September 25, 2011

UN Showdown for Palestinian Statehood Proposes Deadlines: Both Parties Urged to Draw Up an Agenda for Peace Talks within a Month and Produce Comprehensive Proposals on Territory within Three Months; UN Security Council to Discuss Application for Palestinian Statehood on 9/26/11

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas told the General Assembly that he had submitted the request for full U.N. membership. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon referred the Palestinian request to the Security Council. The Security Council will meet on Monday to take up the matter. The U.S. and Israel have been pressuring council members to either vote against the plan or abstain. The support of nine of the council's 15 members is needed to pass, but even if the Palestinians line up that backing, the U.S. has promised to veto. The Palestinians have said that in the absence of a positive outcome in the council, they will turn to the General Assembly, which would be expected to approve a status upgrade from permanent observer to nonmember observer state.

The United States had spent weeks of wrangling to persuade Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to drop the bid for UN statehood and return to the bargaining table with Israel. Israel and the United States can now only twist arms among Security Council members to vote against it, or to slow the process in the Security Council to avoid a U.S. veto. In forceful speech before the UN, the Palestinian leader made it clear Friday that the time for compromise was past, and he wanted rapid action. And he said that return to negotiations would only take place if there were an end to Israeli settlements. Abbas said talks would be “meaningless” as long as Israel continues its occupation, and attempts “to change the demography of our country in order to create a new basis on which to alter the borders.” - Palestinians, resisting U.S.-led pressure, submit request for UN membership, The Star, September 23, 2011

‘The time has come for the Palestinian spring, the time for independence. The time has come for our men, women and children to have normal lives. For them to be able to sleep without fear of what the next day will bring. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and their independence,’ said Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2011. Negotiations with Israel 'will be meaningless' as long as it continues building on lands the Palestinians claim for their state, Mr Abbas declared, warning that his government could collapse if the construction persists. 'This policy is responsible for the continued failure of the successive international attempts to salvage the peace process,' said Abbas, who has refused to negotiate until the construction stops. 'This settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence.'- Blair attacks Palestinian bid for state recognition as 'deeply confrontational', Telegraph, September 24, 2011

Palestinians Submit UN Statehood Bid

The Associated Press
September 23, 2011

The Palestinian leader took his people's quest for independence to the heart of world diplomacy Friday, seeking U.N. recognition of Palestine and sidestepping negotiations that have foundered for nearly two decades under the weight of inflexibility, violence and failure of will.

The bid to win recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — submitted over the objections of the U.S. — laid bare the deep sense of Palestinian exasperation after 44 years of Israeli occupation.

"The time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared.

"The time has come to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestine refugees in the homeland and the diaspora, to end their displacement and to realize their rights."

After Abbas submitted his formal application, international mediators called on Israel and the Palestinians to return to long-stalled negotiations and reach an agreement no later than next year. The Quartet — the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia — urged both parties to draw up an agenda for peace talks within a month and produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the proposal "represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations between the parties."

Similar plans have failed to produce a peace agreement, and it was unclear how the two sides could bridge their huge differences and resume talks.

The Quartet statement was radically different from what diplomats had been hoping to draft since it became clear that Abbas would not back down. U.S. and European officials had been trying to craft a statement that would outline parameters of the negotiations, including a reference to borders being based on the 1967 lines and affirm Israel's identity as a Jewish state.

Palestinian Loss of Land 1946-2005
Palestinian Loss of Land 1946-2005

Instead, the Quartet focused on proposing deadlines.

World sympathy for the Palestinian cause was evident from the thunderous applause that greeted Abbas as he mounted the dais in the General Assembly hall to deliver a speech that laid out his grievances against the Israeli occupation and why he felt compelled to take his appeal directly to the U.N.

In a scathing denunciation of Israel's settlement policy, Abbas declared negotiations with Israel "will be meaningless" as long as it continues building on lands the Palestinians claim. He went so far as to warn that his government could collapse if the construction persists.

"This policy is responsible for the continued failure of the successive international attempts to salvage the peace process," said Abbas, who has refused to negotiate until the construction stops. "This settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence."

He ignored any Palestinian culpability for the negotiations stalemate, deadly violence against Israel, and the internal rift that has produced dueling governments in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Jewish links to the Holy Land. Some members of the Israeli delegation, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, walked out of the hall as Abbas went to the podium.

