09/21/2011, 00.00
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UN Palestinian seat and Western hypocrisy

by Bernardo Cervellera
The United States, Israel and Europe are trying frantically to stop Abbas from asking the United General Assembly to recognise a Palestinian state on 23 September. Instead, threats to cut aid to the Palestinians could cause demonstrations and clashes in the territories. Following the failure of peace talks because of the ever-increasing land grab by Israeli settlers, a UN seat for Palestine is the best guarantee for peace.
Rome (AsiaNews) – On 23 September, the chairman of the Organisation for the Liberation of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, will present to the General Assembly of the United Nations a request that Palestine be recognised as a state and a member of the United Nations “within the borders of 1967”.

The idea was launched about a year ago and received the backing of almost 130 nations. For at least a year, Israeli ambassadors around the world have tried unsuccessfully to stop this attempt, which in their view threatens the peace of the region and Israeli-Palestinian talks, deadlocked since last year because of new and expanding Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied Territories.

After wavering and hesitating, even the United States has tried to stop by all means the Palestinian attempt. Washington has already said that it would veto Abbas’ request in the Security Council. In such case, the Palestinians are prepared to go directly to the General Assembly to ask at least for a seat as an “observer” with the right to be represented in the various UN organisations. In this case, victory is almost certain.

To head off this possibility, Barack Obama is meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and (perhaps) Mahmoud Abbas to get the latter to abandon his proposal in exchange for renewed bilateral talks. However, the odds are against it because the Netanyahu administration relies on the support of Avigdor Lieberman’s extremist party, which opposes stopping settlements and has promised instead to accelerate them.

The United States and Israel are prepared to use the economic tool as well. US congressmen have called on Obama to block aid to the Palestinians if Abbas puts forward his request. Israel has said that it would no longer transfer taxes owed to Palestinians.

Under the Oslo Accords (1993), Israel is required to transfer to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) taxes collected from goods that move through Israeli ports and airports. These funds, about US$ 1 billion, constitute nearly two thirds of the PNA annual budget.

Without these funds, the PNA could not pay the salaries of its officials and police and could not finance urban and road development in the Territories.

In Israel and the Arab world, most doubt the sanity of cutting funds. If Palestinians see their means of survival blocked by Israel, many might be pushed to launch mass demonstrations and protests along the lines of what occurred during the Arab spring.

It is truly impressive how, through their diplomatic initiative, the Palestinian leadership have managed to grab the headlines, and stay in the headlines for quite a long time, even on days overfilled with other urgent international and national news, such as, for example, the financial crisis in Greece, with its potential effects on the Euro and the European Union.

It is especially amusing to see the panic that has overcome so much of the West at the sight of the Palestinians, not taking up arms, but doing exactly what they have always been advised to do, seek their freedom by peaceful, diplomatic means!

It is almost impossible to understand the anxiety that has overtaken several Western governments in the face of the Palestinian initiative, and even more so the threats from Israel and the US to "punish" them for something as peaceful as approaching the United Nations and lodging a request there. Well, it is after all a request only. Governments that agree with it may vote in favour, while those that disagree can vote against. What is so terrible about making a request and putting it to a vote?

The only possible answer is that a Palestinian request for recognition of Statehood by the UN, with or without admission to full membership of the Organisation, puts the West to a test that key countries are desperately trying to avoid, i.e. whether there is any substance, any credibility to their assurances that they are in favour of "ending the occupation that began in 1967", in the words of then US President George W. Bush.

It is revealing that so much reporting of the frantic diplomatic activity of recent days speaks of a "search for a formula" that would persuade the Palestinian leadership to give up its announced request to the UN. What the Palestinians have been saying though, is that the time for "formulas" is over.

It is twenty years since they joined the Madrid Peace Conference, and eighteen years since, on 13 September 1993, they signed the Declaration of Principles, the "Oslo Agreement", of mutual recognition between the Palestinian and Israeli nations.

Yet all throughout this period, they have been seeing their lands, within the territory occupied by Israel in 1967, increasingly taken over by Israeli settlers, literally every day the available area—and water—is being "consumed", taken over, by the settlements, all under the cover of the "peace process".

US President Obama, near the beginning of his term in office, publicly demanded that Israel halt its settlement activities, only to back down later. How is it possible, the Palestinian leadership ask, to negotiate the future of a territory, while the other side, the occupying power, is settling more and more elements of its own population on that territory?

Being a recognised State, under the protection of the U.N. Charter, will give the Palestinians stronger protections against that gobbling up of their land and water and help to induce Israel to cease and desist.

It will also make it possible for the Palestinians to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel—the whole purpose of the exercise, as President Abbas emphasises, on a basis of equal dignity and equal rights with the State of Israel, which they have long ago recognised, on its own recognised territory.
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See also
Palestinians to ask for UN recognition of their state
An Israeli nightmare: peaceful diplomacy for a Palestinian state
Abbas asks Ban Ki-moon for a Palestinian seat in UN
Mahmoud Abbas backtracks, says postponing vote on Goldstone Report a mistake
As some Israelis come out in favour of UN Palestine resolution, the Netanyahu govt threatens retaliation


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