x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Palestinians appeal to EU over statehood recognition

As Israeli officials warned against approaching the UN, Palestinians asked the EU) to support a move to ask the UN to recognise their state

Palestinian police troops parade in Hebron during a rally marking the declaration of independence
Palestinian police troops parade in Hebron during a rally marking the declaration of independence

RAMALLAH // Palestinians yesterday asked the European Union (EU) to support a move to ask the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state even as Israeli officials warned in the strongest possible terms against approaching the UN. Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, said any such move by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation would be met with a strong reaction. "Whoever holds a unilateral policy with complete disregard for past accords will get the same from us," Mr Lieberman said. "Breach of accords will not go unanswered."

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli environment minister and a close aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said he thought Palestinian talk of declaring statehood on the 1967 borders was mostly meant for domestic consumption. Nevertheless, he said, Palestinians "are playing with fire". "If the Palestinians take such a unilateral line, Israel should also consider passing a law to annex some of the settlements," Mr Erdan told Israel Radio.

In this, he was echoing remarks by Mr Netanyahu who on Sunday had said any unilateral Palestinian measures would "unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel's side". But, Palestinian officials charge, it is a series of Israeli unilateral measures that has brought the Palestinian side to a point where the Palestinian leadership is prepared to bypass a negotiations process.

Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, embarked on a civilian settlement project in occupied territory in the mid-1970s, the number of Jewish settlers has more than doubled to a half million since the peace process started in 1993, and Israel is building a separation barrier, mostly inside occupied territory, that snakes its way around Jewish settlements, effectively, if not formally, annexing them to Israel. It was partly with all this in mind that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and head of the PLO, two weeks ago announced that he would not seek re-election.

The United States, he said, had failed to persuade Israel to end its settlement construction in occupied territory and thus engage in a meaningful peace process. Saeb Erekat, the PLO's chief negotiator, said on Sunday that the Palestinian leadership had reached the conclusion that 18 years of negotiations had been a failure and "Israel is not interested in a two-state solution". Other options were now open to the Palestinian people, he said, including asking the UN's Security Council to recognise a Palestinian state on 1967 borders, even if he was careful to distinguish that from a unilateral declaration of statehood.

"We are now facing a moment of truth. We will seek to pass this Security Council resolution and the activation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect the Palestinian people," Mr Erekat said yesterday. Yasser Arafat, the former Palestinian leader, twice toyed with the idea of a unilateral declaration of statehood, once in 1999 at the end of the formal period of the Oslo process, when Mr Netanyahu was prime minister the first time, and once in 2000, when Ehud Barak, the present defence minister, was the prime minister.

On both occasions Mr Arafat was dissuaded, partly after domestic and foreign pressure, and partly as a result of Israeli reactions. But on both occasions Palestinians and Israelis were engaged in what appeared, at least to the Palestinian leadership at the time, to be a substantive process. If what Mr Erekat says is true, that the Palestinian leadership no longer sees any hope for such a process, the entire strategy of the PLO is up for revision.

"This has got to be taken seriously," said Ghassan Khatib, the head of the PA government's media office, of the PLO seeking international recognition for a Palestinian state. "Israel has proven reluctant to embrace a two-state solution and has used the imbalance of power [between the two sides] to prevent any agreement from emerging in negotiations. "One alternative is to take away the responsibility for ending the occupation from the occupying power and putting it with the international community."

Mr Khatib said if Palestinians could find enough international backing for it, then a unilateral declaration of statehood on the 1967 borders could change the rules of the game because it would lend "clarity" to the situation and hence to the international community's role. "Israel would then be occupying the sovereign territory of a neighbouring country and the international community would be able to behave accordingly."

The choice first to ask the EU to support UN recognition is not surprising. In July, Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, said the international community should impose a solution on the parties if the current round of negotiations should fail to yield results. Although that is not the same as granting recognition to a Palestinian state, both tactics would presumably rely on the same UN resolutions for their legality, including UN Security Council Resolution 181, asserting the two-states-for-two-peoples formula, UNSC Resolution 242 rejecting Israel's occupation of land seized in 1967 as illegal, as well as General Assembly Resolution 194, which asserts the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

With or without EU support, any resolution in the Security Council would probably be defeated by a veto of the United States, an Israeli ally, despite US support for a two-state solution. okarmi@thenational.ae