Israeli official downplays Palestinian UN bid

Israeli official downplays Palestinian UN bid

Israeli official downplays Palestinian UN bid

This file picture shows Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, showing a copy of the letter requesting Palestine's full admission to the UN as a sovereign state during the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2011 at UN headquarters in New York. AFP Photo

Israel’s deputy foreign minister downplayed the Palestinians’ statehood bid at the United Nations on Thursday, calling their internationally backed quest for global recognition a "virtual move without any substance" that could boomerang against them, The Associated Press reported.

After four years of deadlocked negotiations, the Palestinians plan to ask the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday to recognize a non-member state of Palestine in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The measure, advanced over Israeli and U.S. objections, is expected to pass because the Palestinians have overwhelming support in the assembly and do not face a U.S. veto there as they do in the Security Council.

Backing for the Palestinians’ appeal to the U.N. bid came from an unexpected quarter Thursday, when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying the Palestinian request "is congruent with the basic concept" of the two-state solution.

"Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it," said, according to The Daily Beast news website. An Olmert spokesman did not return a call for comment.

Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and their teams conducted peace talks in 2007 through early 2009, but never clinched a deal.

The U.S. and Israel mounted an aggressive campaign to head off the General Assembly vote.

In a last-ditch move Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made a personal appeal to Abbas, promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the statehood effort. The Palestinian leader refused, according to Abbas’ aide Saeb Erekat.

For Abbas, the U.N. bid is crucial if he wants to maintain his leadership and relevance. The Islamic militant group’s standing in the Arab world has risen as changes sweep the region, while Abbas’ Fatah movement, which governs the West Bank, has been sidelined and marginalized.

Israel, meanwhile, focused on lining up European powers against the bid. But France and other European nations have lined up behind the Palestinians, Germany announced Thursday that it would abstain and Britain indicated it might do the same.

Still, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon insisted Thursday that "the Palestinians will come out the losers in the end."

The statehood bid, he told Army Radio, constitutes a "serious violation" of peace accords between the two sides. Israel will consequently feel itself "less bound" by those agreements, and could respond by withholding funds or security cooperation from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, he said.

"In my opinion, it’s a losing proposition," Ayalon said. "It’s a virtual move without any substance."

The Israeli government argues that the Palestinians can only win a state through negotiations with Israel and maintains the U.N. appeal violates peace accords by sidestepping talks.

However, Ron Pundak, one of the architects of those mid-1990s accords, told Army Radio on Thursday that the agreements contained no provision blocking such a move.

The Palestinians are turning to the General Assembly a year after they failed to muster Security Council to recognize "Palestine" as a full-fledged U.N. member.

Intense Israeli and U.S. lobbying against that earlier bid buried it. But this year, the Palestinians have been helped by another year of stalemate and perhaps more important, changes in the Arab world that have strengthened the Palestinian Authority’s militant Hamas rivals, who oppose negotiations with Israel.

European nations have been more receptive to this latest bid, in the hope of bolstering the authority’s moderate president, Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the West Bank. Abbas champions negotiations, but his stature at home has suffered because of his failure to deliver a state through diplomacy during his eight-year tenure.

General Assembly recognition of an independent state of Palestine will not actually deliver a state, end the Israeli occupation or reunify the Palestinians, who are ruled by dueling governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

But the Palestinians hope U.N. recognition will add weight to their claims for an independent homeland and say they hope to leverage it to resume negotiations.

The Palestinians are going to the U.N. on an emotionally charged date. On Nov. 29, 1947, the U.N. decided to partition what was then British-ruled Palestine into Jewish and Arab territories. Jewish leaders accepted the plan, but Arabs rejected it, and the Palestinians were left without a state.

Palestinians seek historic state backing at UN

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will head to the UN General Assembly today with huge backing for his bid for upgraded diplomatic status despite strong US and Israeli opposition, AFP reported.

Abbas will ask for the Palestinians to be recognized as a UN "non-member observer state" and indicate his conditions for talks with Israel in a key speech to the 193-member assembly, set to convene at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT).

The Palestinians say 132 countries recognize their state bilaterally, but some of those are expected to abstain while many European nations are expected to vote in favor even though they have not recognized a Palestinian state.

