Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

UN vote on PA upgrade to "non-member state" status

YOU ARE IN: Home Page > Topics > Israel

Update from AIJAC

November 29, 2012
Number 11/12 #06

The Palestinians introduced a much-anticipated resolution giving "Palestine" a status of "non-member state" at the UN General Assembly on Monday.  A vote is expected today, New York time, which is Friday here, and the Australian Government's decision to abstain has been much in the news given that Prime Minister Julia Gilliard was reportedly forced by cabinet and caucus colleagues to abandon her own preference to vote "no". This Update is devoted to analysis of the significance and likely effect of the resolution - which is widely expected to pass easily.

First up is the always lucid David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee - comparing and contrasting the Palestinian UN bid to another UN milestone whose anniversary is this week - the 1947 UN partition plan resolution for Palestine. One crucial difference he notes is that the 1947 decision was the result of months of "intensive investigation into the best outcome for two competing nationalisms -- Jewish and Arab", unlike the current Palestinian bid. He also points out that the Palestinian bid, in its unilateralism, seems to have more parallels with the Arab decision to reject and defy partition in 1947, than with the partition resolution itself. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE.

Next up a noted Israeli peace negotiator and a noted senior Israeli general team up to thrash out the effects of the UN bid on the peace process and Israel's relations with the Palestinians more generally. They conclude that the chances that the move will in any way enhance peace prospects are "slim to none", that it detracts from the"negotiations, hard work, painful compromises, and constructive measures" genuinely needed, and that, even for the Palestinian side, the change in legal status has a number of clear downsides, including possibly making Palestianian leaders legally liable for terrorism, and weakening the PA's claim to represent disapora Palestinians. They call for an agreed temporary delay in the UN process in an attempt to start a negotiating process that could lead to a joint resolution, acceptable to Israel, that would  include agreed language on key final status issues such as border and security arrangements. For their analysis in full, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Canadian historian Prof. Gil Troy addresses one of the key arguments being made for supporting the resolution - namely that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement could use the boost the resolution might bring them in Palestinian public opinion, especially as the only alternative appears to be Hamas. He offers a number of reasons that, despite such arguments, the move is a bad idea: the motives for it look justifiably suspect from an Israeli point of view, this move will likely cause Israeli positions to harden and  exacerbate other pathologies that prevent progress and make peace more difficult, and it amounts to a repudiation of the Oslo Accords. He places this latest move in the context of the process in the UN in the 1970s, whereby the Soviet-Arab coalition essentially ruined any hope of the world body ever playing a constructive role in Middle East peacemaking by using their numbers in it to spearhead a campaign to delegitimise Israel. For the rest of Troy's insightful discussion, CLICK HERE. Another argument that the bid is not a good way to strengthen Abbas against Hamas comes from Jonathan Tobin of Commentary.

Readers may also be interested in:

 


A Fateful Week for the Middle East

 

David Harris

Huffington Post, Posted: 11/26/2012 

 

This week ushers in two significant events.

The first is a milestone anniversary. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly, by a vote of 33 in favor, 13 opposed, and ten abstentions, endorsed Resolution 181, otherwise known as the Palestine Partition Plan.

That plan recommended the division of the land, then under British mandatory rule, into two states -- one Jewish, the other Arab.

While the Jewish side was unhappy that the proposed boundaries of the Jewish state reduced the land envisioned in the 1917 Balfour Declaration to one-eighth its original size, it nevertheless accepted the plan.

However, the Arab world rejected the very notion of partition, since it would not accept the legitimacy of any sovereign Jewish entity in the region.

The Iraqi delegate to the UN stated, "I wish to put on record that Iraq does not recognize the validity of this decision."

His view was echoed by his Syrian counterpart, who declared: "Gentlemen, the [UN] Charter is dead. But it did not die a natural death; it was murdered, and you all know who is guilty. My country will never recognize such a decision."

Their defiant views were rejected by a decisive majority of UN member states at the time. Nor did they find sympathy with UN Secretary General Trygve Lie.

In his memoirs, In the Cause of Peace: Seven Years with the United Nations, he wrote: "The partition of Palestine and the consequent creation of the State of Israel became one of the most dramatic chapters of early United Nations history. As Secretary-General, I put the full weight of my office consistently behind the Organization's decision from the time it was first taken."

