in the peace process would only be resolved in direct negotiations. This resolution sends a message that the international community is willing to turn a blind eye to peace agreements”.

And, he said, “unfortunately, [this resolution] will raise expectations that cannot be met, which has always proven to be a recipe for conflict and instability”.

It could have been different.

The Israeli speech did not rule out negotiations — which Mahmoud Abbas said he would turn to, straightaway, after the UNGA decision. But, a different Israeli government might have abstained, saying that it disagreed with this or that point, but it could have offered its hand in friendship. It could have offered cooperation and help [not punishment, which it spoke about until earlier this week, when the Palestinian victory became inevitable]. The Israeli Ambassador’s speech could have spoke about the similarities in the foundation of the two states. And, it could even have gone further… but it didn’t.

Instead, Ambassador Prosor told the UN General Assembly that “The truth is that Israel wants peace, and the Palestinians are avoiding peace. Those who are supporting the resolution today are not advancing peace. They are undermining peace. The UN was founded to advance the cause of peace. Today the Palestinians are turning their back on peace.  Don’t let history record that today the UN helped them along on their march of folly”.

Chemi Shalev wrote in Haaretz that “Prosor presented his government’s position clearly, faithfully and eloquently. That, of course, is why it was so one-sided, so self-righteous, so accusatory and so completely devoid of any hint of introspection or scintilla of self-doubt. In Prosor’s speech, as in the statements of his superiors, as in the minds of so many Israelis, there is no occupation, no settlements, no Israeli fault, guilt or responsibility for even a minute sliver of the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, no hint of any sympathy or empathy for the other side, no recognition of even a tiny iota of their suffering”. This is posted here.

After all, it was an Israeli government led by Benyamin Netanyahu who blocked the establishment of a Palestinian state after the five-year interim period specified in the Olso Accords signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat [and Mahmoud Abbas in 1993.  And it is an Israeli government led by Benyamin Netanyahu now, in 2012, that again worked to block the Palestinian UN bid in the UNSC last year, and that stood opposed to the upgrade in Palestine’s status to state now.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu traveled to UNHQ in New York to support the Palestinian case, and made a speech recalling his visit to Gaza at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Clouds, when he visited Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and embraced a man in agonizing grief whose daughter had just been killed

When the vote was held, 138 states voted in favor of the resolution, 9 voted against it, and 41 countries abstained.  [That means 5 countries didn’t [articipate in the vote at all, and may have been absent from the room, unless they were countries who were more than two years behind in their UN membership assessed dues, and were not allowed to vote…]

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said two days ago that 150 countries were prepared to support the Palestinian draft resolution — 12 countries more than the number which eventually actually voted in favor of the status upgrade.

“No” votes: Israel, U.S., Canada, Panama, Czech Republic and Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Micronesia.

Among the 41 “Abstentions” were 18 of the 27 EU countries:  UK, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia,  Montenegro, Macedonia, Monaco, San Marino. 

The full list of all 41 “Abstentions” [as posted on the Haaretz website here]:  Albania, Andorra, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, , Croatia, Dem. Rep. of Congo, Estonia, Fiji, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malawi, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Poland, Korea, Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Togo, Tonga, United Kingdom and Vanuatu.

Serbia was one of the 138 countries who voted in favor.

[A note on the UK: the UK also abstained in the 1947 UN vote on the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.  Britain requested the UN to decide what to do with Palestine, and told the UN it would be leaving in May 1948.  The UN was established in New York in 1946 after the Second World War, to replace the defunct League of Nations established in Geneva after the First World War.   During the First World War, British troops moved out of Egypt to occupy Palestine, arriving in Jerusalem in December 1917, and replacing the Ottoman regime which had been in place for some 500 years.  Britain at first administered Palestine militarily, then under the League of Nations, and the Palestine Mandate was  awarded to Britain, at British insistence, by the League of Nations in 1923.

Despite Arab and Palestinian opposition to the partition plan adopted on 29 November 1947, Britain punctually left when it said it would, at midnight on 15 May 1948, and the State of Israel was proclaimed.  Jordanian troops took the West Bank including the Old City of Jerusalem, and Egyptian troops entered Gaza and advanced northward.  The UN worked out different armistice arrangements on the various fronts in the 1948 war, leaving Israel in control of an area larger than demarcated in the 1947 partition plan. But Israel did not control Jerusalem’s  Old City until its conquest in the 1967 war.

The UN armistice arrangements were more or less what became the Israeli front line in the June 1967 war, which has since been called the Green Line.  In the Palestinian request that was adopted by the UN General Assembly tonight, the 1967 lines are described as the border of the State of Palestine which was declared by the PLO’s Palestine National Council on 15 November 1988.  The resolution adopted tonight said that the final borders will be resolved in negotiations. ]

There were fireworks here and there in Ramallah.  One car drove around honking its horn.  The fireworks continued… And a few convoys of cars speeding around with flags while honking their horns. While many people will be pleased, there is also concern about what the future will bring. The noise was sporadic, and sparse.

@baselbaselbasel: Does everybody celebrating have a police siren installed in their car? #Ramallah

joseph dana @ibnezra – Yes. RT @baselbaselbasel: Does everybody celebrating have a police siren installed in their car? #Ramallah

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *