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Despite Obama plea, Palestinians forge ahead with UN upgrade bid

PALESTINIANS will not succumb to United States President Barak Obama’s request to postpone their United Nations bid and will ask members the UN’s General Assembly to vote on a resolution to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to a non-member state no later than the 29th of this month.
Obama called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asking him to postpone the Palestinian bid at the General Assembly, according to Mohammed Shtayyeh, a Fatah Central Committee member and negotiator, “(The) United States never wanted us to go to the Security Council, or the General Assembly,” Shtayyeh told journalists in Ramallah. “We were officially requested to postpone since February 2012, and we have been postponing since that date until after the American elections,” he added.
Shtayyeh said that when Palestinians asked the Americans until when they should postpone the bid they did not answer. They also did not offer what Palestinians will get in return, adding that Palestinians had not wanted to be a topic in the American election campaign where a candidate may use an attack on Palestinians to garner votes.
“We understood that they don’t want us to be part of the elections game, but this is behind us now and we should think beyond the UN resolution”, Shtayyeh said, explaining that Palestinians don’t see any reason for postponing. “The General Assembly considers the 29th as the day of Solidarity with “Palestine,” Shtayyeh said.
Describing the tone of the phone call as positive, Shatyyeh expressed hopes that Obama will be more engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his second term. “Was there any pressure on Israel to stop “settlement” building? Or stop its “occupation?” he asked, referring to Israel’s control of the West Bank. The final application date will be discussed by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.
Shtayyeh added that the resolution means recognizing the Palestinian territories as a state and not as a member, because membership has to go through the UN Security Council. Palestinians attempted to get full membership in 2011 but the application didn’t go through because they lacked the nine necessary votes to pass the resolution, which the Americans also threatened to veto.
Palestinians hope UN recognition will help regenerate hope as they think this measure will have the political significance of preserving the two-state solution and give it international legitimacy, after a year of political standstill. For example, the Palestinian territories, currently deemed as disputed territories by Israel, will be recognized by the UN as Palestinian “occupied” territories.
Palestinians believe that statehood recognition will pressure Israel to come seriously to the negotiations table and provide new terms of reference for future negotiations with Israel. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate without a construction freeze on Jewish communities in the West Bank.
“The UN, as the source of international legitimacy, will be the source of legitimacy for any future negotiations,” Shtayyeh said.
Shtayyeh told journalists that “terms of reference have been scattered between the Road Map, (UN resolution) 242, the Arab peace initiative and the speech by President Bush in the Rose Garden.”
Palestinians expect the resolution to successfully pass in the GA, as did a previous UNESCO vote that recognized Bethlehem as a Palestinian World Heritage Site.
A total of 132 countries have already recognized the Palestinian state in different forms, and the Palestinians hope European states will also support their bid.
Israeli officials say this UN bid will have disastrous consequences. “This is a mistake and this will in no way advance peace,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said. “On the contrary — it could set the process of reconciliation further back and is a grave violation of Palestinian commitment to solve all outstanding issues through negotiations.”
At the same time, the Palestinian leadership said it doesn’t want to raise Palestinians’ expectations, especially in the face of the deepening financial crisis in the PA.
Israel has threatened to impose financial sanctions on the Palestinian Authority if it goes ahead with its UN bid. However, Palestinians think that Israeli threats will not go beyond intensifying construction in the West Bank. “My expectation is that most of the declared measures will be empty threats, because Israel has a vested interest in maintaining the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as it stands today, and I don’t think the Israelis are in a position to push the PA to a total collapse,” Shtayyeh said.
However, Palestinians say that the full backing of the Arabs will play in their favor, adding that the Arab countries will be a financial safety net for them by providing a $ 100 million a month in the face of any consequences.
Palestinians are still drafting the UN resolution to accommodate countries that might have legal issues with some of its sections. “For example, we added the phrase ‘the door to negotiations will be open,’” Shtayyeh said, explaining that 193 countries have received copies of the resolution for consultations.
Israel is concerned that a Palestinian victory at the UN would encourage them to file lawsuits against Israel in international courts for war crimes.
“It’s a destructive move — a move for confrontation, not reconciliation,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “If they do it, and apparently they will, they will make the dim chances of resuming negotiations even dimmer — and for a long time. They’re sending us down a slippery slope of endless confrontation and bickering at the International Criminal Court or wherever they want to take us. It will only be the continuation of the conflict by other means. If anyone believes that compromise is the only way, they should talk the Palestinians out of this move. The American administration understands full well the implications of this.”
Palmor says he sees the move having negative implications. “As a nonmember state all they need is a General Assembly vote with a simple majority. They are assured of that — the only question is will it be a majority that rests only on Arab and Non-Aligned countries, or will there be other countries supporting this move that will take us right back to confrontation.”
Shtayyeh explained that UN recognition does not automatically make Palestinians members of international agencies.
Shtayyeh told said that the main issue for Palestinians is not the International Criminal Court. “We hope we will not be in a position to use that (sue Israel for war crimes), but if we need it we will do it like any other sovereign country,” Shatyyeh said.
He added that “if anybody is worried about this court or that, it’s better for him or her not to commit atrocities against our people.”

— This article was written for The Media Line.