Later, in describing the actual events of May 1948, the Secretary-General stated: "The Arab states launched their invasion of Palestine with the end of the [British] Mandate. This was armed defiance of the United Nations [emphasis added], and they openly proclaimed their aggression by telegraphing news of it to United Nations headquarters."

Why is it so important, 65 years later, to recall these events?

First, to underscore the UN's deliberative process. In 1947, the UN acted only after intensive investigation into the best outcome for two competing nationalisms -- Jewish and Arab.

Second, to bear in mind that a two-state solution was the recommendation of the UN itself, and that the Jewish side accepted it both in principle and in practice.

And third, to remember that it was the UN Secretary-General who labeled the Arab military response, seeking the annihilation of the fledgling Jewish state, "armed defiance of the United Nations."

Now fast forward to this week.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded recognition of "Palestine" as a non-member observer state of the UN, a status currently held by the Holy See and previously by Switzerland, until it became a full member in 2002.

The issue is expected to come before the UN General Assembly on November 29, the same day, 65 years ago, that the world body endorsed the Partition Plan.

But unlike that plan, this Palestinian gambit was not the result of UN study missions and months-long discussions involving a range of countries. On the contrary, it is a Palestinian idea, endorsed, predictably, by the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which will have no beneficial impact on the ground.

If the Palestinian Authority today is serious about overcoming its many past rejections of a two-state deal, then progress can only be achieved at the negotiating table with Israel, the other party to the conflict.

Turning instead to the UN is actually avoidance diplomacy, bypassing the one party that really counts.

Since 1947, history has moved on. Unlike the situation then, today a Palestinian state can only emerge as a result of direct talks between the parties themselves.

Those nations truly committed to advancing the peace process should therefore think twice about what the Palestinians are asking them to endorse.

Support for this Palestinian move will only give license to the internationalization of the conflict, open the doors for an upgraded "Palestine" to wage war against Israel in the International Criminal Court and other UN agencies, and thereby widen, not narrow, the gulf between the parties.

And finally, what exactly constitutes the borders of Mr. Abbas' "Palestine"?

For example, do they include Hamas-ruled Gaza, which he purports to represent but has been unable to enter for over five years, and over which he has no governing authority?

Yet even assuming he did represent it, how could he explain to UN member states the recent deadly violence that emanated from Gaza? This was a brazen act of aggression against Israel, a UN member state - an act which Mr. Abbas has refused to condemn.

Having made one tragic mistake in 1947 by spurning a proposed two-state deal, will the supporters of the Palestinian cause now make another in 2012 by rebuffing Israel's latest offer to negotiate a two-state deal, and instead seek a UN end-run that will lead nowhere?

Given the record, I wouldn't bet against it.

David Harris is Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, and a Senior Associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford.

Back to Top
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mahmoud Abbas' UN Gambit will not Bring Peace

Gilead Sher and Amos Yadlin

INSS Insight No. 388, November 27, 2012

Amidst – or perhaps immediately after – the war in Gaza, international attention refocused on the Israeli-Palestinian political arena. On November 29, 2012 the PLO under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is likely to request a United Nations vote on international recognition of Palestine as a "non-member state" ("permanent observer") of the United Nations, resuming the statehood initiative that began last year. The date marks the anniversary of the 1947 General Assembly resolution on the partition of the British Mandate in Eretz Israel into two states – one Jewish and one Arab.

Abbas' appeal to the UN is expected to win a majority. Earlier this month, Sudan, which has systematically massacred its own people, was elected to the UN Economic and Social Council, which regulates human rights, women's rights, and freedom of speech, by 176 out of the 193 UN member-states. The UN – where the rotating presidency of the Security Council can be held by Libya, as in 2008 – is bound to vote by overwhelming majority in favor of the Palestinian Authority's request.

However, the likelihood that the Palestinian move may even slightly promote a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is slim to none. Peace and security are achieved through negotiations, hard work, painful compromises, and constructive measures – not via UN votes, upgraded UN statuses, speeches, or media interviews. This is true for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
While the acts of terrorism and indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas will not bring the reality of two states for two peoples any closer, neither will Abbas' move. The Palestinian bid, if approved, has serious implications for both sides.

