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France, UK ready to back Palestinians at UN this week

Abbas supporters demonstrate in Ramallah. Photo by Reuters

Britain ready to back Palestinian statehood at UN

Mahmoud Abbas pledge not to pursue Israel for war crimes and resumption of peace talks are UK conditions

Ian Black, Middle East editor,
November 27, 2012

Britain is prepared to back a key vote recognising Palestinian statehood at the United Nations if Mahmoud Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes and to resume peace talks.

Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has called for Britain’s backing in part because of its historic responsibility for Palestine. The government has previously refused, citing strong US and Israeli objections and fears of long-term damage to prospects for negotiations.

On Monday night, the government signalled it would change tack and vote yes if the Palestinians modified their application, which is to be debated by the UN general assembly in New York later this week. As a “non-member state”, Palestine would have the same status as the Vatican.

Whitehall officials said the Palestinians were now being asked to refrain from applying for membership of the international criminal court or the international court of justice, which could both be used to pursue war crimes charges or other legal claims against Israel.

Abbas is also being asked to commit to an immediate resumption of peace talks “without preconditions” with Israel. The third condition is that the general assembly’s resolution does not require the UN security council to follow suit.

The US and Israel have both hinted at possible retaliation if the vote goes ahead. Congress could block payments to the Palestinian Authority and Israel might freeze tax revenues it transfers under the 1993 Oslo agreement or, worse, withdraw from the agreement altogether. It could also annex West Bank settlements. Britain’s position is that it wants to reduce the risk that such threats might be implemented and bolster Palestinian moderates.

France has already signalled that it will vote yes on Thursday, and the long-awaited vote is certain to pass as 132 UN members have recognised the state of Palestine. Decisions by Germany, Spain and Britain are still pending and Palestinians would clearly prefer a united EU position as counterweight to the US.

Willian Hague, the foreign secretary, discussed the issue on Monday with Abbas and the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, offiicals said.

Palestinian sources said Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, raised the issue with Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters last week, shortly before a ceasefire was agreed in the Gaza Strip, as had Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy.

Abbas has been widely seen to have been sidelined by his rivals in the Islamist movement Hamas, as well by his failure to win any concessions from Israel. Abbas, whose remit does not extend beyond the West Bank, hopes a strong yes vote will persuade Israel to return to talks after more than two years.

Officals in Ramallah have opposed surrendering on the ICC issue so it can be used as a bargaining chip in future, but views are thought to be divided. Abbas said at the weekend: “We are going to the UN fully confident in our steps. We will have our rights because you are with us.”

Leila Shaid, Palestine’s representative to the EU, said: “After everything that has happened in the Arab spring, Britain can’t pretend it is in favour of democracy in Libya, Syria and Egypt but accept the Palestinians continuing to live under occupation. As the former colonial power, Britain has a historic responsibility to Palestine. Britain is a very important country in the Middle East, it has extensive trade relations, and David Cameron should know he risks a popular backlash from Arab public opinion if he does not support us.”

Palestinians have rejected the claim that they are acting unilaterally, calling the UN path “the ultimate expression of multilateralism”. Israel’s apparent opposition to unilateralism has not stopped it acting without agreement to build and expand settlements, they say.

France to back Palestinian bid for UN status

By BBC News
27 November 2012

The Palestinian Authority president has said he does not want any confrontation with Israel or the US
Continue reading the main story
Related Stories

France has confirmed it intends to vote for Palestinian non-member status at the United Nations later this week.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France had long backed Palestinian ambitions for statehood and would vote yes “out of a concern for coherency”.

The Palestinians are asking the UN General Assembly to upgrade their status from permanent observer to a “non-member observer state”.

The vote is due to take place later this week.

“This Thursday or Friday, when the question is asked, France will vote yes,” Mr Fabius told the lower house of parliament.

‘Unilateral steps’
France – a permanent member of the UN Security Council – is the first major European country to come out in favour of the move.

An upgrade in status would allow the Palestinians to participate in General Assembly debates and improve their chances of joining UN agencies and the International Criminal Court (ICC), although the process would be neither automatic nor guaranteed.

It follows a 2011 bid by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the PLO, to join the UN as a full member state, which failed because of a lack of support in the Security Council.

Israel has warned that non-member status for the Palestinians at the United Nations would breach the 1993 Oslo peace accords, under which the Palestinian Authority was established.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Ben Dor told the BBC earlier this month that Israel was concerned that if Palestine became a UN non-member state, it could ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to resolve disputes with Israel.

If that were the case, he said, Israel would “take unilateral steps to protect its interests”, but did not elaborate on what those measures would be.

President Abbas has said he does not “want any confrontations with the United States or Israel”, adding: “If we can start a dialogue or negotiations the day after the [UN] vote, we will.”

Hamas Supports PA’s Bid to UN

November 26, 2012

On Monday 26th November, Hamas Politburo Chief, Khaled Mashaal, said that Hamas supports the Palestinian Authority’s bid to upgrade its status at the UN.

Hamas issued a press release and said that Mashaal met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and wished him luck. The Palestinians are expected to submit the appeal to the UN on Thursday 29th November.

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