MIDDLE EAST: Palestinians Want UN to Counter 'Peace Process' Flop

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By Ernest Corea in Washington DC

On August 16, the Middle East Quartet (European Union, Russia, UN, and the U.S.), directed a cotton-wool soft rebuke at the Government of Israel for its decision to authorize new house-building in Jerusalem and Ariel.

The continued construction of "settlements" reaffirms Israel's unwillingness to engage in negotiations except on its own terms, and constitutes a formidable roadblock on the path to a just and permanent peace between Palestinians and Israelis. To be clear: the placement of the roadblock is deliberate.

Despite these harsh realities, the Quartet said only that it was "greatly concerned by Israel's recent announcements to advance planning for new housing units in Ariel and East Jerusalem." (Concerned: uneasy, solicitous, anxious. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.)

Thus, the Quartet went wobbly, and called it a day. The Government of Israel, for its part, has more to think about than an ever so gentle slap on the wrist. It is focused on possible developments at the UN.
MOVE AWAITED

With the opening of the UN General Assembly's 66th session drawing close, the Netanyahu government has been intensifying its efforts to scuttle UN recognition of Palestine's right to self-determination and thereby to postpone the re-emergence of an independent state of Palestine.

Palestinian representatives are expected to make their move sometime between September 13, the scheduled date for the General Assembly's formal opening session and September 21-27 when the "general debate" rolls on. Heads of state or their representatives deliver policy statements during this latter phase.

Palestinians could also seek to table a resolution at a meeting of the Security Council held on the sidelines of the General Assembly session if council members agree.

UN membership of a "new" state seeking admission requires a vote at the Security Council where any one of the five permanent members could block admission with a veto. Palestinians hope that the U.S. would abstain rather than vote "no".

The U.S. would, in fact, be at an advantage if it did not veto a Palestinian resolution, as it would immediately end the humiliating isolation that it shares with Israel on this issue. Israeli-Palestine matters could eventually be considered outside the ambit of domestic American politics.

But, don't hold your breath. Any shift from the status quo is unlikely in America's current pre-election season. For this reason, observers at the UN speculate that the issue will be raised at the General Assembly, where a veto cannot be cast.

Palestine could seek to establish a new role for itself at the UN, having its status changed from "observer" (its current designation) to "non-member state observer." In effect, then, Palestine's statehood would be internationally recognized, with UN membership still to come. A simple majority in the General Assembly could bring about the change.

Whatever form the Palestinian initiative takes, and irrespective of its timing, Israel's "full court press" continues.

BILLS PAID

Israel's goal at the General Assembly, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, is "to sway a bloc of anywhere from 50 to 70 countries, including many Western countries such as the U.S., Canada and Europe, to oppose Palestinian unilateralism."

Israeli diplomats, under orders to canvass their interlocutors in the capitals at which they serve, have been particularly active in the U.S.

Eighty-one Congressmen (55 Republicans and 26 Democrats) will visit Israel during their current August recess. That's 20 percent of the House of Representatives membership. A satirical piece currently going viral has suggested that the House might decide to hold all its meetings in Israel as a cost-cutting measure: bills will be paid.

As well, Israel has been embraced by the protective arms of State Department spokespersons who have been at great pains to maintain that the proposed Palestinian move is a "bad idea” and an "ill-advised course."

The notion that the UN should be off limits for discussion of a serious issue that involves security, self-determination, and human rights stands logic on its its head. Is this naivete, ignorance, knavery, or a combination of all three? This approach does not do justice to the high standards of professionalism associated with the State Department

The UN was created precisely because its founders believed that recourse to an international organization could give injured parties redress, create a fair and balanced approach to conflict resolution, protect human rights, and spread peaceability throughout the international community.

And, lest we forget, the state of Israel derives its legitimacy from UN resolution 181 of Nov. 28, 1947. Palestinians seek parallel legitimacy for its statehood from the UN. That is surely a minimalist demand. Why should they be denied this right?

PEACEFUL SOLUTION

Much has been made, and continues to be made, of the need for a negotiated agreement between Israel and Palestine. The Quartet's recent statement noted that negotiations are the "only way to a just and durable solution to the conflict." When the Quartet met on July 11, however, it did not have the sheet music from which to harmonise a negotiating tune, and lacked the ability to improvise.

The Quartet's failure "to agree on how to get the parties back to negotiations is a sign of the dismal state of affairs in this 20-year process. It also seems to offer up one more reason for the Palestinians to pursue their initiative for recognition at the UN in September," the Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) organisation commented at the time.

The CMEP assessment is similar to the explanation provided by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a highly respected public figure in Palestine and abroad, that seeking UN action is a corrective measure in the face of an "endlessly prolonged peace process that has lost its credibility."

In recent conversations with media representatives she said that during the peace process, "Israel has been allowed to act with impunity, particularly with respect to its continued settlement construction." She added: "We do not want the Palestinians to lose hope."

Ashrawi expressed surprise at Israel's hysterical reaction. She emphasised the obvious point, missed by the Quartet, State Department spokespersons, and the Government of Israel, that the purpose of turning to the UN implies a firm commitment to a non-violent resolution of issues, as enjoined by the UN Charter.

"We are adopting a positive and constructive legal approach by turning to the international community and saying we are a part of you. Any solution has to be based on international law," she said. "Our right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter."

NOVEL SUGGESTION

Efforts to dissuade the Palestinians from seeking to legitimise their statehood through the UN will undoubtedly continue. Arm-twisting, tactical use of blandishments, or procedural manipulation could prevail. Even if a resolution does get tabled at, say, the General Assembly, there is no guarantee that it will be adopted although currently some 130 delegations are believed to support the cause of Palestinian freedom.
A novel proposal has, meanwhile, been made by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz which has suggested that: "Israel can improve its status if it takes its fate into its own hands. It can be the first to welcome the establishment of a Palestinian sister-state, wish it luck, hold out its hand in peace and express a desire to discuss borders, refugees and settlements issues, this time on an entirely different level − as two sovereign states…

"Even if the Palestinians prove a disappointment and even if the move doesn't yield immediate practical results, demonstrating goodwill would help Israel retrieve assets it has long lost in the eyes of the world − a moral standing, good faith and honourable intentions."

This innovative suggestion would enable the two states to take on contentious issues on the basis of parity, not as oppressor and oppressed. Events of the kind that have caused death and bloodshed in the Sinai and in Gaza these past days could be forestalled. The region as a whole would benefit. An unlikely prospect, nevertheless.

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