The bid may lead to a strong reaction on Israel's part, e.g., cancellation of parts or all of the Interim Agreement (Oslo II), which was signed in 1995 but remains in effect in the absence of a permanent agreement. Since the PA was first established by the Oslo process, this may lead to its overall collapse – an outcome that would be welcomed by extremists on both sides. The lack of any contractual framework between Israel and the Palestinians might under extreme circumstances lead to efforts by the Palestinians toward the unilateral establishment of an armed Palestinian state that may endeavor to form military alliances with Israel’s enemies, conduct foreign relations, demand diplomatic immunities, and declare East Jerusalem the sole capital of the "Palestinian state." Such actions could lead to legal efforts to alter the status of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, including the large settlement blocs that both sides have largely acknowledged would be likely to remain a part of Israel as part of a negotiated settlement. Moreover, it would undoubtedly provoke unilateral Israeli measures in response, such as the application of Israeli law to Area C or economic sanctions by both Israel and the US, which, in the absence of a negotiated economic regime, may lead to the collapse of the already insolvent Palestinian Authority.

Moreover, although non-state members cannot vote in the General Assembly, upgrading the Palestinian Authority's UN status may enable it to join international treaties and various UN organizations and institutions. Significantly, it may pave the way for PA participation in international tribunals, most problematic of which is the International Criminal Court (ICC). Granting the PLO the ability to drag Israel in front of the ICC would enable any person or organization – not just PA officials – to open international criminal procedures against Israel. This might not only come to restrain future Israeli military activity, a measure of Israel's sovereign right to self-defense, but it would add yet another dimension to the international campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel.

The picture is likewise mixed for the Palestinians. First, Palestinian acceptance at the ICC would make it possible for Abbas and the PA to be held legally accountable at The Hague for the war crimes of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. Second, international law does not generally recognize a state's' “right” to represent minority groups that do not reside within its sovereign territory. The PA's current status as a UN “entity” allows for its broad representation of the Palestinian diaspora, including the many refugees scattered across Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and elsewhere. Elevating the PLO's status to a non- member state (permanent observer) within the 1967 lines will considerably hamper the Palestinian Authority's ability to portray itself as the legitimate representative of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants who are neither citizens nor permanent residents. Moreover, UN recognition of a Palestinian state may obviate the need for the existence of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and lead to the demand to cancel its mandate.

Opposition to Abbas' UN bid stems from its unilateral approach to what can only be resolved bilaterally – namely, a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. According to the principles of Oslo, the core issues in dispute must be resolved through a bilateral dialogue and a negotiated agreement between the parties. Both the Oslo Accords
and the Wye River Memorandum prohibit unilateral actions by either party that may infringe upon the rights of the other.

However, if Mahmoud Abbas were to suspend his appeal to the General Assembly in favor of coordinated progress, the United States or the Quartet could try to ensure future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the basis of the Clinton parameters, the Roadmap, or the Arab Peace Initiative, over a defined period of time agreed upon by all parties in advance. If exhaustive dialogue efforts fail to reach any mutual understandings, Abbas will be free to resume his UN initiative. If progress is made, a stronger joint Israeli- Palestinian appeal could be made to the General Assembly that includes the resolution of at least two core issues: borders and security arrangements. Such a move would be a positive step that complements, rather than contradicts, negotiations between the parties and the vision of two states for two peoples. Any such progress would enable the international community and the US to play a direct and constructive role in future negotiations and create a regional front against a nuclear Iran.

The Zionist vision of a Jewish homeland in Israel demands a democratic political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A demilitarized, stable, and prosperous Palestinian state alongside a Jewish and democratic Israel is a common interest of both sides. The chance for peace is more important than the UN gambit.

Gilad Sher and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin are respectively a senior research fellow at and the Director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Back to Top
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Center Field: Why Israel should say "N O" to the Palestinians' UN UDI

Gil Troy

Jerusalem Post,

After 8 days of Hamas missiles falling, after decades of Palestinian suicide bombings and hostage holding, Israel should be applauding Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s trip to New York. After all, he is turning to the United Nations, the global peace forum, to advance his people’s cause. Isn’t this what we begged the Palestinians to do, to fight for their rights honorably and peacefully not violently and despicably?
 
I wish I could cheer this move, then urge the Israeli government to do the same. A diplomatic war of words beats a violent war of swords. But I understand the Israeli disdain for this UN power play, requesting a General Assembly vote to make Palestine a “non-member observer state.” For the Palestinians to expect Israelis, Americans, or any self-respecting Westerners to applaud this UN move, is like a husband taking his wife to divorce arbitration, when he and the mediator are embroiled in a torrid, self-destructive affair – then condemning the wife for disrespecting “the process.”
 
