x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Arab states seek UN call for business boycott over settlements

Arab states and the Palestinians are set to call on the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel's settlement policy and endorse a boycott of settlement businesses.

TEL AVIV // Arab states and the Palestinians may as soon as this week submit an official call for the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel's settlement enterprise and take steps such as calling for a boycott of settlements' businesses.

The success of such an initiative is likely to significantly increase pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction and tarnish the country's international image should it persist in insisting on continued expansion.

Representatives of Arab states at the UN in New York convened on Thursday and Friday to begin drafting their statement, which they plan to distribute to the members of the security council in coming days, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported yesterday, citing an unidentified Israeli foreign ministry official.

Israel is deeply worried by their move because of uncertainty that the US, the country's most powerful ally and one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, may not rush to exercise its veto power against such a resolution, the newspaper reported.

Israel is also concerned that even if the resolution does not pass, it may encourage individual countries to impose their own sanctions against settlements, the report said.

The initiative comes as Israel is increasingly drawing more condemnation even from its few regional allies. Yesterday, Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, blamed Israel for the deadlock in the peace negotiations. Mr Mubarak, whose country is one of only two Arab states - the other is Jordan - that have signed peace agreements with Israel, warned Israel that its security depends on peace rather than on occupation or force.

The bid for a UN resolution against settlements and Mr Mubarak's criticism are a boost to the Palestinians' escalating campaign to pressure Israel to freeze building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank to restart peace talks.

Direct negotiations between the two sides started on September 2 but were suspended three weeks later when Israel rejected the Palestinian demand to extend a 10-month partial settlement freeze that expired on September 26.

The US, which has brokered the direct talks, is now pursuing a return to indirect negotiations after it failed to persuade Israel to implement another temporary moratorium.

However, the Arab League's peace process committee last week announced in Cairo that it opposes talks between Israelis and Palestinians without a "serious offer" from the US on how to make them succeed.

While it remains unclear whether the US would support a UN Security Council resolution against the Israeli settlements, Haaretz cited the foreign ministry official as saying that it may be difficult for Washington to veto it.

According to the official, such a statement would conform to the stance of the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, which opposes Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

A veto may make it appear as if Washington is bowing to pressure by the pro-settler government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, according to the report.

In the meantime, the US efforts to reignite indirect talks appear to be bearing little fruit. Late on Saturday, Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian negotiator, told reporters that the peace process was in a "deep coma" and that US proposals for restarting the talks were "totally useless".

"I don't think we are to assume the negotiations soon," Mr Shaath said. "The peace process is in a deep coma ... there is no more credibility in this negotiation process. This is an exercise in futility." In parallel to the UN Security Council resolution, the Palestinians are also exploring other alternatives, including asking the UN and individual countries for recognition of their future state without waiting to reach an agreement with Israel.

On Friday, Bolivia joined Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in recognising Palestine within the borders of the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War - namely, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians also last week asked several European Union countries for such recognition, although no response has yet been made public.

Some Palestinian officials, however, are still holding out hope for the negotiations track. Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, told Israeli television's Channel 2 in an interview over the weekend: "It is possible to get this process to move forward as long as there is dialogue on the core issues."

Mr Fayyad also played down speculation that the Palestinians may step up their campaign for unilaterally seeking international recognition of their future state. "We are looking for a state of Palestine, not a unilateral declaration of statehood," he said.