Will UK Support Palestine at UN?


by Martin Linton

Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has 48 hours to decide how to vote in the United Nations on enhanced status for the Palestinians after the failure of a UK-US-Israeli attempt to impose a condition that the Palestinians would never apply to join the International Criminal Court or Court of Justice.

The 193 states of the UN will vote in the General Assembly on Thursday on whether to recognise Palestine as a state and the motion is already assured of a good majority as 136 states already recognise Palestine on a bilateral basis.

The UK supported an attempt at the weekend to make the Palestinians accept three conditions: that they would resume peace talks "without pre-conditions", that they would not ask for UN membership and that they would not apply to join the ICC or ICJ.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had already stated that after the vote he would resume peace talks which broke down last year over the Israeli's refusal to suspend the expansion of illegal settlements while talks are in progress.

But the Palestinians were dismayed that Britain, with its traditional belief in fairness, should be involved in what they regard as a disreputable attempt to deny them access to justice as the price of admission to the international community.

Although the Palestinians have never expressed any intention to use enhanced status to pursue past war crimes, they certainly hope ICC membership will act as a deterrent on the Israelis to stop them committing future war crimes.

Israel is not a party to the ICC treaty so it would not apply within the boundaries in Israel, but if a Palestinian state were able to join the ICC actions of the Israeli occupation force in the West Bank and the Israel Defence Force within Gaza could be referred to the ICC.

Palestinians can see no reason why the UK should want to exempt Israel from possible actions for breaches of international law in the occupied Palestinian territories given that the UK constantly protests to Israel over breaches of international law.

According to an Israeli official, the attempt to impose the conditions broke down when President Obama's team invited the chief Palestinian negotiator Saed Erekat to Washington last week to discuss the proposed conditions.

"Erekat told the American that he didn't have any time and that he would speak with them after the vote," said an Israeli official.

Britain has a long history of promising the Palestinians independence, going back to 1948 when Britain handed the Palestine Mandate back to the UN with the promise that they would support an independent state for the Palestinians.

The Foreign Secretary made it clear in the House of Commons in October 2011 that: "We believe in and want to see a Palestinian state."

He said he would not be tied to the American approach: "There are differences between us and the United States in our approach to the issue. We voted in opposite ways on the resolution on settlements in February, and we have a different way of handling the Palestinian approach to the UN."

But in the last few months Hague has followed the Americans closely, even agreeing to make a forlorn attempt to persuade the Palestinians to withdraw the UN motion while President Obama was busy on his re-election campaign.

Hague repeated his plea in the House of Commons earlier this month, saying he was advising the Palestinians to withdraw "because of the possible reaction of the US Congress and the possibility of Israel withholding tax revenues".

This was a reference to the ­US Congress threat to block funding to the Palestinian Authority and Israel's threat to withhold tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, even though they legally belong to the Palestinians, as a reprisal for the vote.

The Palestinians regard this is as crude bullying and are saddened that the UK should act as a proxy for the Americans on this.

British public opinion is already overwhelmingly on the side of the Palestinians. 71% supported Palestinian statehood in an Avaaz poll and 59% said the UK should vote 'yes' to statehood at the UN with and only 8% saying 'no'.

An Avaaz petition in favour of Palestinian statehood now has 1.6 million singatures and after the Israeli assault on Gaza public sympathy is expected to be even greater.

If the UK votes for Palestinian statehood, it will help to restore Palestinians' faith in the possibility of a political solution.

As a Palestinian diplomat said last week: "A vote against will be a clear signal to the Palestinian people that only armed struggle will bring achievements and the diplomatic political struggle is doomed to failure from the outset."

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said last week: "Labour urges the Government to support the Palestinians' bid for enhanced status at the United Nations at this month's General Assembly meeting. This is not an alternative to negotiations, but a bridge for beginning them."

The coalition is divided with Nick Clegg now asking for a 'yes' vote http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/25/uk-debate-palestinian-statehood-bid?INTCMP=SRCH

The European Union is equally divided with the French, the Spanish, the Scandinavian countries, Malta and Cyprus expected to back the Palestinians and Germany expected to vote against.

On hearing William Hague refuse to back the Palestinians, his predecessor as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told him earlier this month: "I find his reason for that refusal utterly incomprehensible. It is not that I disagree with it; I simply do not understand why our voting for the resolution would make the situation worse. Surely it would make it much better.

"Israel pockets any concession made by the West to accommodate its position and then not only does nothing but makes the situation worse."

Sandra Osborne and other MPs pointed out that in seeking to discourage a vote on observer status at the UN, the Foreign Secretary was undermining those Palestinians who sought a peaceful solution and bolstering Hamas and other extremists.

Despite Hamas' apparent espousal of violence, Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal telephoned President Abbas last week to confirm that Hamas supports the UN bid.

Hamas announced Friday that it would grant an amnesty to all suspects and prisoners related to its conflict with Fatah in 2006. The Palestinian Authority responded with a similar gesture, saying it would release all Hamas prisoners held for political reasons in the coming days.

Palestine Liberation Organisation official Nabil Shaath also said that Hamas party representatives in the West Bank would begin to participate in high-level political meetings, including sessions of the executive committee of the PLO.

Martin Linton is a writer and lobbyist focusing on the Middle East. To see his Blog click HERE 

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