x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Arab League backs Palestinian UN statehood plan

Arab League foreign ministers, meeting yesterday in Doha, said they would support the Palestinian bid to seek full membership at the United Nations this autumn, setting up a probable confrontation with the United States.

RAMALLAH // The Arab League yestterday endorsed a Palestinian plan to seek full membership at the United Nations this autumn, setting up a probable confrontation with the United States in the UN Security Council.

Negotiations with Israel on the terms of Palestinian statehood have been frozen since 2008. As an alternative, the Palestinians have decided to seek UN recognition of an independent "Palestine" in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Arab League foreign ministers, meeting yesterday in Doha said they would support the Palestinian bid. The announcement came two days after the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation urged the Arab League to meet its financial obligations to the Palestinian Authority so it could pay its salaries.

In their statement yesterday, ministers to the 21-member regional bloc pledged to "take all necessary measures and to rally needed support of all world countries, starting with members of the Security Council, to recognise the state of Palestine … and to win full membership of the United Nations."

"Comprehensive and just peace with Israel will not be accomplished unless Israel withdraws from all occupied Arab territories," it said.

There was no immediate official reaction from Israel or the United States to the decision. However, the United States, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, has strongly hinted it would veto a Palestinian membership request. A US veto would derail a quest for full UN recognition.

As an alternative, the Palestinians could go to the General Assembly and seek recognition there as a non-member observer state, a largely symbolic nod. Still, widespread support in the General Assembly would signal that a majority of countries support Palestinian statehood in the pre-1967 lines.

After yesterday's announcement, the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians would appeal to both bodies, beginning with the council. "We hope the United States will not use its veto against this decision," he said.

Speaking from Doha, Mr Erekat said the Arab ministers decided to form two committees, one to work on procedural matters and the second to rally international support for the Palestinians.

Taking on the US is potentially risky for the Palestinians, since Washington is the main Mideast mediator. Already, there is a move in Congress to cut off funds millions of dollars in aid if an emerging Palestinian unity government includes the militant Hamas group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the West.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejects a full withdrawal from the occupied lands, where some 500,000 Israelis have settled since 1967, including 300,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem. Mr Netanyahu says Israel will never relinquish East Jerusalem, which he considers an integral part of its capital. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but continues to control its borders, sea and air space.

Palestinian officials acknowledge a victory at the UN would not immediately change the situation on the ground, but they believe a strong international endorsement would step up pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied territory.

Israel and the United States say a Palestinian state should be formed through a peace deal with Israel.

The latest significant round of peace talks broke down in late 2008. At the time, Mr Netanyahu's predecessor and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had agreed on the principle of swapping some West Bank land for Israeli territory, in order to enable Israel to retain some major Jewish settlements. However, the leaders were far apart on the extent of such a swap, and other key disputes, including the fate of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have said they will not resume talks unless Israel agrees to freeze settlement construction and accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a peace deal. Israel says issues like settlements and borders should be on the negotiating table.

* Associated Press with additional reporting from Bloomberg