Abbas declared himself willing to immediately return to the bargaining table, but with long-standing conditions: Israel must first stop building on lands the Palestinians claim and agree to negotiate borders based on lines it held before capturing the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. Israel rejects those conditions and has defied international pressure to freeze settlement construction. It has staked out bargaining positions that are extremely distant from anything the Palestinians would accept.

"We extend our hands to the Israeli government and the Israeli people for peacemaking," Abbas said. "Let us build the bridges of dialogue instead of checkpoints and walls of separation, and build cooperative relations based on parity and equity between two neighboring states — Palestine and Israel — instead of policies of occupation, settlement, war and eliminating the other."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the General Assembly shortly after Abbas, said his country was "willing to make painful compromises" in its quest for peace.

But while Palestinians "should live in a free state of their own," he said, they should be "ready for compromise" and "start taking Israel's security concerns seriously."

Netanyahu opposes negotiations based on the 1967 borders, saying a return to those frontiers would expose Israel's heartland to rocket fire from the West Bank. He argued that attacks on Israel from lands it occupied in south Lebanon and Gaza showed that territorial compromise would not resolve the conflict.

Talks for all intents and purposes broke down nearly three years ago after Israel went to war in Gaza, followed by the elections that propelled Netanyahu to power for a second time. A last round of talks was launched a year ago, with the ambitious aim of producing a framework accord for a peace deal. It ended three weeks later after an Israeli settlement construction slowdown expired.

The statehood bid would not deliver any immediate changes on the ground. Israel would remain an occupying force in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and continue to restrict access to Gaza, ruled by Hamas militants.

Even so, thousands of jubilant, flag-waving Palestinians, watching on outdoor screens across the West Bank, cheered their president as he made his historic speech. In Nablus, the crowd roared ecstatically when Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, told the General Assembly that he had submitted the request for full U.N. membership.

"We are here celebrating because Abu Mazen is making us a state. We want to have our own state, like any other country," said Reem al-Masri, a 30-year-old teacher who lost a brother and two cousins in fighting with Israel during the second Palestinian uprising a decade ago.

Abbas, who has never enjoyed the popular adulation accorded his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, has seen his popularity soar, allowing him to gain ground against his Hamas rivals.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon referred the Palestinian request to the Security Council. The U.S. and Israel have been pressuring council members to either vote against the plan or abstain. The support of nine of the council's 15 members is needed to pass, but even if the Palestinians line up that backing, the U.S. has promised to veto.

The Security Council will meet on Monday to take up the matter.

The Palestinians have said that in the absence of a positive outcome in the council, they will turn to the General Assembly, which would be expected to approve a status upgrade from permanent observer to nonmember observer state.

While more modest, this option would be valuable to the Palestinians because of the implicit recognition that negotiations would be based on lines Israel held before capturing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967. It would also give the Palestinians access to international judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, where Israel fears it would be targeted unfairly.

The threat of renewed violence persisted in spite of Abbas' vow — perceived by Israeli security officials as genuine — to prevent it. A 35-year-old Palestinian was killed Friday in gunfire that erupted after Jewish settlers destroyed trees in a Palestinian grove and Israeli soldiers moved in.

It was not clear how serious Abbas was about his threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, born of the landmark accords Israel and the Palestinians signed in the 1990s. Dissolution would put 150,000 Palestinians out of work and cause chaos. Israel, which is skeptical of such talk, would be saddled with the welfare and policing of 2.5 million Palestinian subjects.

How the Fight Over Palestine's UN Membership Could Generate an International Legal Crisis

Could a U.N. Upgrade Help the Palestinians Prosecute Israeli Officials?

Slate.com
September 22, 2011

Would a Palestinian state recognized by the United Nations have the right to bring legal action against Israel and Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court or the U.N.'s own International Court of Justice?

This question, which is far more complicated than it seems, turns out to be at the heart of conflict over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' efforts to secure recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations. In a May 16 New York Times op-ed, President Abbas said he was hoping that U.N. membership would "pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice." Palestinians clearly hope this would be the case, and it's clear that Israel, the United States, and some European states are worried about that too.

As of this writing, Abbas says he's going to submit an application for full U.N. membership to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after his speech on Friday. But Abbas knows that the required nine-vote Security Council majority is significantly in doubt, and that even if it can be secured the United States is publicly committed to vetoing any such resolution. Therefore, the most Palestinians can accomplish is for the U.N. General Assembly to vote to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state. No plans for a General Assembly resolution have been announced—presumably because the Palestinians are still pushing hard for the more ambitious Security Council victory—but there is little doubt the Palestinians could win a majority for one.

