Palestine struggles closer to statehood
by Chu Lan Huong
Palestinian leaders plan to seek full membership of the United Nations next week, despite the very real threat of a US veto. If recognised, Palestine (which is now an observer) would be allowed to vote at the UN and would be given access to various agencies, most notably the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Israel predictably responded by sending letters to some 40 world leaders urging them not to vote in favour of the Palestinians' bid to gain UN membership.
The Palestinians want to establish their state based on the 1967 borderline, and pledge to peacefully co-exist with neighbouring Israel.
It has been 20 years since the international community attempted to initiate peace in the Middle East at the Madrid Conference. The attempt failed and the Palestinian people have come no close to establishing their own state, and peace seems as elusive as ever.
Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel have faltered on numerous occasions. This latest attempt to gain admission to the UN is a roundabout way of gaining international support for the formation of a Palestinian state.
Late last year, the Palestinians launched a major diplomatic offensive to win UN recognition, with Palestinian leaders lobbying world powers to support their statehood bid.
So far, the plan has the support of about 130 of the 193 UN members.
The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told Russia's Interfax news agency that Russia would vote in favour of the Palestinians at the Security Council and at the General Assembly.
"We will endorse any proposals submitted by the Palestinians," Churkin said.
China has also voiced its support for the formation of a Palestinian state.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told Xinhua that seeking an independent statehood was the inalienable right of the Palestinian people and would create a foundation for peaceful coexistence between the Palestinians and Israelis for lasting peace and security in the Middle East.
"We understand, respect and support the Palestinian plan," Yu said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed his support for the Palestinian bid. He was quoted by Reuters as saying: "I support the formation of an independent sovereign state of Palestine. It has been long overdue."
At a meeting this week, Arab foreign ministers agreed to marshal support for an independent state of Palestine.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Edorgan was quoted by Reuters as saying: "The recognition of a Palestinian state is the only right way. It is not an option, but an obligation. God willing, by the end of this month, we will have the opportunity to see a very different status for Palestine at the United Nations.
"It's time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. Let's raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East. Let's contribute to securing well-deserved peace and stability in the Middle East," he added.
Meanwhile, European Union leaders are sitting on the fence, even if the vast majority of Europeans support the formation of Palestinian state.
The latest opinion poll showed that the majority of people in Germany, France and Britain – three permanent members of the Security Council – all want their leaders to vote in favour of a UN resolution recognising Palestine.
The online survey by YouGov in Britain and Germany and Ifop in France, on behalf of the global political web movement Avaaz, revealed that in Germany 84 per cent of those who responded supported Palestinian statehood and 76 per cent believed Germany should now act. Meanwhile, in the UK, 71 per cent supported the formation of Palestine and 59 per cent said the government should act; while in France the figures were 82 per cent and 69 per cent, respectively.
Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, said in a statement: "Prime minister [David Cameron] has a clear choice: stand with the British public and 126 other countries supporting the formation of a Palestinian state and a new path to peace, or side with the US government, which continues to push the failed status quo."
Despite considerable world support, analysts say the Palestinian bid could easily be thwarted by opposition from the US opposition, which has played a major role in the Middle East peace process for years.
The US's stance is that it is up to the Palestinians and Israel to negotiate a lasting peace.
President Barack Obama said: "What happens in New York City can occupy a lot of press attention but is not going to change what is actually happening on the ground until the Israelis and Palestinians sit down together."
He said the Palestinians' bid for recognition next week was a "distraction" and would not result in viable statehood.
Meanwhile, US lawmakers warned the Palestinian leadership that they could lose hundreds of millions of dollar in aid if they continue to seek recognition of statehood.
Representative Howard Berman was quoted by Reuters as saying "should the Palestinians pursue their unilateralist course, the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual assistance that we have given them in recent years, will likely be terminated".
In urging some 70 countries not to support any unilateral moves by the Palestinians at the UN, the US State Department argued that such a vote would "destabilise the region" and "undermine peace efforts".
However, according to analysts, the US should carefully consider its position. If the US vetoes the Palestine bid, it will be an affront to the international community at large, and particularly the Arab world.
A top Saudi diplomat said the US must back the Palestinian bid or risk alienating itself further from the Arab world.
If Washington vetoes the Palestinian bid to become the 194th member state of the UN, "Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to co-operate with America in the same way it has historically," former Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal, warned in a commentary in The New York Times.
Clearly the Palestinian leadership knows that winning full UN membership does not mean peace in Israel, but it is a start.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement: "I don't believe that applying to the United Nations would compel Israel to end the occupation or the expansion of settlements, as well as raids and assassinations, but it would be part of the Palestinian strategy. It is not the end, it is the beginning of the Palestine territories' return". —VNS