Next week Palestinian leaders will make a formal request for recognition of statehood and full member status at the United Nations. The United States has said that it will veto the Palestinians’ UN bid; the US and Israel have said that a Palestinian state can only be created through direct negotiation. But the US is now making every effort to avoid having to carry out such a veto, which could “further damage America’s already battered reputation in the Middle East, particularly following its strong backing for moves towards self-determination in the region this year,” says the Guardian.
It was over a year ago that the last round of peace talks broke off. Palestinians have since sought to become a full member state of the UN, with their 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as a capital.
Senior US envoys are now in the Middle East in an attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Middle East envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair are also in the region along with US special envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross. Blair has been working on a text for an accord according to which Israeli-Palestinian talks could resume; US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been in contact via telephone with all three delegations.
Full membership in the UN can only be granted by the Security Council. If the US uses its power to veto the Palestinians’ request, they can then seek to upgrade their status from an “entity” to a “non-member state” in the General Assembly. The US has also been seeking help from Britain to support its veto of the Palestinian bid for full membership. Russia and China, both members of the Security Council, have already indicated their support for the Palestinians’ bid.
Palestinian leaders have indicated that they are willing to consider a “credible offer” that would have a “firm base with clear terms of reference, a clear timetable and with a clear end game.” Without such, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will submit the application on September 23, says a spokesman, Riad Malki in the BBC. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, says that the Palestinian bid is “understandable,” according to Al Jazeera.
Israel and the Changing Middle East
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that he will explain Israel’s objections to the Palestinians’ request after the UN’s annual debate begins on September 21.
Israel has found itself increasingly isolated in the Middle East. Drawing on his country’s growing stature and influence at a time of regional unrest, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has urged Arab League ministers to vote for statehood for the Palestinians. Turkey, once considered a close friend of Israel, has expelled Israel’s ambassador to Ankara and said that relations between the two countries will not be normalized until Israel apologizes and pays full compensation to families of those killed in a May 2010 raid on a Turkish flotilla. The ship was attempting to deliver supplies to Gaza and break Israel’s sea blockade. Indeed, NPR says that Erdogan has become an “unlikely icon” for Palestinians; the Turkish leader’s photo can be seen on posters and even receipts.
In addition, Israel’s relations with Egypt — the Arab country it first signed a peace treat with in 1979 — are being reassessed in light of the Egyptian revolution. Last week, the Israeli embassy in Cairo was attacked; Israel’s ambassador and staff had to be evacuated and have returned to Israel. Last month, Israeli security forces killed members of Egyptian security forces at the border shared by the two countries; the Israelis had been responding to an attack by militants in southern Israel.
As Alon Liel, a former Israeli diplomat and an expert on Turkey, says via NPR, the recent uprisings throughout the Middle East have “given the Arab publics a voice,” with many expressing anger at the Israel’s continued occupation of Arab territory. Says Liel:
“The whole region is rejecting us. It’s like a body rejecting a transplant.”
“Ten years ago we had relations with nine Muslim countries. The Moroccans were here, the Tunisians were here. Qatar, Oman, Mauritania, they are all gone. We stayed with three that are now dropping us — Turkey Egypt and Jordan — so we’ve never had such a crisis, we’ve never had such an extent of isolation in the Middle East since Israel was founded.”
Palestinians Express Hope About Bid For Statehood
Among Palestinians in a refugee camp in Kalandia between Ramallah and Jerusalem on the West Bank, the prospect of seeking statehood in the UN is engaging people who had become “deeply cynical” after 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, says the New York Times. Store owners and motorists are displaying flags with the campaign logo “U.N. Palestine State No. 194,” a reference to the Palestinian bid to be the 194th member of the UN.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has called for peaceful rallies to be held in the center of Palestinian cities — “far from any friction points with the Israelis” — on September 21, the opening of the UN general debate and on September 23, when Abbas is scheduled to address the general assembly. Abbas has called for “no confrontations, no chaos” and brought in Abdallah Abu Rahma, a nonviolence advocate and a leader of the popular resistance movement from Bilin, a West Bank village, to coordinate the “Palestine 194″ campaign. Abu Rahma referred directly to the wave of political uprisings that have occurred throughout the Arab world starting last December in Tunisia:
“We are trying to be like the Arab Spring to bring large numbers of Palestinians into the squares.”
Carter on the Mideast Peace Process
In the New York Times, former president Jimmy Carter notes that, while the terms of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel have remained in place, “key provisions of the Camp David Accords have been ignored.” Specifically,
Following the death of Sadat, President Hosni Mubarak did not press for Palestinian rights, though most of the Egyptian people have continued to insist that Israel honor these commitments. The primary subject of concern is the continued occupation by Israel of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the building of Israeli settlements on confiscated Palestinian land.
President Barack Obama acknowledged the centrality of this issue in a major speech in Cairo in March 2009, when he called for a freeze on all settlement activity. Later, in May 2009, President Obama declared that the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — adjusted to account for some Israeli settlements near Jerusalem — should be the basis of a peace agreement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected both proposals, continued building settlements, and raised unacceptable new demands for a permanent military presence in the Jordan River valley and recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” (about 25 percent of Israeli citizens are non-Jewish).
The US, says Carter, has “basically withdrawn from active participation in the peace process” and Palestinians and other Arabs have interpreted this to mean that the US is “acquiescing on the occupation and biased against them.” Feeling they have no alternative, the Palestinians are making their UN request.
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Photo of Kalandia by boellstiftung