It is this nonmember observer status that could cause a showdown over the Palestinians' right to petition international legal bodies. At the U.N. itself, nonmember status would not do much to change the Palestinians' rights and prerogatives, but it could theoretically provide them access to a number of international law enforcement agencies and mechanisms, most notably the International Criminal Court, which was created by a treaty among many nations.

Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, president of the ICC Assembly of State Parties, told the Wall Street Journal that a Palestinian observer state could join the ICC and try to initiate proceedings against Israel under the Statute of Rome. Because Israel is itself not a party to the ICC, Israeli officials cannot be prosecuted on the basis of their Israeli nationality. And so far the Palestinians have not had success bringing criminal action against Israelis for their acts in the Palestinian territories, because the legal status of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip—is internationally undetermined. The ICC essentially ignored a 2009 effort by the Palestinian Authority to get the ICC to take action against Israel regarding the war in Gaza.

However, if the General Assembly were to recognize an observer Palestinian state in its 1967 borders, not only could Palestine become a party to the ICC, it could claim to be the legal sovereign in the occupied territories and seek charges for Israeli actions in those territories on that basis.

At the ICC, Israel would not only be vulnerable to charges regarding unlawful military actions against persons and property, but also for settlement activity, which the Statute of Rome defines as a war crime. It is also potentially vulnerable to charges under the "crime of apartheid," which is defined as "inhumane acts ... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime." That would certainly seem to apply to the social, legal, and political system enforced by Israel in the occupied territories, although the question of intending maintenance of it might be an out for the Israelis on this issue.

The European Union finds itself badly and uncomfortably divided into three camps on the question of nonmember U.N. observer status for Palestine: those opposed, those supporting, and those ambivalent about such an upgrade. The Europeans have been negotiating among themselves to try to find a formula they could unite behind and also provide some diplomatic benefits acceptable to the Palestinians.

European countries worried about Palestinian access to the ICC blocked a Spanish-French proposal for nonmember observer status for Palestine, and there has even been discussion among Europeans about creating a new legal status for the Palestinians that would provide an upgrade in status but block potential access to the ICC and other international legal enforcement agencies.

Even if the Palestinians got nonmember state status at the U.N., which is the maximum they could achieve under the present circumstances, and were able to become party to the ICC, there are serious doubts about their practical ability to bring charges against Israel or Israeli officials. Any request for such charges would be more a diplomatic and political question than a legal one, and both the ICC and prosecutors would be subject to significant domestic and international political pressures that make it hard to imagine such a scenario actually unfolding.

The recent history of the ICC suggests that diplomatic and political realities are more important than ICC membership in prompting such indictments. The Goldstone Report on the Gaza War, for example, accused both Israel and Hamas of serious war crimes, but this was not acted on by the ICC.

Opposition came not only from traditional defenders of Israel like the United States and France, but also from Russia and China, who were worried about the potential precedent regarding the behavior of military forces acting against guerrillas or insurgents in heavily populated areas. By contrast, neither Sudan nor Libya were parties to the ICC, and the areas in which their militaries were operating were, at the time, within the sovereign territory of their governments. This did not prevent the U.N. Security Council from authorizing investigations that led to the indictments of Sudanese President Omar Bashir and Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and some of his sons.

Both of these examples strongly suggest that the international diplomatic and political climate is much more important to securing ICC indictments than membership in that organization. And the indictment of Bashir has not been acted on. He even attended the independence ceremony of the new Republic of South Sudan, standing in the presence of U.N. Secretary General Ban and many other world leaders.

These precedents suggest that whatever technical advantages the Palestinians might gain from a U.N. upgrade, they will still face significant hurdles to legal action. Under the present international political and diplomatic climate, it's quite difficult to imagine any international law enforcement agency such as the ICC actually bringing charges against Israel.

Palestine Punished by $200 Million Cut in Aid from U.S.

Congress makes Palestinians pay for seeking UN recognition

The Independent
October 1, 2011

The United States Congress has blocked nearly $200 million in aid for the Palestinians, threatening projects such as food aid, health care, and support for efforts to build a functioning state.

The decision to delay the payments runs counter to the wishes of the Obama administration and reflects Congressional anger at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's so far unrealised pursuit of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and statehood recognition at the UN.

