Abbas: "We're going to the UN on 29 November"

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said at an Arab League meeting in Cairo tonight that he and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby had agreed that the Palestinian UN General Assembly move to upgrade the status of Palestine to [non-member] state would be on 29 November.

In Cairo, Abbas said that the Palestinians were going to the UN now — and could not wait for elections in Israel “and then elections in Mozambique and then elections in Congo…”.

November 29 will be the 65th anniversary of the UN General Assembly vote to partition Palestine, as a way of resolving, at British request, the troubled situation, and of dissolving the Mandate the British had been awarded by the League of Nations a quarter of a century earlier.

In recent decades, the UN has commemorated the day as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Abbas told journalists, according to AFP, that: “We don’t want any confrontations with the United States or Israel. If we could start a dialogue or negotiations the day after the vote, we will … We know we are a country under occupation, but we want our land which was occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem. Israel says Palestinian lands are disputed and open to negotiation, and is hurrying to build settlements, covering Jerusalem with settlements”. This is published here.

Earlier, in Ramallah, the PLO gave a briefing about the move. Muhammad Shtayyah explained that the text of the draft resolution that is now circulating, authorizing Palestine’s UN upgrade to [non-member] state, is already “outcome of negotiations” — in fact, he said, of months of negotiations.

Shtayyah said that the Palestinians were sure of having the necessary number of votes to pass the measure.

Shtayyah noted that the Palestinian delegation is, however, still working to accommodating certain countries’ requests for more clarity or amendments.

“Between today and the 29th [November] is consultations, so the resolution is not final + is now open for consultations”, Shtayyah told reporters.

The UN move is “to pressure for serious negotiations + an end to occupation — or there’s no point”. Shtayyah added, with some impatience. “Negotiations have to address the freeze of settlements, which should be frozen as we have always been saying”.

The upgrade in status would “change the terms of reference for the negotiations”, Shtayyah said.

“If not”, Shtayyah said, “Israel will hear through the organs of the UN, asking to put a timetable for their withdrawal”.

Shtayyah added, “We are not interested in using negotiations as an umbrella for the intensification of [Israeli] colonisation” — meaning apparently both the settlement-building, and also a exploitative regime that carries out what he depicted as economic manipulation.

The threat of financial reprisals could not and should not deter the move, Shtayyah said, because Palestinian economic woes are mainly due to the occupation — which is what the UN move is intended to end.

“We live today in a fragmented country, there is no trade between the West Bank and Gaza, and there is no private investment possible in Area C, which is 62% of the West Bank”. And, he said the PA has been asking for 15 years to build a cement factory, without success, so “we have to import cement from Israel”. He said there is also “tax leakage”, from goods that the Israelis import but which end up in Palestinian markets, and many other problems.

In case of financial reprisals, Shtayyah said, the Palestinians hope they can count on a pledge from the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region + Algeria, who had had promised to provide a financial safety net of some $100 million per month. This is roughly the same amount as the customs and taxes Israel collects + transfers monthly to the PA — which Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has just threatened to not even collect, much less transfer, if the Palestinians continue their non-cooperation with Israel, Steinitz said.

“We tell the Arab countries, ‘thank you very much’ [for this promise of $100 million dollars per month in support if financial penalties are imposed on the Palestinians], ‘we take you at your word’.”

But, Shtayyah added, he also thought the wording of the American Congressional resolution to cut off funding says specifically that sanctions would be triggered only if Palestine is admitted as a member of the UN, which was the intention of the Palestinian “UN bid” [through the UN Security Council] on 23 September 2011, but not of this move in the UN General Assembly to be upgraded to non-member observer state. [However, I think the Congressional measure mentions admission not only to the UN itself, but also to any of its agencies and interational organizations].

In any case, he said, “every single agency has its own procedures for admission”. UNESCO, based in Paris, has
already admitted Palestine as a full member state of that agency — but UNESCO is suffering from reprisal cuts in member states contributions [Israel, among others, and the U.S.]

Interestingly, the U.S. State department has recently noted that there is a loophole in the financial sanctions adopted by Congress against the Palestinian “UN bid” — and the loophole apparently allows the U.S. Secretary of State to waive financial cuts if it would affect American “national security”.

Shtayyah said “all UN agencies are open to us”. He added, “nobody is entrusted with collapsing the PA”.

Shtayyah later said also that “I don’t think Israel is ready for the collapse of the Palestinian National Authority. The Palestinian people is one people, and we are together behind this move…which will place us among the countries of the world in the international organization…in the house belonging to the world”.

Concern about possible Palestinian steps that may result in referral to either the International court of Justice or the International Criminal Court has been advanced as one of the reasons for Israel’s opposition to the “UN bid” + now the UNGA move”. But, Shtayyah said, “If anyone is worried about this court or that, it would be better if they did not commit atrocities against the Palestinian people”.

In late September, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi seemed to suggest that the Palestinians would not take such a step, if Israel now stops all acts that might expose it to a referral to either the ICJ or the ICC.

In response to a question about On whether a potential “offer” could still arrive that might persuade the Palestinians to delay the UN upgrade, Shtayyah noted that “If Obama wanted to offer us anything, he had 4 years to do it — but he didn’t”. Shtayyah added that “Throughout 2012, all year, there was no offer for an alternate scenario”, and “until this minute there was no offer. President Abu Mazen told President Obama yesterday that we are going forward”.

U.S. envoy David Hale is expected in the region next week — before the UN vote. The Jerusalem Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds has reported last week that Hale has already presented a list of “14 points” to both parties — containing 7 things that the Palestinians must do, and 7 that the Israelis are expected to do.

Now, he added, “somebody will come + say, why don’t you wait for the new American Administration to take shape, or for Israeli elections, or for mid-term Congress elections in the U.S….”

“We respect due process”, Shtayyah said, “but we do not expect to wait for every single European country’s elections, before we proceed.”

He complained that Israel has not been a partner [turning around a charge that Israelis have long made about Palestinians], and that in negotiations, Israeli delegations only want to talk about security, and not about borders.

In the last rounds of direct contacts held in Amman in early 2012, Shtayyah said, Israeli PM Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho stated that Israel intended to retain 45% of Area C.

Earlier this year, Shtayyah indicated that Molcho stated that Israel would retain most of the Jordan Valley, along the border with Jordan, where there are large Israeli agro-industry operations and a number of civilian settlements and IDF bases.

The Jordan Valley is about half of the entire West Bank, and is its most fertile region, but the Palestinian population there is largely poor and marginalized, and has plummeted as the Israeli population has grown.

There is a certain amount of scepticism on the streets of Ramallah about this professed determination. There are also political differences on various positions.

But, asked if he would be happy if Palestine were accepted as a [non-member] state at the UN, despite his political objections to the approach, one man smiled — and he said: “Yes”.

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