There are three major reasons why peace-seekers the world over, not just in Israel, should encourage Mahmoud Abbas to seek affirmation elsewhere. First, Israelis are justified in doubting the Palestinians’ motives. Apparently, the Palestinians want to use their upgraded status to take Israel to the International Criminal Court.  This move would libel Israel without advancing the peace process.  Like so much of the Palestinians’ pathological campaign to delegitimize Israel, it will backfire, hardening positions.
 
Unlike so many professedly pro-Palestinians leftists, who treat Palestinians condescendingly as perpetual victims free of responsibility, I respect Palestinians as constituting a political community. They make choices and must accept the consequences of their actions. After trying to strip Israel of its good name for decades, they are paying the price.  Israel should doubt PA motives, question Palestinian credibility and block PA attempts to damage Israel politically.
 
Once again, the Palestinians’ delegitimization campaign undermines them. Rather than forcing Israelis to confront their own ambivalences about peaceful Palestinian moves, the nefarious Palestinian motives give Israelis a built-in denial mechanism. If the Palestinians accept two states, they need to learn what most Israelis learned in the 1990s:  their rivals are not going away. If, like good totalitarians, they want to continue deluding themselves, they are on the right path.
 
Similarly, the Palestinian decision, essentially to make a UDI, a unilateral declaration of independence, exacerbates another  Israeli-Palestinian pathology. Just as real respect entails Palestinians accepting the consequences of their actions, a real relationship involves Palestinians engaging in mutuality and not one-way deals.
 
Even though the Palestinian return to terror under Yasir Arafat undermined the Oslo peace process, Oslo still provides the fundamental organizing structure for the shadow state that currently exists in the West Bank, including the funding model bankrolling the PA.  Unilateral UN moves abrogate the Oslo treaties. If the PA breaks its vow, Israel should cut funding, or change the relationships the Oslo agreements established. Assuming that only Palestinians can act out, defy, violate, perpetuates an unequal relationship that when it hurts the Palestinians is incorrectly called “racism” and when it benefits them is called “justice,” equally incorrectly. Just as democracy requires rule of law, stable relations between rival peoples require basic consistency and fairness.
 
This Palestinian power play jeopardizes that fairness principle. The United Nations has consistently fed the Palestinians’ extremist fantasies – hurting the Palestinians, Middle East peace prospects, and the UN itself. The Palestinian cause has been toxic for the UN since the 1970s, when a Soviet-orchestrated coalition of propagandists and dictators muscled through the infamous Zionism-is-racism resolution on November 10, 1975. That is that the day the UN died in the eyes of many Jews and Israelis – along with many Americans and Western democrats.
 
America’s human rights representative to the UN at the time, Leonard Garment, called the Zionism-racism resolution “obscene.” Garment and the US Ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that this self-destructive UN decision would devalue the universal currency it established in pursuing human rights for all since World War II.  In August 1975, the Helsinki Accords launched a new appreciation for human rights as a tool for gaining international justice. Just three months later, the Zionism is racism resolution had the UN teaching how to use human rights rhetoric to bash an unpopular member state.
 
In succumbing to the Soviet-Arab agenda to delegitimize Israel, the UN became an obstacle to peace. Americans lost faith in the UN after a national outpouring of outrage against the resolution – and for Israel. Since then, the UN has rarely contributed to Middle East peace. The Third World dictators’ debating society would not even approve the breakthrough Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt, while the Oslo peace process began in Oslo – not Geneva or New York.
 
Failing to become the redemptive hope of humanity it promised to be after World War II, the United Nations empowered the Benighted Nations. It became an international joke, mocking its founding ideals by creating a Bizarro world, an inverse universe lacking moral gravity, hailing dictators and demeaning democracies.  The Benighted Nations welcomed thugs like Uganda’s Idi Amin and the PLO’s chief terrorist Yasir Arafat, sporting a holster. The Benighted Nations made Libya, Syria and other tyrannies human rights arbiters. The Benighted Nations encouraged Third World terrorism and Western appeasement
 
The Palestinians remain addicted to the perverse judgments of this corrupted UN, and the General Assembly majority continues to enable Palestinian extremism.  If the PA wants to distinguish itself from Hamas and pursue peace, Mahmoud Abbas should save the airfare and instead visit Jerusalem – as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did 35 years ago this month. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should similarly stretch and welcome Abbas with real negotiations not posturing.

 Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His latest book “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism” was just published.

 

Back to Top

Most recent items in: Israel