The freezing of the funds, which were to have been dispersed in the US fiscal year that ends today, is the most tangible sign yet of the seriousness of Congressional leaders' threats of an even wider halt to funding in the coming year if Mr Abbas continues with his actions at the UN. It was strongly condemned yesterday by the Palestinian Authority.

There have been persistent demands in Congress to withhold up to $600 million – the average amount given by the US in bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza every year since 2008 – in the next financial year over the issue.

The administration remains, as does Congress, opposed to the Palestinians' application for full UN membership, which Mr Abbas submitted last week. But it argues that assistance to the Palestinian people is what a US official described as "an essential part of the US commitment to a secure future and two-state solution for Palestinians".

Former President Bill Clinton, among others, this month warned legislators to leave the issue of aid to the administration, adding:

"Everybody knows the US Congress is the most pro-Israel parliamentary body in the world. They don't have to demonstrate that."

Daily U.S. Military Aid to Israel and the Palestinians
Fiscal Year 2011

Chart showing that the United States gives Israel $8.2 million per day in military aid and no military aid to the Palestinians.

During Fiscal Year 2011, the U.S. is providing Israel with at least $8.2 million per day in military aid and $0 in military aid to the Palestinians. (View Sources & More Information)

Palestinian Crisis Looms Over UN Meeting

Reuters
September 22, 2011

Diplomats scrambled on Thursday to head off a clash over Palestinian plans to seek full U.N. recognition with little visible sign of progress and a deadline less than 24 hours away.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad briefly seized the spotlight at the United Nations General Assembly, accusing the United States of using the September 11, 2001, attacks as a pretext for attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and condemning western support for Zionism.

But attention focused on the crisis transfixing this year's U.N. meeting. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is ready to submit his application to the U.N. Security Council on Friday despite pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama to forgo the U.N. option and resume direct talks with Israel.

Obama's meetings with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday ended with no breakthrough, illustrating stark new limits of U.S. influence over a process spinning in unpredictable directions.

Obama, whose personal efforts to restart the Middle East peace process have proved fruitless, on Wednesday declared that direct talks were the only path to Palestinian statehood, underscoring unbending U.S. opposition to the U.N. plan.

Obama said the United States will veto any Palestinian move in the Security Council -- a step that would isolate Washington with its ally Israel at a moment of unprecedented political turmoil across the region.

"We understand that the Palestinian people feel like they have waited very long, and far too long, to have their own state. We want to help them achieve that state as quickly as possible," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told U.S. NPR radio.

"But the bottom line is there's no way to accomplish that short of the two sides coming back to the negotiating table," Rice said, calling the Palestinian U.N. bid "unwise and counterproductive."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had her own meetings with Abbas and Netanyahu, said the United States would continue to push for a durable, negotiated peace.

"Regardless of what happens tomorrow in the United Nations, we remain focused on the day after," Clinton told reporters.

ON THE GROUND REALITIES

Whatever happens at the United Nations, Palestinians will remain under Israeli occupation and any nominal state would lack recognized borders or real independence and sovereignty.

The cash-strapped Palestinians face their own political divisions, and may also incur financial retribution from Israel and the United States that could hobble their efforts to build the framework of government for their homeland.

But in the West Bank, Palestinians have rallied this week to support the U.N. plan, with many expressing anger and disappointment over two decades of failed U.S. policy peace policy.

At the United Nations, diplomats are focused on several scenarios which they hope may contain the damage once Abbas makes his application, as most expect he will.

The Security Council could delay action on Abbas' request, giving the mediating "Quartet" -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- more time to craft a declaration that could coax the two sides back to the table.

But the Quartet may be unable to agree on a statement that could satisfy both Israel and the Palestinians, which remain divided on core issues including borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the future of Jewish settlements.

A senior U.S. official said Quartet envoys met for several hours on Thursday.

Another option, advanced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, would see the Palestinians go to the General Assembly, which could vote to upgrade the Palestinians from an "entity" to a "non-member state" while reviving direct peace talks.

Sarkozy's plan calls for talks to begin within one month, an agreement on borders and security within six months and a final peace agreement within a year.

The General Assembly route would require only a simple majority of the 193-nation body, not a two-thirds majority necessary for full statehood.

What remains unclear, however, is whether the Palestinians will insist on the right to haul the Israeli government or its officials before war-crimes tribunals or sue them in other global venues -- something Israel opposes.

