By Judy Dempsey, Letter from Europe, NY Times
BERLIN — It is a rare moment of truth.
After years of advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Europeans will have to decide whether to support the Palestinian bid to become a member of the United Nations.
Over the coming days, the Palestinian Authority will finalize the text of the resolution it will present this month to the United Nations. The Palestinians want their status upgraded from “observer” to full membership but might have to settle in the end for “nonmember state,” similar to the Vatican.
Full membership as an independent state would require the support of the U.N. Security Council. But the United States has said it would veto such a Palestinian resolution.
But the Palestinian Authority seems determined to go to the U.N. General Assembly to garner a maximum of votes in acceptance, even if it falls short of full membership. In this showdown, Europe is becoming a diplomatic battlefield, with the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians trying to sway opinion among the 27 member states over the resolution.
The Europeans are bitterly divided. Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic, among others, are prepared to abstain or vote against the resolution. France, Spain and even Britain might vote in favor.
Analysts say that if the Europeans fail to speak with one voice in voting for the Palestinian request and recognizing Israeli concerns at the same time, their credibility across the Middle East will be tainted.
“European governments, including Berlin, that currently oppose recognition of a Palestinian state should instead work to pursue the European line of consistently supporting a two-state settlement, recognizing the Palestinian state and supporting its full membership in the United Nations,” said Muriel Asseburg, Middle East specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
Ever since its Venice Declaration of 1980, the Union has supported a two-state settlement. Especially in the wake of the Arab Spring, more and more Europeans see the recognition of the Palestinian state as a reflection of the their own commitment to the values of self-determination and freedom.
In practical terms, the Union is the biggest political and financial supporter of the Palestinians, providing up to €1 billion, or $1.36 billion, a year, thus giving it considerable leverage. And over the past two years, the institutions in the West Bank have been greatly strengthened as a result of a more rigorous approach by the Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Indeed, the international donor group in support of the Palestinians concluded last April that the Palestinian Authority’s delivery of public services and implementation of changes compared favorably with those of many middle-income countries. Missing, said donors, was a political settlement to complement the state building efforts.
Some analysts also say it is in Europe’s interests not to bow to U.S. or Israeli pressure over the U.N. issue.
“It is time that the Europeans recognized their interests in the Middle East,” said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York. “They include energy and immigration. The Middle East is too important to be left to the United States.”
Yet despite what is at stake, neither those European countries that support nor those that oppose the Palestinian resolution have a Plan B for the “day after” the resolution.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who is a staunch defender of Israel, said last week that she was concerned about the “day after,” asking what might happen on the ground if the Palestinians unilaterally went to the U.N. General Assembly.
“The big question is the day after,” said Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov, an international relations specialist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “The settlements will still be there. The Israeli Army will still be there.”
The situation might quickly deteriorate if the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stops, as he has threatened, the transfer of customs revenues owed to the Palestinians. The Obama administration, too, might cut aid to the Palestinians and even downgrade its ties.
There is a danger, too, that riots among the Palestinians could ignite the anger of Israel’s other Arab neighbors.
All of this, analysts say, would make it imperative for the Europeans to think hard about how they could help the situation on the “day after.”
Such a Plan B would require at least three elements: It would have to give hope to the Palestinians that renewing the negotiations with Israel could lead to a speedy settlement. It would also need to spell out how Israeli security might be safeguarded, and it would have to point to a way to get the United States back on board.
Daniel Levy and Nick Witney, Middle East specialists at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a research organization in London, say they believe the Europeans could develop a strategy.
“The Europeans could help draft a U.N. resolution that could include in the text Israel’s concerns about its security and an acknowledgment of its right to exist,” they said.
Even then, the Netanyahu government could accuse the Europeans of being anti-Israeli. But analysts believe a united European response would be welcomed by large sections of the Israeli public and the security establishment.
But the truth is that the Europeans have no Plan B. “It’s because we have not seen the text of the resolution,” said an E.U. diplomat. But when they do, chances are it will be too late.
Comment by EU Foreign Minister comes as PA says Germany was against the planned UN General Assembly vote; top Russian official: Moscow will back Palestinian independence.
By DPA and The Associated Press
There is no definitive European position regarding the Palestinian bid to gain recognition of statehood and membership from the United Nations General Assembly, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday, as Palestinian officials claimed Germany’s stance on the Palestinian statehood bid was “not positive.”
“There is no resolution on the table yet, so there is no position,” Ashton said in a statement during a two-day visit to Cairo.
“What is clear from the European Union is that the way forward is negotiations,” which aim to bring “a just and fair settlement” to both Palestinians and Israelis, she added.
Her remarks came after a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr to discuss the Palestinian bid.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Amr Rushdi said that the Palestinian leadership had been left with no other choice after the peace process had come to a “standstill.”
“Negotiations should not be an end in itself,” added Rushdi but rather “a means to establishing a state and recognizing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
During her Cairo visit, Ashton is scheduled to meet Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi and hold bilateral meetings with foreign ministers of the organization’s member states as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Earlier Monday, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said in a televised interview that Moscow would back the Palestinian bid to secure statehood at the UN, adding that Russia has supported Palestine’s bid for statehood since 1988.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers gathering in Brussels seemed less united in their positions.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official said earlier Monday that he felt Germany’s position the Palestinians’ statehood bid in the UN is “not positive.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Berlin did not support the Palestinian UN bid, said Foreign Minister Riyad Malki.
“Germany’s position, like a number of other European Union countries, is not positive,” Malki told Voice of Berlin hoped the European Union would come up with a “unified stand” on the Palestinian plan to go to the United Nations.
He later told Jordanian King Abdullah II that Berlin “encouraged the reactivation of the deadlocked peace process through the resumption of direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.”
Following the meeting with Westerwelle, the Jordanian Royal Court issued a statement, stressing Europe’s role in resolving the Middle East crisis.
“Germany and Europe have an important role to play in backing efforts that seek to re-establish comprehensive peace in the region in the run-up for the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in accordance with the two-state vision,” the statement said.
Malki told Voice of Palestine that Abbas will hear the final European Union position later Monday when he meets EU foreign policy chief Ashton in Cairo, where the Arab League’s follow-up committee on the peace process will hold its final meeting before the Palestinians apply for UN membership.
He said Ashton will try to persuade Abbas “to find a way to prevent confrontation at the UN.”
Westerwelle and Abbas met late Sunday in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The German foreign minister is in the region on a three-day tour.
In his meeting with Judeh on Monday, Westerwelle said Berlin backed the creation of a “viable” Palestinian state through negotiations.
“Germany wants Israel to be within secure borders, but at the same time supports the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state which can only be achieved through negotiations rather than confrontation,” a Jordanian Foreign Ministry statement quoted him as saying.
According to Palestinian diplomatic sources, Westerwelle tried to thwart the Palestinian drive in bringing the issue to the UN forum and instead urged a resumption of direct peace talks.
The Peace Initiative Committee of the Arab League is expected to meet Monday night in Cairo to shape Arab action plans for the forthcoming meeting at the United Nations, according to Palestinian positions and demands.
The Arab Peace Initiative is a comprehensive peace plan endorsed in the Saudi capital Riyadh in 2007 and which attempts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Arab foreign ministers will also meet at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Tuesday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Abbas, who arrived in Cairo Monday, will also attend Tuesday’s meeting at the Arab League.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding and the United States has been clear that it will use its veto power if necessary.