(Updates with Rice comment in ninth paragraph.)
Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- As the Palestinian leaders prepare to plead their case for statehood recognition at the United Nations, they see it as an encouraging sign that Arab nations will be heading both the Security Council and the General Assembly.
“The stars are aligned in our favor and this happy coincidence just proves history is on our side,” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinians’ UN envoy charged to rally support for a resolution upgrading Palestinian UN status, said in a Sept. 9 interview in New York.
Lebanon, the only Arab country in the 15-member Security Council, presides this month in the group. Qatar takes over the yearlong presidency of the 193-member General Assembly next week, shortly before Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will walk on the podium to tell attending world leaders why Palestine should join the ranks of member states. Israel was accepted into the fold in 1948.
For the 76-year-old Palestinian leader, scheduled to address the General Assembly on Sept. 23, it’s a congenial atmosphere, even though that does little to improve the odds of a Palestinian-state resolution getting through the Security Council, where the U.S. has said it will deploy its veto.
Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have said that establishment of a Palestinian state, living in peace alongside Israel, should be worked out through direct negotiations. Peace talks broke down last September when Netanyahu refused to extend a partial 10-month construction freeze in West Bank settlements and the Palestinians said they wouldn’t resume talks as long as building continues.
The Palestinian leaders decided to act on their long- threatened statehood effort as a pro-democracy wave of popular uprisings has swept away long-standing regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In doing so, they are defying U.S. objections and a threat from Congress to cut aid.
In Cairo today at a meeting with the 22-member Arab League, Abbas is expected to unveil specifics about how he plans to proceed, Mansour said.
His two options, which are not mutually exclusive, are to take a stab in the Security Council for full member-state recognition -- in the face of a U.S. veto threat -- or to seek a vote in the General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s observer status from “entity” to “non-member state.”
A General Assembly vote to grant UN recognition of a Palestinian state would set back U.S. Mideast diplomacy. Taking the matter to the UN “is ultimately a self-defeating course,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told reporters today in Washington. “A showdown in New York could have adverse, negative consequences.”
The Obama administration has been trying to ward off a showdown over the issue at the UN, a setting historically sympathetic to the Palestinians. About 140 of the 193 member states are likely to support the bid for statehood recognition in the General Assembly, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said Sept. 4.
Obama’s Middle East envoy, David Hale, failed to persuade Abbas to drop the UN bid at a meeting last week. Middle East envoy Tony Blair, representing the quartet of the U.S., the European Union, the UN and Russia, is still working on a deal to restart peace talks with Israel and derail a vote on statehood.
“They are cooking something,” Abbas said in a Sept. 8 interview at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He said the package would have to be based on the West Bank’s 1967 borders with agreed-upon land swaps and include a freeze on Jewish settlement construction, which Netanyahu has rejected.
For Abbas, the timing for a membership bid is ideal from a procedural standpoint.
Last time Arab nations held both UN leadership seats was in December 2006, when Qatar took the helm at the Security Council and Bahrain presided over the General Assembly. There have only been four other presidencies in the UN’s 66-year history that befell Middle Eastern countries: Bahrain in 2006, Iraq in 1982, Lebanon in 1958 and Iran in 1950.
In the case of Qatar, the man in the hot seat then and also today is Nassir Al-Nasser, a 57-year-old diplomat who has served as his country’s envoy to the UN for more than a decade.
On getting elected as president of the General Assembly in June, Al-Nasser was asked by reporters about the intentions of the Palestinian Authority. He was non-committal and said it was up to member states to make their own decisions. His government has come out in support of the membership bid.
Lebanese ambassador Nawaf Salam inherits the rotating presidency of the Security Council at an awkward time, given his country’s pro-Syria government. The decision-making body is discussing a resolution backed by the U.S. and European nations to impose sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over a six-month crackdown that has killed more than 3,000 people.
Still, the diplomat airs his views on Palestinian statehood.
“We recognize the state of Palestine and the majority of UN members state have recognized the state of Palestine,” he told reporters on Sept. 2 on his debut as president. “We believe that international community should join efforts to help the Palestinians end the occupation of their territory and to be able to gain its independence.”
The Palestinians have long lobbied individual nations to recognize a Palestinian state.
On July 27 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas told the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council, which acts as a legislative body, that 122 nations have recognized their state within the boundaries that existed before the 1967 Middle East war, which include the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Netanyahu has agreed in principle to a Palestinian state, subject to security guarantees and Palestinian recognition that Israel is a “Jewish state.” He has resisted Obama’s formula of accepting a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines that would involve negotiated land swaps to adjust for major Jewish settlements in the West Bank and security needs. The future of east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, is one of the most contentious issues in the peace process.
The General Assembly can’t compel an individual UN member nation, such as the United States, to recognize a state of Palestine. “On the contrary,” said Jim Phillips, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, “member states may completely ignore or disregard any GA vote on recognition of Palestinian statehood as they often do other resolutions.”
Israel may respond to Palestinian statehood efforts by taking steps that hurt the “sustainability” of a Palestinian government, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said at a conference today, without giving details.
Separately, lawmaker Ofir Akunis, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Israel should formally annex the West Bank if Palestinian leaders declare establishment of an independent state.
--With assistance from Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv and Nicole Gaouette in Washington. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow
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