x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Palestinians defy Obama in UN bid for statehood

Despite warning from US president Obama that effort to win statehood will fail, Palestinian officials say Israel's intransigence leaves them with no choice.

US President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on Friday.
US President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on Friday.

JERUSALEM // Palestinian leaders vowed yesterday to defy Barack Obama in September by pursuing United Nations recognition for an independent state.

In a televised speech on Thursday the US president cautioned that such "efforts to delegitimise Israel" would end in failure and that abandoning Washington-brokered peace talks to seek UN support would not create a Palestinian state.

Nabil Shaath, a leading negotiator in the peace talks and a senior aide to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, dismissed the warning yesterday.

"Of course we will go to the United Nations," he said. "We urge President Obama to recognise the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. We are going to the United Nations in September, using all non-violent means.

"Especially after Netanyahu used the old pretext that he needs `defensible borders' to keep stealing our land, control the Jordan Valley and create demographic facts on the ground."

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, rejected Mr Obama's call for a Palestinian state to be negotiated on the basis of the borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The policy was a recipe for "a peace based on illusions", Mr Netanyahu said at the White House on Friday. "While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines - because these lines are indefensible."

The former chief negotiator in peace talks with Israel, Saeb Erekat, was also critical of the Israeli leader. "I don't think we can talk about a peace process with a man who says the 1967 lines are an illusion, that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, undivided, and he does not want a single refugee to go back," Mr Erekat said.

"What is left to negotiate about?"

The first public call by a US president for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, Mr Obama's new position is no small victory for the Palestinians. They have made this, along with a halt to Jewish settlement expansion, a key demand for returning to peace talks.

The policy, which includes mutually agreed land swaps in return for Israeli retention of West Bank settlements, confirms what US, Israeli and Palestinian leaders implicitly accepted in previous negotiations.

The idea has been backed by the European Union, Russia and the United States, which, with the United States, form the Middle East Quartet. European nations in particular have sought to relaunch the peace process using the Quartet, which set out a roadmap to peace under a land-for-security deal.

Israel would have to give up territory, while all Palestinian factions, notably Hamas, would have to recognise Israel's right to exist and end violence.

The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton "warmly welcomes President Obama's confirmation that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines", a spokeswoman said.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Mr Obama's speech was "a very important message for the Middle East peace process" and the proposal "a good path that both sides should consider".

In London, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he supported Mr Obama's "clear message that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps". France, Sweden and Poland also supported Mr Obama's statement.

Mr Abbas walked away from direct talks last September after Mr Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month slowdown in settlement construction, throwing the peace process back into limbo only three weeks after the negotiations were announced.

Mr Netanyahu was widely criticised for scuttling those talks, but the Palestinians may now risk antagonising the US - a major donor country - in their pursuit of UN recognition.

The effort may ultimately prove futile because the US has veto power in the Security Council, which must approve an applications for membership before the General Assembly can vote on it.

Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent independent Palestinian politician, said Mr Abbas had little choice but to continue with the statehood bid, especially given Palestinian frustration over the lack of progress in peace talks.

"I personally predict public opinion is bent on going to the UN," she said. "Netanyahu managed to undermine every single attempt at launching serious negotiations."

Mr Abbas has so far kept a low profile in response to Mr Obama's speech, apparently gauging the public's mood by instead allowing his aides to publicly voice their reaction. He was scheduled to leave for Jordan yesterday for talks with King Abdullah II.

Mr Abbas must also contend with a reconciliation process that will eventually incorporate Hamas into a unity Palestinian government. Hamas have rejected Mr Obama's speech.



* with additional reporting by Reuters, Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press