The Palestinian delegation, with President Mahmoud Abbas at centre, reacts to the resolution upgrading Palestine’s status as a non-member observer state. Picture: AP Source: AP
PALESTINIANS are claiming an historic victory in their push for national sovereignty after the UN General Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority to accept the West Bank and Gaza territories as a “non-member observer state”.
Despite strong objections from the US and Israel, Palestine won implicit recognition as a sovereign state yesterday in a 138-to-nine vote. Australia was among the 41 abstentions.
The vote giving Palestine the same status as the Vatican came on the 65th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s 1947 resolution that the land held under a British mandate should be partitioned as separate Jewish and Arab states.
It also comes little more than a year after the failed attempt by the Palestinian Authority’s President, Mahmoud Abbas, to win full statehood for Palestine, only to have the matter lapse as the US said it would use its veto power to block the move in the Security Council.
Bestowing a non-member observer status is within the UN General Assembly’s authority and cannot be blocked by permanent UN Security Council nations.
Although the result yesterday was widely expected and does nothing in the short term to create an independent Palestinian state, it intensifies international pressure on Israel to reach a negotiated settlement.
There is also a risk, partly explaining the objections of Israel and the US, that Palestinians could use their new status to gain access to the International Criminal Court and press charges against Israel for alleged abuses during military operations dating back to at least 2008.
Addressing the assembly in New York, Mr Abbas said he did not want to delegitimise Israel as a state, but said the Palestine state deserved a “birth certificate” to recognise its reality.
Although Mr Abbas did not mention access to the ICC, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki did say the court remained an option if Israel continued to build illegal settlements on disputed territory. For Palestinians, such land includes East Jerusalem.
“As long as the Israelis are not committing atrocities, are not building settlements, are not violating international law, then we don’t see any reason to go anywhere,” Mr al-Maliki said.
Yesterday’s UN vote was set against the backdrop of a ceasefire agreement following the latest hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza — in which Mr Abbas, as the leader of his Fatah Party in the West Bank, had played no role.
The UN vote suddenly gives Mr Abbas relevance when he appeared to be lacking any and peace negotiations with Israelis had been stalled for two years.
While opposing the Palestinian Authority President’s move, both the US and Israel would nonetheless prefer to negotiate with the more moderate Mr Abbas and his Fatah Party, and not Hamas, which remains committed to Israel’s destruction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nonetheless condemned comments by Mr Abbas to the General Assembly as “hostile and poisonous”.
Calling for direct negotiations with Palestinians, he described the UN resolution as “meaningless”.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote an “unfortunate and counterproductive” move that placed further obstacles in the path to peace.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN and believed to be President Barack Obama’s choice to replace Mrs Clinton, also called the UN vote an “obstacle to peace”, arguing it would fail to lead to a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ms Rice told the UN General Assembly: “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little has changed. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”
Yesterday’s vote was also notable because France, a permanent member of the UN Security council that has not recognised Palestine as a sovereign state, supported the resolution. Germany was among the nine opposing.
As well as the option of action in the ICC, the new status could give Palestine access to specialised UN agencies.
The risk here for Palestinians is that the US congress could cut off substantial foreign aid, as it did for Unesco last year when the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organisation recognised Palestine as a fully fledged member.
On that occasion, the US was bound by legislation forbidding further aid if Palestine was accepted unilaterally without a negotiated settlement with Israel on territory and borders.
Mr Netanyahu’s Israeli government could seek to punish Mr Abbas and his party for winning Palestine’s new status by cutting off funding from tax revenue raised in the West Bank. Doing so could be calamitous if it led to the West Bank’s economic collapse and the downfall of Mr Abbas’s party, only to see the rise of Hamas.
- The Australian