The Palestinians have pledged to press the Security Council bid while keeping the General Assembly option open.

POLITICAL THEATER

Iran's Ahmadinejad -- who arrived in New York this year weakened by factional infighting at home -- accused Western powers of a variety of misdeeds and again questioned the September 11, 2001, attacks as "mysterious."

In what has become a regular piece of political theater, U.S. and other Western delegations walked out of the General Assembly hall during his speech.


Although he did not mention Tehran's disputed nuclear program in his U.N. speech, Ahmadinejad said later that Iran would stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium if it is guaranteed fuel for a medical research reactor, seeking to revive a fuel swap deal that fell apart in 2009.

"Any time they can guarantee us this sale ... we will stop 20 percent enrichment," he told reporters, although deep Western skepticism over Iran's nuclear intentions would likely slow any possible resumption of talks.

The Iranian leader, who in the past has called Israel a "tumor" that must be wiped from the map, made only a passing reference to the Palestinian issue in his U.N. speech and had no comment on the Palestinians' bid for U.N. recognition.

Perry to Slam Obama on Israel

The Associated Press
September 20, 2011

Wading into a tense foreign policy dispute, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is criticizing the Palestinian Authority's effort to seek a formal recognition of statehood by the U.N. General Assembly.

In a speech scheduled in New York on Tuesday, Perry pledges strong support for Israel and criticizes President Barack Obama for demanding concessions from the Jewish state that Perry says emboldened the Palestinians to seek recognition by the U.N.

"We are indignant that certain Middle Eastern leaders have discarded the principle of direct negotiations between the sovereign nation of Israel and the Palestinian leadership," Perry said in excerpts of a speech provided by one of his aides to The Associated Press. "And we are equally indignant that the Obama administration's Middle East policy of appeasement has encouraged such an ominous act of bad faith."

In a statement before Perry spoke, GOP rival Mitt Romney called the jockeying at the United Nations this week an "unmitigated diplomatic disaster." The former Massachusetts governor accused Obama's administration of "repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position."

"That policy must stop now," Romney said, calling on Obama to unequivocally reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel's security and promise to cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians if they succeed in getting U.N. recognition.

These and other Republican candidates are intent on showing they stand strongly behind Israel, an effort to appeal to Jewish voters and donors who play a pivotal role in presidential elections. Thus, Perry and Romney are seeking part of the spotlight as the Palestinians push for statehood this week at the U.N.

The U.S. has promised a veto in the Security Council, but the Palestinians can press for a more limited recognition of statehood before the full — and much more supportive — General Assembly. The Obama administration has pushed hard for countries around the world to block the Palestinian bid, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday there was still time to avert a divisive showdown.

Obama has been criticized by Republicans and many pro-Israel activists for seeming to push the Jewish state harder than the Palestinians to make compromises to achieve peace. Among other things, Obama has called on Israel to cease building housing settlements in the West Bank and to negotiate the scope of the Palestinian state using 1967 borders as a starting point — a diplomatic position the U.S. has long maintained but one that has never before been explicitly embraced by a U.S. president.

Complaints about Obama's Israel policy helped a Republican, Bob Turner, win a special election in a heavily Jewish and Democratic New York congressional district last week.

"It's vitally important for America to preserve alliances with leaders who seek to preserve peace and stability in the region," Perry said. "But today, neither adversaries nor allies know where America stands. Our muddle of a foreign policy has created great uncertainty in the midst of the Arab Spring."
Obama is also in New York on Tuesday for meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly. He planned to meet later in the week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Q+A: The Implications of the Palestinian U.N. Drive

September 16, 2011

Reuters - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday he would request recognition of a fully-fledged Palestinian state at the United Nations when he goes to the world body next week, defying fierce opposition from Israel and the United States.

Here are some of the reasons behind the push as well as some of the possible consequences.

WHY DO THE PALESTINIANS WANT TO GO TO THE UNITED NATIONS?

Abbas says 20 years of U.S.-led peace talks have got nowhere and wants a vote in the United Nations to bestow the Palestinians with the cherished mantle of statehood. However, he recognizes that negotiations with Israel will still be needed to establish a properly functioning state.

Justifying the move, the Palestinians point to the success of a Western-backed, two-year plan to build institutions ready for statehood which they say is now finished.

THE PALESTINIANS WANT RECOGNITION ON 1967 LINES. WHY?

