Defiant Abbas expected to win UN vote
Artist in waiting … Abdul Hadi in the West Bank city of Ramallah paints a portrait of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Tests on samples from Arafat's remains are being tested for possible poison. Photo: Majdi Mohammed
RAMALLAH: Openly defying the US President, Barack Obama, and facing down Israeli threats to abandon the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, will submit a bid to the United Nations to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority on Thursday.
With the fragile truce with Hamas holding after a deadly eight days of missile strikes and rocket fire, Israel has intensified its campaign against the Palestinian efforts, lobbying European Union countries to oppose or abstain from the vote.
But its success has been mixed; the resolution is expected to pass with an easy majority of between 130 to 150 out of the 193 votes in the UN General Assembly.
Those opposing the bid are expected to include the US, Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic and possibly Germany. Britain is still negotiating with the Palestinians and reports indicate it may vote in favour if the Palestinians agree to abandon their plan to use their enhanced observer status to accuse Israel of war crimes in the International Criminal Court.
France announced it would vote in favour and Spain is expected to follow. Italy is expected to abstain, while Australia, in a departure from its previous ''no vote'', will also abstain.
Up to 12 to 15 European countries could vote in favour of the application, including Malta, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Luxembourg and Belgium, Israeli Foreign Ministry assessments indicate.
Benjamin Netanyahu's government has toned down its public threats against the Palestinian leadership with the earlier plan to announce the construction of another 3000 housing units in settlements put on the back-burner in the days leading up to the UN vote.
And the angry rhetoric from Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who recently said Israel should topple President Abbas if the vote was successful, has also disappeared. Along with threatening to abandon the Oslo Accords, Israel has, in the past, withheld the $US100 million ($96 million) in taxes it collects each month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
It is unclear how the Netanyahu government will respond to an upgrade in the Palestinians' UN status, with its spokesman, Mark Regev, saying: ''Israel's response will be measured.
''Israel is not against Palestinian statehood in the framework of peace and reconciliation but what they seem to be doing is divorcing statehood from peace and reconciliation.''
The peace process was based on a signed Palestinian commitment that all outstanding issues would be resolved through negotiation, Mr Regev said, and in going to the UN the Palestinians were breaking that commitment.
''If the Palestinians want to … break both the sprit and the letter of signed agreements they cannot expect Israel will not respond.''
Many observers, along with ordinary Palestinians, believe that Israel's conflict with Hamas last week strengthened the hand of the militant government in Gaza and showed that resisting Israel's military aggression was more successful than years of failed peace talks and negotiations.
It also appeared to shift some European votes, as countries moved to support President Abbas's diplomatic efforts over Hamas's rocket fire. Rather than a threat to the two-state solution, the UN move is an attempt to preserve it, the Palestinians said, in the face of Israel's expansion of settlements into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where more than 500,000 Israeli settlers live on land inside the 1967 borders.
Israel's actions had left the Palestine Liberation Organisation with few choices, Ghassan Khatib, an academic at Birzeit University in the West Bank and a former Palestinian spokesman said. ''Israel is proceeding with settlement expansion that is gradually eliminating the practical possibility of the Palestinian state and nobody is offering any way out,'' Dr Khatib said.
A recent poll of Palestinians found strong support for seeking enhanced status in the United Nations - 73 per cent were in favour, according to the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, which surveyed 1270 adults in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from September 13-15.
The poll also found that while 52 per cent supported a two-state solution (and 46 per cent oppose it), 57 per cent believed such a solution was no longer practical due to continued settlement expansion.
However, critics of the UN bid said the move would be largely symbolic and indicated President Abbas had abandoned all other peaceful options of reaching a resolution.
''Even after their status changed at UNESCO they have largely done nothing,'' Diana Buttu, a lawyer and analyst and former member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said.
''We are still in a crisis of legitimacy. The peace process is not only stalled … it died a long time ago and nobody wants to bury it, and he [Abbas] doesn't really have any alternative strategy as to how he is going to challenge this occupation,'' Ms Buttu said.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO executive committee, said the Palestinian Authority had not succumbed to ''pressure or blackmail'' to soften the wording of the resolution it submitted to the UN General Assembly.
After years of damaging infighting and deep political splits between the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority and the Hamas-led government in Gaza, Palestinians were presenting a united front at the UN, Dr Ashrawi said in Ramallah.
''We are telling the world … we have the right to self-determination and statehood and we will do so united … everybody is on board, every single faction, movement and party is on board with this move.''
The Palestinian people will have access to the international organisations and venues such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, but there were no immediate plans to submit a case to the court on Israel, Dr Ashrawi said.
''This is a non-violent commitment to a peaceful resolution and it has gained greater urgency because of what happened in Gaza,'' she said.
The permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said the Palestinian Authority would reopen the negotiations with Israel the day after the UN vote, as long as Israel agreed to stop settlement construction.