The news this morning from CNN was that “international” diplomats — mostly European — were working to arrange some kind of face-saving deal whereby Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas would present an official request for full UN membership to the UN Security Council, but not ask for a vote. This story is reported here. It is full of optimistic and cheerful comments.
Even the Israelis are said to be on board: “Even senior Israeli officials were warm to the idea, saying that while they were not thrilled with Abbas going to the Security Council at all, avoiding a vote and preventing the Palestinians from unilaterally gaining statehood through the U.N. system was the main priority. ‘From our side, I think we could accept it’, one senior official said.
The CNN story reports that “The Security Council letter would be paired with a statement by the Mideast Quartet laying out the terms of reference to re-launch peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, the officials said. The quartet is made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Monday night in an effort to get Russian to buy into the plan. Quartet envoys will meet for a third day Tuesday afternoon to work on the text. The core elements include a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps, recognition of two states for two peoples — the Palestinians and the Jewish people — and a time line for a peace deal, diplomats said”.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the U.S. is not involved in negotiating any wording. She said that the Europeans were talking to the Palestinians, but noted: “There is no Palestinian text yet … Nobody in New York has seen one.” This is reported here. Israeli Defense Minister Barak as well as State President Shimon Peres are reportedly lobbying hard to get support against the Palestinian UN bid. [Barak reportedly claimed to have convinced Nigeria to vote against a Palestinian “UN bid”.]
Palestinian officials, meanwhile, are still saying they intend to stay the course, but also that they are open to compromise…
UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, Jerusalem time, it was reported that Barack Obama will meet Mahmoud Abbas in New York, apparently at U.S. request, after Obama meets Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu…
In the West Bank, meanwhile, preparations intensified for demonstrations called by the “National Campaign”, with the clear support of the leadership, to back the leadership, and the UN move. Students and government employees are being given time off to attend the rallies. Israeli settlers in the West Bank are reportedly planning to counter-demonstrate. It could be a mess, but mainly on the roads outside the main Palestinian cities.
Mahmoud Abbas was interviewed on Fox News, and reminded the viewers that U.S. President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly last year that he hoped to see a Palestinian state this year. What Obama actually said last year, however, was more like he hoped to see the arrangements in place for a Palestinian state…
Tony Karon has just written in The National here that “there’s something dangerously deluded in the US demand for an immediate resumption of direct talks”. And, Karon added, “It’s nothing short of astounding to see the US ditch any pretence of being an honest broker, and instead mount a frenzied campaign to block the Palestinian effort without a single new concession from Israel”.
Though much less attention is now being paid to him, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has also been in New York, attending a regular meeting of major donors to the PA held every six months. In an interview with Der Spiegel, he indicated he would prefer a strategy of going to the UN General Assembly.
[Fayyad also muddied the situation by referring to the PA being treated almost as a state — but, Fayyad is only a official in the PA and has no role in the PLO, which alone has the standing to make the move at the UN. Because he limited himself to speak for the body for which he works does not mean, and is no kind of proof, that the PA will replace the PLO, as some have vehemently argued. This interview merely illustrates what should be an evident fact that if a journalist asks a PA official for an interview, he will speak as a PA official…]
Here is an excerpt of some of what Fayyad said, in this largely uninformative, simply space-filling, and somewhat misleading interview:
Q [SPIEGEL]: Are you in favor of going to the Security Council even if that means a confrontation with the United States, which has announced it would veto the application?
Fayyad: “If I thought for a moment that it would be possible to become a full-fledged member of the UN that way, I would definitely go for it. But there is a gap between what I’d like to have, and what I can have. If it is as certain that it will be a failed motion at the Security Council, as it is generally believed to be, then I would say: Let us pursue a path that is more inclusive, that ensures that we act hand in hand with our friends in the international community. We should have the largest possible alliance behind us so that the European Union will not be divided by this vote”.
SPIEGEL: Europe is already divided. Germany spoke out earlier this year against the UN initiative, but France and Spain tend to support it.
Fayyad: “I can’t call that divided. What we are doing is consistent with the European Union’s consensus position of 2009, which was affirmed last year. What if, just as an illustration, we go to the UN General Assembly and present a draft resolution where the preamble is taken verbatim from the European Council’s 2009 position? No one could then tell me why the European Union should oppose it”.
SPIEGEL: At most, the UN would be able to bestow Palestine with the rank of a non-member observer state — similar to the Vatican.
Fayyad: “If the UN states that Palestine is state ready, then that validation alone would be a major accomplishment for us Palestinians.”
SPIEGEL: But Palestine would still be far away from becoming an independent state.
Fayyad: “The UN itself does not recognize countries — countries recognize one another. After the declaration of our independence made by our late President Yasser Arafat in 1988, many countries recognized Palestine. In recent months, there has been a significant addition to the already long list of countries that recognize Palestine. Countries are moving to recognize us, and countries are upgrading our representation in their capitals. Creative frameworks are being found for dealing with the Palestinian Authority as if it were a sovereign state. The world has recognized us already”.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, many important countries are still holding back support for your UN bid — especially Germany, which is doing so out of consideration for Israel. Are you disappointed?
Fayyad: “There is no way you are going to get me to say I’m disappointed when it comes to friends like Germany. I’ll tell you what I’m generally disappointed by: The reflexive response and the argument that we are acting unilaterally. This is not unilateralism! This is not about the unilateral declaration of statehood. Our political objective is a sovereign state on 22 percent of the British Mandate for Palestine. This is the full embodiment of the two-state solution. Isn’t this what the government of Israel asserts it wants?”
SPIEGEL: The most recent negotiations with Israel collapsed a year ago. Do you still believe in the peace process?
Fayyad: “Of course. Negotiations with Israel are needed. There can be no solution without a political process”.
SPIEGEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas haven’t met with each other since then.
Fayyad: “The problem with negotiations is not a lack of them. I find it most regrettable that, after 18 years, it is no longer clear what we are talking about. We negotiate over principles rather than assurances and arrangements. But what we need are firm agreements instead of wasting time to extract short statements”.
SPIEGEL: In the meantime, Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A growing number of Palestinians are starting to feel that the idea of a Palestinian state is becoming increasingly unrealistic. Does the two-state solution still stand a chance?
Fayyad: “We are all too conscience [sic – it should read “conscious”] of the adverse facts on the ground that continue to appear to be inconsistent with the need for a Palestinian state. I not only still believe that the two-state solution is possible, but also that people should not rush to declare it dead either. Because what exactly is the alternative? This is a question that Israel must address”.
SPIEGEL: Without negotiations and UN membership, your state-building project could soon fizzle out.
Fayyad: “I agree. I was perhaps the first who said: Whatever we do must be seen as an exercise that will lead to the end of the Israeli occupation. It is not part of an effort to adapt to the reality of a prolonged occupation”.
This rather unspectacular interview with Fayyad can be read in full here.