The Palestinian Authority (PA) says placing their state firmly in the context of territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war will provide clear terms of reference and mean Israel will no longer be able to call the land "disputed." Instead, it will make clear it is occupied. Israel fears this will enable Palestinians to start legal proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against some 500,000 Israelis who live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

HOW DOES THE U.N. ADMIT NEW MEMBER STATES?

Countries seeking to join the United Nations usually present an application to the U.N. secretary-general, who passes it to the Security Council to assess and vote on. If the 15-nation council approves the membership request, it is passed to the General Assembly for approval. A membership request needs a two-thirds majority, or 129 votes, for approval.

A country cannot join the United Nations unless both the Security Council and General Assembly approve its application.

COULD THE PALESTINIANS JOIN THE U.N.?

In theory, yes. But Washington has made clear it would veto such a request, meaning it has no chance of success. Even if the Palestinians secured a two-thirds majority of votes in the General Assembly, there is no getting around the need for prior approval of the Security Council.

IS "NON-MEMBER STATE" STATUS AN OPTION?

In addition to applying to become a full U.N. member state, the Palestinians could also seek upgraded observer status as a non-member state. That is what the Vatican has. Such status, U.N. envoys say, could be interpreted as implicit U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood because the assembly would be acknowledging that the Palestinians control an actual state.

The advantage of this option is that it would require only a simple majority of the 193-nation General Assembly, not a two-thirds majority. Abbas said on Friday that more than 126 states already recognize the state of Palestine, meaning he could probably win such a vote with ease.

WHAT WOULD BE THE ADVANTAGE OF THAT?

Besides granting them the all-important title "state," diplomats say it might enable the Palestinians to join the ICC, from which it could pursue legal cases against Israel over the partial blockade of Gaza or the settlements.

ARE THERE ANY DISADVANTAGES FOR THE PALESTINIANS?

There are potential pitfalls. For example, Israel could counter sue the Palestinians in the ICC over missiles fired at it out of Gaza, which is run by the Hamas Islamist group.

Some critics have warned of legal consequences for the Palestinians themselves, arguing the move could jeopardize the rights of refugees in the Palestinian diaspora and the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Others have dismissed those arguments.

Also, the U.N. vote will not change things on the ground in the Palestinian territories -- a reality which could further undermine the standing of the Palestinian leadership when the dust settles. Some Israelis have warned disappointment could fuel anti-Israeli violence and even spark a new Intifada. PA officials have dismissed that prospect.

COULD ISRAEL OR WASHINGTON EXACT PUNISHMENT ON THE PA?

Israeli officials have suggested a range of possible measures, including limiting travel privileges for Palestinian leaders seeking to exit the West Bank, halting the transfer of crucial tax revenues to the Palestinians and even annexing West Bank settlement blocs to try to sidestep ICC legal action. Some U.S. officials have warned that they might cut their annual aid to the Palestinian Authority, which runs to some $450 million. It is far from clear if they will enact these threats. Depriving the PA of funds, for example, would rapidly push it to financial collapse, which would provoke instability. In the case of bankruptcy, some leading Palestinians argue that the PA should hand over the keys of the big West Bank cities to Israel and tell it to pay for the on-going occupation.

Netanyahu Says He Will Address the UN Next Week

Reuters
September 15, 2011

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would address the United Nations next week and urge Palestinians to negotiate peace with Israel rather than pursue a bid for full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state.
"I have decided to convey these twin messages of direct negotiations for peace and the quest for peace," Netanyahu told reporters. "I've decided to take this message to the U.N. General Assembly when I speak there next week."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vowed on Wednesday "no retreat" from plans to request full U.N. membership in the absence of talks with Israel, which were frozen a year ago in a dispute over settlement building in the occupied West Bank. Washington has said it would veto such a move in the Security Council, arguing that creation of a Palestinian state should be the result of peace negotiations with Israel.

U.S. and European envoys are in the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a last-minute diplomatic push to avert a U.N. showdown and keep peace hopes alive.

Abbas is due to speak to the General Assembly on Sept 23. An aide to Netanyahu said the prime minister also would address the forum that day and that efforts were under way to try to arrange meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"It's not an especially supporting forum for the State of Israel. It's not a forum in which we will get applause," Netanyahu said about the General Assembly. "But I think that in this forum too it is important that the prime minister of Israel turn up and state things as they are."
Anticipating a U.S. veto in the Security Council, the only U.N. body that can approve full membership, Palestinian officials have indicted they would seek instead a resolution in the General Assembly that would upgrade Palestinian status to a "non-member state" from an "entity."

