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George Baumgarten

Inside the UN 's Palestine Vote- Short of Full Membership, and Much Closer Than It Seems

George Baumgarten, United Nations Correspondent, Dec 2, 2012

Inside the U.N.’s Palestine Vote:
      Short of Full Membership, and Much Closer Than It Seems

When the United Nations General Assembly voted—by a seemingly overwhelming margin—to upgrade the status of Palestine to what is called an “observer state”, it handed them what they are touting as a great victory, and an episode of great progress. This will put them on a theoretically equal footing with the Holy See, as the Observer Mission of the Vatican is known at the U.N. In fact, these two observers sit side-by-side on the side of the General Assembly Hall, apart from the alphabetically-listed member states, and this is not likely to change. But the vote was closer than it may seem. And the “progress” may be—at best—illusory.

The story actually begins a year ago, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with somewhat grander initial ambitions, attempted to gain full membership for his “state” in the U.N.’s General Assembly. Abbas had refused to negotiate further with Israel, while the Israelis engaged in any “settlement activity” (This position, of course, ignored the fact that Israel had voluntarily instituted a “settlement freeze” for ten months in 2009-’10.). In any event, that first attempt failed, because of its need to be approved by the Security Council.
     The procedure to apply for U.N. membership is actually perfectly clear in Article 4.2 of the U.N. Charter, which specifies that
     “The admission of any state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a
      decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council”

The Security Council must pass such a “recommendation” by a vote of at least nine of its members (provided, of course, that none of the five permanent members vetoes the resolution). In the case of Palestine, it was known that the U.S. would surely veto the resolution, if necessary. However, if there were not nine affirmative votes, the U.S. was thought likely to abstain. At that time, in late 2011, it all came down to the vote of Bosnia & Herzegovina, which then held the Eastern European seat on the Council. Its leaders could not agree on one position, so the Bosnians would have had to abstain. Knowing this, it was never brought to a vote in the Council, so Abbas decided to go a year later to the General Assembly. Deciding not to act until after the U.S. election, the Palestinians decided to have the vote on 29 November, the 65th anniversary of the famous Partition Resolution of 1947 (General Assembly Resolution 181[II]).

 The Palestinian “Observer”, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, held a press conference on Tuesday, 27 November, two days before the vote in the General Assembly. At that press conference, he assured us that after the vote passed, their priorities would be on negotiations (“First Priority, Second Priority, Third Priority”).

As the vote approached, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that France would support the resolution. Fabius justified the French action in the name of “consistency”, citing actions as far back as that of the previous French Socialist President, Francois Mitterand, in 1982. Fabius did warn, however, that “…only through the unconditional and immediate negotiation we’re calling for between the two sides will it be possible to achieve a Palestinian state in reality”.

Great Britain, on the other hand, decided to abstain, as Foreign Secretary William Hague informed the House of Commons on Wednesday the 28th.He also cited the need for “…a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state” , reminding the Commons that “This is the only way to secure a sustainable end to the conflict”. And German Ambassador Peter Wittig came to us at the press “stakeout” outside the General Assembly Hall just before the vote, and assured us that Germany, too, had decided to abstain. Among the Low Countries, Belgium and Luxembourg voted Yes, while the Netherlands abstained. In general , Western European countries generally voted Yes, while their Eastern European colleagues abstained.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was the first of the “principals” to speak, followed by Israel’s Ambassador, Ron Prosor. In his speech, Abbas spoke (as his various representatives always do) of the unfulfilled promise of the 1947 U.N. “Partition” resolution. That was why he was coming back to the United Nations. Then he described what he called “…the incessant flood of Israeli threats in response to our peaceful , political and diplomatic endeavor…”. All Israel’s fault, all one-sided. As though all the rockets from Gaza to Sderot and elsewhere in the Negev… had never flown or even been launched.
      Abbas continued further in the same vein:
     “We have not heard one word from any Israeli official expressing any sincere concern to save the peace process”, and
     “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: Enough of aggression, settlements and occupation”.

Abbas”s “opposite number” from Israel was its Ambassador, Ron Prosor. A long-experienced career diplomat whose previous post was as Ambassador to Great Britain, Prosor has made it an emphatic policy of his Ambassadorship to respond to every provocation or insult from Israel’s adversaries. He opened his address by noting that he stood “…tall and proud because I represent the world’s one and only Jewish state”. He quoted the biblical instruction “seek peace and pursue it” (Bakesh shalom ur’dafehu), and added that “Peace fills our art and poetry. It is taught in our schools”.

     But citing the Palestinians’ repeated rejection of peace efforts, Prosor said
    “In fact, President Abbas…I have never heard you say the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’.
    Because the Palestinian leadership has never recognized that Israel is the nation-state of  the Jewish people”.

 And further pointing up the futility of the Resolution, he said that it violated a commitment that “all outstanding issues in the peace process would only be resolved in direct negotiations”.

 At this point, the General Assembly suspended all speeches to vote on the issue. The Resolution passed, by a vote of: 138 in favor, with only 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Panama,

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