Weighing up recognition
The Ramallah leadership is set on going to UN for recognition of Palestine, but other factions are sceptical, with some seeing this as a self-serving move on the part of the PA, writes Saleh Al-Naami in Gaza
The last thing that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expected was that US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace David Hale would start shouting during their meeting on 7 September in Ramallah, which was also attended by Dennis Ross, the senior director for the Middle East in the US National Security Council. Abbas's aides were also shocked when Hale lost his temper when he realised that all his attempts to change the president's mind about going to the UN to secure UN recognition for the state of Palestine had failed.
Less than 24 hours after Ross and Hale left Ramallah, the US State Department announced that it would use its veto power in the Security Council to block any resolution recognising Palestinian statehood. Washington's announcement did not come as a surprise; the Palestinian Authority (PA) had prepared for such an eventuality and was acting on this basis by focussing on securing recognition from the UN General Assembly.
According to Palestinian officials, more than two thirds of member states have indicated to the PA that they support the Palestinian plan. Meanwhile, Nabil Shaath, who is in charge of foreign relations in Fatah, continued his European tour to lobby the largest number of European states to support the Palestinian move. Palestinian sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that despite indications that enough votes have been secured for the passage of the Palestinian request for recognition, the Palestinians want to ensure that the majority of European states support the move. With the exception of Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Hungary, who declared their opposition to the Palestinian plan, the source expected that other countries would either support or abstain from voting.
The source noted that the request for membership is ready and will be submitted to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the beginning of the General Assembly session on 21 September. The Palestinian permanent representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, revealed that Palestinian, Arab and international contacts are underway with Washington to sway it not to use its veto power to block Palestine's UN membership at the end of the month. Mansour told Palestinian state radio that contacts have intensified in this endeavour, explaining that Washington has not changed its position yet.
While Palestine's initiation by the General Assembly would not give the Palestinian state all the rights of other members in the UN, Mansour said that another resolution could be passed by the General Assembly to upgrade the status of the Palestine to become an effective member in all UN agencies. He added that the Arab Ministerial Committee would meet in Cairo to discuss Palestine's UN membership with friends, and to listen to advice and counsel among the group, as well as issuing recommendations and the outcome of consultations for everyone to review.
In his interview with Palestinian radio, Mansour rejected Israeli claims that going to the UN is unilateral action by the Palestinians, emphasising that the move is "a result of Israel's defiance of international law by continuing its settlement policies and denying Palestinian rights."
Despite the serious intent of the PA, going to the UN is not unanimously supported by the Palestinians. A few days before the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officially heads to the UN, Hamas and Islamic Jihad expressed doubt on the efficacy of the plan. Salah Al-Bardawil, member of the political leadership of Hamas, said that his group is so far avoiding issuing a clear position on the September commitment out of concern that the PA would accuse it of siding with Israel and the US.
Al-Bardawil explained to the Weekly that Hamas would never approve "an erratic unilateral move that could never achieve Palestinian national interests." He accused Abbas of wanting to "coerce the Palestinian collective into a precarious move without discussing it with Palestinian factions whom he is intentionally keeping in the dark."
The senior Hamas official added that the Palestinians should instead focus on reaching an agreement on joint national action based on national Palestinian principles, most prominently insisting on the right of return for refugees, establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and taking back usurped Palestinian land.
Al-Bardawil warned that the step that the "Fatah leadership" is embarking on primarily paves the way for a return to negotiations and nothing else, which undermines its effectiveness. He believes that by choosing this path Abbas is admitting that his political agenda has failed, and criticised the fact that the PA will head to the UN at a time when the "resistance" in the West Bank is still being arrested by PA security agencies.
Mohamed Al-Hindi, member of Islamic Jihad's politburo, questioned the viability of going to the UN and the Security Council to seek recognition for a state within the 1967 borders. Al-Hindi asserted that there must be an admission of the failure of the settlement track, "and the beginning of implementing the reconciliation agreement and consensus on a national strategy based on an agenda of liberation to recover Palestinian rights."
Al-Hindi added that while there is admission of a failed settlement track and national consensus, a comprehensive resistance outlook could be formulated that would include reaching out to international organisations. Al-Hindi said that it would be a resistance plan of action that revives the Intifada (uprising), and that in such a scenario his group and all resistance forces would be at the heart of the uprising.
He also accused Abbas of forging ahead on the September commitment at the expense of implementing the reconciliation agreement, "as if the fate of the Palestinian people and their cause is dependent on recognition of the state of Palestine. This means that for the PA and its president, the September project is part of a settlement scheme. Even more treacherous is that the Palestinian negotiator will return to talks about a two-state solution through an exchange of land."
Al-Hindi said he believes there are more compromises planned by the Oslo team to uphold the PA and its agencies, especially since PA officials are ascertaining a return to negotiations to reach a two-state solution with an exchange of territories.
The PA leadership, cognizant of Hamas and Jihad's criticism, was quick to emphasise the momentous achievement of going to the UN. Saeb Ereikat, member of the PLO's Executive Committee and Fatah's Central Committee, asserted that the success of this Palestinian endeavour means that the world would deal with Palestine within the 1967 borders and Jerusalem as its capital as a country occupied by another state that is a member of the UN, namely Israel. Accordingly, the Fourth Geneva Convention would be applied and all occupation measures would be illegal, including the annexation of Jerusalem.
Ereikat explained that full membership for Palestine in the UN would enable it become a member of all international organisations, including the International Criminal Court, and to prosecute anyone who has committed a crime against the Palestinian people. The move would also alter the status of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails and transform them into prisoners of war, which Ereikat asserted, is the most worrisome issue for Tel Aviv and Washington. He noted that those who do not want Israel to be brought to justice for the crimes it has committed should prevent it from committing such crimes, rather than block the legal and international pursuit of Israel.
Although the PA will go to the UN with Arab backing and after securing enough international support for the recognition of a Palestinian state, the move remains distrusted on the Palestinian home front.