Abbas has said such an upgrade would give the Palestinians access to the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice. Israel fears Palestinians could pursue cases against it in those organizations.

In Would-be Palestinian State, a Dose of Reality

Reuters
September 15, 2011

In another world, the tented village at al Hadidiya might mark the farthest reaches of a future Palestine. Instead, the herding community living here talk about the limits of that dream.

Nestled in the northeast corner of the West Bank, al Hadidiya amounts to a cluster of sprawling sackcloth encampments which shelter families and goats from the fierce desert elements.

Even if Palestinian leaders win U.N. recognition of statehood this month, the people of al Hadidiya say it will not improve their lives, squeezed by the rules of Israeli occupation.

Although part of the West Bank, al Hadidiya is inside a border zone deemed a vital strategic area by Israel, whose security forces have repeatedly demolished the encampments since 1997, typically on the grounds they were put up without permission.

The community now numbers 100 people -- a quarter of the population 14 years ago.

"Remaining on the land is our first and last goal," said Abdul Rahim Bisharat, the community's official representative, his head covered by the black-and-white scarf long a symbol of the Palestinian struggle.

"The weak-spirited people left, the last of them in 2008. Those who remain have taken a decision: no more forced expulsion."

Signs of the most recent demolitions, carried out in June, lay scattered around the site. A fridge and a pile of furniture stand exposed to the desert sun. U.N. agency OCHA, which documents such incidents, says the most recent demolitions left 37 people without homes. They stayed put regardless.

Demolitions are just one of the problems that Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank have to deal with.

There are also restrictions that prevent construction and free movement. The expansion of Jewish settlements has eaten up land and Palestinians, along with their property, are increasingly the target of settler violence.

In al Hadidiya, which neighbors a settlement, access to water -- a resource mainly controlled by Israel -- is also a major problem.

His life controlled by a foreign force, Bisharat has little faith that things will improve, even with the backing of the majority of U.N. members for statehood.

"A state without borders cannot be," he said.

PEACE PROCESS FAILURE

The Palestinian leaders behind the U.N. move argue it will buttress their claims to the West Bank along the border with Jordan, the separate Gaza Strip on the coast and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as their capital.

They say the step is a result of the failure of the U.S.-backed peace process to deliver Palestinian independence on land occupied by Israel since the 1967 war.

At least 120 countries have already recognized Palestine, including Russia and emerging powers such as Brazil. But Israel and the United States, its closest ally, both oppose the move, arguing that only direct negotiations can lead to statehood.

That means that even if the Palestinians enjoy the support of a majority in U.N. states, Washington will block their bid for full membership of the world body in the Security Council.

In any case, Palestinian leaders admit the vote will have little impact on the ground.

While Israel has removed some of the West Bank checkpoints put up during the last Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, which erupted in 2000 and had mostly fizzled out by 2005, its overall control of the territory appears as firm as ever.

Israel has created walls, fences, earth barriers, checkpoints, military firing zones, and army bases, all necessary, it says, for the security of the state. Some 300,000 of its citizens, meantime, have moved into settlements on land they consider Judea and Samaria in the West Bank. Another 200,000 also now live in and around East Jerusalem on land Israel has formally annexed.

Though the Palestinian Authority has built up institutions ready for statehood in the last two years, its territorial control is limited to patches of West Bank territory which encircle the biggest Palestinian towns and villages -- a zoning system the Palestinians agreed to in the 1990s in the belief it would be a step toward independence.

This has left Israel in full control of 60 percent of the West Bank's territory, effectively governing the lives of 150,000 of its 2.5 million Palestinian residents and dominating land seen as crucial to the establishment of a viable Palestine.

The authority's reach has also been curbed by internal Palestinian divisions. The PA has not governed Gaza since the Hamas group seized control there in 2007, denying it the chance to develop a territory evacuated by Israel in 2005.

LIVING ON A WEST BANK ISLAND

The limits to PA influence can be seen in Nabi Samuel, a Palestinian village northwest of Jerusalem that has been cut off from its Arab hinterland by Israel's meandering West Bank barrier.

"We are now on an island," said Mohammad Barakat, a lawyer who speaks on behalf of the community of 250 people.

The barrier is just one lasting consequence of the second Intifada -- an uprising whose failures are often cited by Palestinians as good reason to avoid more violent confrontation with a vastly more powerful adversary.

