Palestinian leader’s bid for UN spotlight ‘may backfire’

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas says the US had disqualified itself as a mediator for peace in the region. (Reuters)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Palestinian leader’s bid for UN spotlight ‘may backfire’

UNITED NATIONS: A bid by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to “internationalize” his dispute with the US over Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may backfire, analysts said.
Abbas will address the UN Security Council on Tuesday and is expected to repeat his earlier denunciation of Trump’s move and rejection of the US as future brokers of peace with Israel.
The address will bring the Palestinian leader face to face with a US official for the first time since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement, with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley expected in the chamber.
However, analysts told Arab News that Abbas’ attempt to “internationalize” the dispute with Israel and the US may backfire, since Palestinians have only lacklustre backing in Europe and ebbing support in the Arab world.
“Most likely, Abbas will leave New York disappointed,” Jonathan Cristol, a scholar at the World Policy Institute, a US-based think tank, told Arab News.
“He will doubtless highlight the centrality of Jerusalem to the Palestinian cause, and on that note will certainly garner sympathy from most Security Council members. But sympathy and $5 buys you a foot-long sandwich and not much else.”
The UN Security Council address by Abbas on Feb. 20 will be the first time the Palestinian leader faces off against an American official since Trump’s controversial decision late last year that Washington would formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Abbas has already made known his anger over moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by canceling a planned meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, saying the US had disqualified itself as a mediator for peace in the region.
He is not alone in that sentiment. On Dec. 21, the UN General Assembly voted 128 to nine to condemn Trump’s actions on Jerusalem, amid concerns that decisions on the Holy City should wait until the final stages of peace talks.
Ahead of the vote, Haley promised to “take names” of countries that sided against Washington. Later, she held a defiant cocktail party for the 65 countries that voted with the US, abstained or managed to be no-shows for the ballot.
The ambassador pushed for a cut-off in US support to the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees, getting the State Department to axe $65 million from a scheduled $125 million in payments.
Abbas, 82, is seeking to recover those lost millions and press again for UN recognition of a Palestinian state, while pre-emptively rejecting the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace proposal amid fears it will dash hopes for a two-state solution.
Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said that Abbas was making a mistake by seeking the global spotlight via the UN’s top body. The Palestinian leader “is completely misreading today’s reality and harming the prospects for a better future for his people,” he said this month.
Sigurd Neubauer, a Washington-based Gulf analyst, told Arab News that Abbas is increasingly squeezed between the US, Israel and Arab states who want to resolve the Palestinian question and focus instead on a perceived threat from Iran.
“Trump is playing hardball, Abbas is isolated and weak. When the time is right, he will tell Abbas to take his peace deal or leave it, and the Arabs won’t step in on his behalf,” he said. “Trump has already cut some funding. Imagine if there’s no money coming in.”
Cristol agreed, saying that a request by Abbas for an upgrade of Palestine’s UN status to full membership would never make it past the veto that Washington holds over any decision of the 15-nation Security Council.
“Abbas may just now be discovering what long-time observers of the region have known for years — not only do Arab leaders care little about the Palestinians, but also the Palestinian cause doesn’t have the resonance on the so-called Arab street that it used to,” he said.


UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians, Israel says ‘no’

Updated 18 August 2018
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UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians, Israel says ‘no’

  • Israel rejects report saying the protection should be against Palestinian leaders
  • The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.

But the report has been rejected by the Israelis.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement late Friday that “the only protection the Palestinian people need is from their own leadership.”
“Instead of suggesting ways to protect the Palestinian people from Israel, the UN should instead hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for continually endangering its own people,” Danon said.
“The report’s suggestions will only enable the Palestinians’ continued rejectionism.”
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.