Thursday's motion requires a simple majority of those members present and voting in order to pass, and the bid is widely expected to be approved.

The Palestinian leadership is determined to make the 65th anniversary of a UN resolution on the division of Palestinian territory a "historic" landmark in their quest for an independent state.

"It would be like changing my name," Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters when asked if the Palestinians would change their request.

Abbas also held talks with a host of ministers and top diplomats in the day before his speech, including Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who pledged his country's support, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Canada has said it will join the United States in opposing the resolution. Czech Republic is also expected to vote against.

France said on Tuesday it would vote in favour of Palestinian non-member status at the United Nations, boosting Palestinian efforts to secure greater international recognition.

Britain announced it would abstain unless the Palestinians pledged not to seek an International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Israel and promised an immediate return to negotiations with the Jewish state.

The recent Israeli military onslaught against rocket attacks from Gaza could increase support for the Palestinians, diplomats said.

But several European countries, including some backing the bid, believe the Palestinians should have waited until after US President Barack Obama installed his new administration and Israel held elections, diplomats said.

The foreign ministers of Canada, Turkey, Jordan and Indonesia are also scheduled to speak at the General Assembly meeting starting at 2000 GMT.

Success will give the Palestinians access to UN agencies and treaties and allow them to apply to join the ICC -- a prospect that worries Israel.

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi said Abbas resisted "intensive pressure" to make concessions on the ICC.

Palestinian envoys have said Abbas will not rush to join the court but could use it if Israel does not change its policies on settlements and other matters.

The United States blocked the application for full membership of the United Nations that Abbas made in September 2011.

The United States and Israel say a Palestinian state can only emerge from direct negotiations, which have been frozen since September 2010.

"We have made very clear to the Palestinian leadership that we oppose Palestinian efforts to upgrade their status at the UN outside of the framework" of talks with Israel, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

The Palestinian Authority and UN agencies that admit the Palestinians could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in financing because of the vote. US law prohibits funding for any international body recognizing a Palestinian state.

Washington has warned Abbas he risks losing around $200 million in aid, which is currently blocked in the US Congress.

Israel is considering freezing the transfer of tax and customs funds it collects for the Palestinians, while one Israeli foreign ministry policy paper even suggested "toppling" the Palestinian Authority.

But ministry spokeswoman Ilana Stein said Israel would most likely not take any punitive measures unless the Palestinians used the upgrade "as a platform for confrontation" at the ICC.

"Israel's reaction to the Palestinian move depends on what they choose to do. If they use this resolution as a platform for confrontation, we will have to act accordingly," Stein said.

Davutoğlu in New York

“The first is that the Palestinian Authority should indicate a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without preconditions,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told the British Parliament. “The second assurance relates to membership of other specialized U.N. agencies and action in the International Criminal Court.” Abbas had reiterated his commitment to re-launch the peace process immediately following the U.N. vote, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said.

Turkey is supporting Palestine’s bid as well, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu holding meetings in New York yesterday in support of Palestine’s campaign.

Germany to abstain in UN Palestinian vote

Germany will abstain in Thursday's vote at the United Nations on whether to grant upgraded diplomatic status to the Palestinians, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, AFP has reported.

"Germany will abstain at today's vote in the General Assembly of the United Nations on the non-member observer status for the Palestinian Authority," Westerwelle said in a statement.

"We have not taken this decision lightly. Germany shares the goal of a Palestinian state," he said.

"The decisive steps to real statehood can only come about as a result of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians." Westerwelle said Berlin had "doubts" about whether the Palestinian bid would foster the cause of the Middle East peace process, adding: "We fear it might rather lead to a hardening" of positions.

Germany will continue to push for all initiatives that lead to a genuine process of dialogue, Westerwelle vowed.

He welcomed the fact that the current draft explicitly calls for a two-state solution and recognises Israel.

Several European countries have indicated they will back the bid, although Britain said it would abstain unless the Palestinians pledged not to seek an International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Israel and promised an immediate return to negotiations with the Jewish state.

A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that Germany would not be voting in favour of the resolution but did not specify the exact voting intention.