Israel says the barrier was aimed at stopping suicide bombings and other militant attacks and says it is working.

But Palestinians say it is aimed at seizing control of land. The section that has cut Nabi Samuel off from the rest of the West Bank for example, also loops around nearby Jewish settlements deemed illegal by the world court, anchoring them to Israel.

Reaching Palestinian towns once a five-minute drive from Nabi Samuel can now take more than an hour. Visitors from the other side of the barrier must get Israeli permission to pass through a checkpoint.

While there is no barrier between Nabi Samuel and Jerusalem, villagers caught working there illegally face jail and a hefty fine. Ten have been caught in recent years. Two are still in prison.

Unemployment runs at 90 percent, Barakat said. The village boasts one small grocery. Its school is a single room measuring 4 meters by 4 meters, which serves 11 pupils. Inevitably, younger people have started to leave.

Some 50 people, around a fifth of the population, have abandoned the village for the other side of the West Bank barrier in the past two years.

"It would be easier for me to move to Ramallah, but I can't contemplate leaving my village," Barakat said.

"WE'RE READY FOR STATEHOOD"

From Nabi Samuel you can see the growing skyline of Ramallah, which currently serves as the administrative heart of the would-be state. With its gleaming new ministerial complex and presidential palace, it provides a stark contrast to the village's potholed roads.

Critics say the PA has focused too much attention on the city, turning it into a de facto capital that is taking the place of East Jerusalem, now beyond the West Bank barrier and part of what Israel calls its indivisible capital.

Fountains and sculptures decorate Ramallah roundabouts, part of an overhauled Palestinian road network rebuilt in much of the West Bank with the financial backing of international donors, including the United States and the European Union. A police force kitted out with brand new Volkswagen patrol cars and Italian motorbikes whiz around the streets. The state-building work led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is routinely praised by visiting officials.

The authority points at two major differences between the institutions it has built and a similar project led by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the 1990s.

Now, there is a transparent system of financial management which has trimmed its reliance on donor support. The new security forces, trained with Western assistance, are helping to prevent violence against Israel.

"We became ready for statehood and independence according to the international community's criteria," Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the authority, said.

The World Bank, in a report published this month, said PA public institutions now compared favorably to other countries in the region and beyond -- another reason Palestinian officials say they are ready to lead a real country.

LEGITIMACY ON THE LINE

But even as Palestinian leaders head to the United Nations, the PA faces a crippling financial crisis that underlines its fragility.

The immediate cause is a shortfall in the foreign aid which the authority needs to plug a deficit forecast to reach $900 million this year.

The deeper cause is the vulnerability of the Palestinian economy. The World Bank report said Israeli restrictions, which hamper the private sector, need to be lifted to allow the PA to expand its revenue base and sustain its institution-building.

In the last three months, the PA has twice failed to pay its 150,000 employees their salaries on time and in full, damaging its public standing.

Failure to win independence in the next few years will hit credibility further, warn Palestinian analysts. The PA's critics say its strategy of negotiating peace with Israel has been a complete failure. The continuing failure of the PA and Hamas to bring Gaza and the West Bank under the one leadership -- there have been no elections since 2006 -- is another problem.

"The legitimacy of the PA is on the line because the Palestinians never envisaged it operating permanently as a large municipality," said George Giacaman, a political scientist at Birzeit University near Ramallah.

"Obviously this is not enough," he said. "Without a credible political process, it will collapse."

In Gaza, Hamas faces its own dilemma as it tries to reconcile its stated commitment to armed struggle against Israel with its responsibilities as a government eager to avoid punishing Israeli reprisals.

LOOKING TO THE ARAB SPRING

In the seaside enclave which Arafat once said would become Singapore on the Mediterranean, an international airport named after him is a relic of his state building project of the 1990s. The airport today lies in ruins, a fading symbol of an earlier period when there was hope among Palestinians that an independent state might flourish.

Many argue that the time for a two-state solution has passed. Perhaps. But the Arab Spring might provide new momentum. If Arab governments begin to reflect popular sympathy with the Palestinian cause, then Israel could come under more pressure than ever.

"Much more than before, I see possibilities for the future," Giacaman said. In the short term, though, he agrees with Abdul Rahim Bisharat in al Hadidiya and Barakat that the key is to stay put. "One should expect the following attitude: how to survive, how to remain, because the Palestinians understand this is an important strategic asset."
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