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EDITORIAL: Palestinians throw down the gauntlet

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Palestinians throw down the gauntlet

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The die is cast. President Mahmoud Abbas announced earlier last week that the Palestinians would apply for full membership at next month’s meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.
“The application will be submitted to the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,” he told a news conference in Sarajevo on Tuesday, on ending a three-day visit to Bosnia during which he asked for support for the UN bid. “There is no date. Any time during the UN session we can submit the application.”
With the United States-backed peace process paralysed, Abbas’ plan is to apply for full UN membership for a state of Palestine in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.
Palestinian officials have presented the plan as a move towards levelling the playing field with Israel in future negotiations. The Palestinians began talks with Israel two decades ago with the aim of establishing an independent state. Very little has happened since then.
Months of speculation whether the Palestinians would actually go ahead and make a formal bid for statehood at the UN next month now seems certain.
The failure of the peace talks and Israel’s continued pursuit of policy detrimental to Palestinian rights had forced a rethink of what could be done beyond the lockdown in the situation. Ultimately, the success of this hubristic move rests on how the United States responds.
Israel has condemned the UN bid as an attempt to isolate it and undermine the legitimacy of its own statehood. The United States, Israel’s main ally, also opposes the initiative, seeing it as unhelpful to efforts to bring about a negotiated end to the conflict. It is expected to use its UN Security Council veto to block the application.
Anticipating that outcome, Palestinian officials have said they will also apply for an upgrade in their UN status to that of a non-member state. Such an upgrade would not require Security Council approval and could be achieved by tabling a resolution in the General Assembly.
Since it is highly unlikely that the United States will move away from this stance and alienate Israel, the Palestinians may only be accorded a non-member status if it gains approval from the General Assembly.
While this is a symbolic gesture, it does upgrade the Palestinians’ status and would allow them to become a full member of all UN agencies. More significantly, the move could in future strengthen the Palestinians’ standing in their negotiations with Israel and may even force direct negotiations.
In any event, several failed attempts to launch peace talks and Israel’s refusal to concede ground even on issues where Palestinians have the backing of international law are enough reason for seeking of an independent state status from the UN. But we would not hold our breath!

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