Israel, Palestine take battle to UN

Support appears to be building in favour of Palestinian statehood

With Israel’s offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip now over, and an Egyptian-brokered truce holding, the UN is set to become the new focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinian Authority will on Thursday ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade its status at the world body to that of a non-member state and in effect acknowledge Palestinian statehood.

“We are sure that the free world will support us,” Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said before he left for New York.

Observers said the request would easily be approved at the assembly, where there is no veto power.

Some Western countries, including the U.S., have tried to discourage Abbas from going ahead with the request, but France and Spain said they would vote in favour of Palestinians.

A Palestinian official on Wednesday denied reports that Western support came in exchange for a Palestinian promise not to take Israeli to the International Criminal Court.

Hanan Ashrawi said some countries had tried to get such a commitment, but failed.

“This is one of our rights, and there is no way we will give up on it in advance,” she told a news conference in Ramallah.

Israel initially reacted to the initiative with fury.

An Israeli Spokesman said the UN bid contravened the 1993 to 1994 Oslo accords, which stipulates that all outstanding issues must be settled through negotiations.

Israeli right-wing politicians called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to retaliate with punitive measures, including building more settler homes in the West Bank and annexing part of the land.

Barak Ravid of the left-leaning Ha’aretz daily newspaper said Israeli leaders had realized that the Palestinian motion is unavoidable and amounts to a “humiliating and painful” diplomatic defeat.

“After long weeks of Israel viewing the Palestinian bid in the UN as a grave threat, the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry now have to back down,” he wrote.

“The haughty assertion that Israel will punish the Palestinians the day after the UN vote has disappeared,” Mr. Ravid noted.

An Israeli diplomatic official in Jerusalem said “Generally, our approach is going to be low key.”

Noting that General Assembly resolutions are non-binding and that the Palestinian motion contravenes the Oslo peace accord, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the UN approach as “legally irrelevant, politically tainted”.

Any immediate Israeli retaliation would be, if not minimal, measured, officials have said.

For example, Israel, which by agreement collects tax revenues for the Palestinian Authority, could take the funds to pay off debts the Palestinian Authority owes, which amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Other far-reaching steps will likely wait until the new Israeli government is in place following the January 22 elections.

They will depend to a large extent on the Palestinian behaviour. If Palestinians return to the negotiating table without pre-conditions, Israel will likely take no punitive steps.

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