Obama: Palestinians deserve…

U.S. President Barack Obama, in his annual address to the UN General Assembly, said Wednesday that “Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state”.

As if they don’t know. Or — as if someone else should tell them.

Since their 1988 Declaration of Independence, the Palestinian National Council agreed to form their state with the borders of June 4, 1967 — the eve of the war which saw Israel conquer the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [and the Golan Heights].

In 2008, as the U.S.-brokered Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians faltered, then-Secretary of State Condoleezzaa Rice said that defining the borders between them would help define which Israeli Jewish settlements in the West Bank [if any] would be “legal”.

Obama’s words today at the UN go even further…

“One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May. That basis is clear, and well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.

Later, Obama met Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was very pleased with the Obama statement, and after that, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, with a weary and disillusioned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who had put his head on the desk in front of him during part of the Obama speech.

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said later that both men had reiterated their positions.

Haaretz reported later that “U.S. President Barack Obama told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday that UN action would not achieve a Palestinian state and the United States would veto any Security Council move to recognize Palestinian statehood, the White House said. ‘We would have to oppose any action at the UN Security Council including, if necessary, vetoing’, Ben Rhodes, the White House national security council spokesman, told reporters after Obama met Abbas in New York. PLO diplomatic envoy to the U.S. Maen Rashid Erekat told Haaretz that the U.S. President ‘reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to the establishment of the Palestinian state, as part of the two-state solution, and stressed the position of the US that the UN is not the right venue to reach this goal.” This article is posted here.

There were demonstrations in the West Bank on Thursday denouncing the Obama speech, and a number of Palestinian writers found a ready acceptance in American publications for their English-language Op-Ed articles or blog submissions.

But, Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team did not escape criticism either, from other articles such as this one published on the Al-Jazeera English-language website, here.

The pressure on Mr. Abbas in New York has been immense, and he has reportedly felt both isolated, and abandoned.

There are rumors that he is preparing to resign when he returns to Ramallah — though from which of his three posts [Chairman of the PLO, President of the Palestinian Authority, leader of the Fatah movement] is not entirely clear.

An extraordinary article in the New York Times today’s paper [Thursday], reported from both a reception in New York and Jerusalem, says that “Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, met secretly with Mr. Abbas three times in recent months in efforts to … avoid a United Nations battle. Mr. Netanyahu ultimately pulled the plug on those talks, leaving Mr. Abbas a sense of having no alternatives. Mr. Peres said in an interview in Jerusalem that he tried to convince Mr. Abbas that United Nations membership would not help because what is needed is independence for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, and the United Nations can deliver neither. ‘He told me, “I’m alone, betrayed by the United States, betrayed by Israel and by everyone else”, ‘Mr. Peres recalled from a recent conversation. Mr. Abbas echoed those sentiments on Tuesday night. Terje Roed-Larsen, a former United Nations envoy to the Mideast who now leads the International Peace Institute in New York, hugged him and asked for a meeting later in the evening. ‘Tonight our schedule is full with the Americans’, Mr. Abbas replied. ‘They want us to meet, but we don’t, really we don’t want’. Mr. Larsen asked why he was going then. ‘I don’t know why really’, Mr. Abbas said,’I am not happy with anybody, not with the Americans, nor the Arabs. I am fed up with all these people and I don’t know what to do when I return back’.” Abbas’ weary, unguarded, unwise words to Terje Roed-Larsen are published here.

Part of what makes this so interesting is that it is not clear how the NYTimes heard this conversation — was its UN correspondent Neil MacFarquhar standing right beside the two men [Terje Roed-Larsen, former UN Special Envoy, and former Foreign Minister of Norway when he hosted Palestinians and Israelis for talks that led to the Oslo Accords]? Or, did Mr. Roed-Larsen pass this conversation on to the NYTimes?

It is also interesting to recall that Roed-Larsen himself was, in July 2004, once called persona non grata by Palestinian presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh — then working with Yasser Arafat — after Roed-Larsen told the UN Security Council that “The Palestinian leader is under house arrest but this isn’t an excuse for passivity + inaction”.

Continue reading Obama: Palestinians deserve…

Mahmoud Abbas in New York – meets UNSG, but does not [yet] submit letter asking for UN membership

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has arrived in New York for what has looked like an eventful week that would culminate in a Palestinian bid for full membership in the United Nations.

Abbas met the UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon today — but did not submit the letter that has to be given to the UN Secretary-General to start the process.

Why?

About a week ago, Abbas told journalists including correspondents from The New York Times that he would submit the letter to the UNSG as soon as possible after he arrived in New York.

The answer can only be — Abbas is allowing maximum time for diplomatic contacts and negotiations to play out.

On Friday, in the Muqata’a Presidential Headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas gave a televised speech in which he said he would hand the letter to the UNSG on Friday, at the end of Abbas’ scheduled address to the UN General Assembly. He is 14th on the speakers’ list on Friday, listed between Tajikistan and Japan.

Palestinian officials say they expect this means Abbas will be one of the last speakers on Friday morning — about 12:30, they predicted [but it could well be later].

It would be a dramatic visual if Abbas, speaking at the podium of the General Assembly on Friday, simply turned around and handed the Palestinian letter up to the UN SG, who will be seated behind a marble table on an elevated platform directly behind Abbas.

After Palestinian officials made clear that they intended to go through with their UN bid, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was inscribed two or three speakers later, after Abbas speaks on Friday.

The Obama administration has said it will use its veto power, as one of the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, to stop the Palestinian bid, if necessary.

However, it became clear over the weekend that the U.S. would prefer to defeat the move in another way — by persuading enough members of the Security Council to not support the Palestinian bid, so that it will fail to win the 9 votes needed to pass, and be adopted.

This is trickier — and would require the U.S. to abstain [for its no vote would automatically become a veto].

It would also mean persuading the EU to adopt a common position, and also abstain. There are 4 EU members on the UN SC:
Britain + France, who are also permanent members with the veto power; and Germany + Portugal, non-permanent members who could either abstain [if there is a common EU position], or vote no.

A defeat by abstention, rather than by veto, would be a much softer blow to the Palestinian plan — a kinder, more gentle dissuasion –and easier to explain on the international level, and in the Middle East. It would be a nicer way to leave the door open for a second Palestinian try, without causing the same bitterness here on the ground that a U.S. veto would do [even if joined by Britain + France].

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in New York today that “We along with all the other twenty six countries of the European Union have withheld our position on how we would vote on any resolution that may come forward in the General Assembly in order to exert as much pressure on both sides to return to negotiations. That is the only real way forward.”

TODAY’s RECOMMENDED READING:
(1) PALESTINIANS TURN TO UN, WHERE PARTITION BEGAN, by Neil MacFarquhar, published 18 September 2011 here.
(2) REJECTION OF PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD DENIES FREEDOM, by Ahmad Tibi, published today here
(3) ABBAS DEFIANT AS ‘ALL HELL’ BREAKS OUT OVER UN PLAN, by Maan News Agency using material from a Reuters report, published today here.

Continue reading Mahmoud Abbas in New York – meets UNSG, but does not [yet] submit letter asking for UN membership