Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Palestine’s UN Bid Success: To what ends?

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By Jessica Purkiss - December 01, 2012
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Section: [Main News] [In Pictures] [Features]
Tags: [Mahmoud Abbas] [UN] [Ramallah] [Palestinian UN bid 2011]

At midnight on Thursday a jubilant Palestine celebrated the overwhelming success of the United Nations General Assembly vote.  In the centre of Ramallah, crowds of hopeful Palestinians gathered around a projection screen as the result of the vote was televised live from New York.

In the end 138 member states voted in support of Palestine’s bid to upgrade their status to a 'non-member observer state.’
Even the 9 states that voted against the resolution, and the 41 states that chose to abstain, could not dampen the feeling of victory amongst the crowds. In the hours that followed, Ramallah’s streets were full of Palestinian citizens proudly waving their national flag and singing the national anthem.

Speaking directly after the announcement, one celebratory Palestinian in Ramallah said, "This day is the greatest day for our country. We feel so happy, actually we have been waiting for this day, we thank everybody that supported us and we’re looking to see our flag with all the worlds’ flags."
 
As expected the US and Israel voted against the resolution, along with Canada, the Marshall Islands and Panama, amongst others. Britain and Germany were among the 41 states that chose to abstain.
 
An hour before the result Abbas addressed the General Assembly; in his speech he reminded all of his commitment to the two-state solution. He said that the bid was "aimed at trying to breathe new life into the negotiations”.
 
Conversely, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintained that Abbas’ address in New York did not include “the words of a man who wants peace”.
 
This day is the greatest day for our country. We feel so happy, actually we have been waiting for this day, we thank everybody that supported us
 
The submission comes one year after the failed attempt by President of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, to secure full member-state status at the UN. He returned this year, but with a somewhat watered down version of last year’s hopes.
 
Unlike the ambitious bid of last year, Thursday’s success needed only a majority vote within the General Assembly, bypassing the Security Council, and therefore America’s opportunity to veto.
 
Even the submission of the bid has not been done without a struggle. Palestine has been against some of the world’s biggest forces. A lot is at stake, with America and Israel working together on their reactions.
 
Prior to the Thursday night’s verdict, Israel had already issued threats to freeze the tax revenues it collects on the PA’s behalf in the wake of the bids success. It has however relinquished earlier threats from Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, to topple Abbas.  America cut the funding from the UN body UNESCO earlier this year after their recognition of Palestine as a state. After Abbas’ previous UN bid, the US Congress froze $200m of aid to the Palestinians.
 
During pre-vote celebrations in Ramallah, Ramzi Rabah, Peru of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, commented on Israel’s threats, “for Israel, force is the only language, they will pressure our economic life, stop our money, but we have no choice, but now all the UN, all the Arab people, will support us, all the people that love peace and freedom, Israel will be surrounded by political and popular movements, they will lose every day.”
 
During a press conference, the PLO assured the world’s media that they had plans in place to counter Israel’s response to the bid’s success. Although they refused to go into much detail, they suggested that they would look to Arab countries and the EU for support in the event of economic sanctions. A PLO spokeswoman commented on Israel’s threats, 'I can’t call them retaliation steps; I call them punitive and illegal steps.’
 
Palestine refused to adhere to mounting pressures to soften the wording of the submission. In a last ditch attempt, Netanyahu changed his steadfast refusal to acknowledge any proposal submitted to the General Assembly, and tried to insert certain clauses, namely that Palestine would  renounce seeking membership to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
 
In Wednesday’s press conference, the PLO Spokeswomen commented on this potential move, saying, "When we know where we are heading, we will respond, if Israel isn’t guilty of war crimes, than it has no need to fear the ICC."
 
After Palestine was denied justice by ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in 2009 on the basis that only a 'state’ could file a claim in the court, the international recognition of Palestine as a state could lead to new hopes of making Israel accountable for its actions.
 
At a recent event commemorating the death of Fatah founder Yasser Arafat, Abbas said 'Israel’s hysterical reaction to our UN bid is due to its desire to continue the occupation and we are under pressure of late from multiple parties to waive our just demand, but we will not.’
 
For Palestine, the bid has seen two unlikely allies joined together, with Abbas claiming support from Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, as well as Islamic Jihad leader Mohamed Hindi. Wednesday’s PLO press conference emphasised the priority of internal unity after the announcement of the vote.
 
The question that remains is whether the UN bid is worth it? Although Abbas seems to perceive the General Assembly’s decision as crucial in Palestine’s fight against the occupation, the vote may be more symbolic in nature.
 
Whilst it may strengthen Palestine’s position against Israel’s illegal occupation, as well as opening many avenues for Palestine to seek remedies from within the UN framework, many believe realistically the status upgrade will have little effect on the ground, with some, predominantly the US, believing its success will be detrimental to any permanent peace deal.
 
Others, whilst not agreeing with America, do see such a move beforehand, as relatively un-important, recalling recognition as a state by the UN General Assembly does not necessarily mean recognition as a state under international law.
 
To really answer this question, all the world eyes will now be watching the reaction of the US and Israel. In the coming days the reality of the UN decision will become clearer.
 
Following the bid’s success, on Friday, a senior diplomatic source informed Haaretz  that Israel was  now planning to build another 3000 housing units on the new state of Palestine. Netanyahu may also advance halted plans to build in the controversial E1 area, linking Jerusalem to the third largest Jewish settlement 'Ma’ale Adumim’, despite numerous past promises to the US not to.
 
However, from the streets in Ramallah, it seems the Palestinian people have vested a great deal of hope in Thursday’s announcement. After the fallout from the presumed success of the UN bid, it will be Abbas’ job to translate these hopes from the paper promises of the international community into something tangible for the Palestinian people. Let’s hope he can manage their expectations ahead of any future elections.
 



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