SPECIAL REPORT: JERUSALEM—Palestinian plans to go to the United Nations for unilateral statehood recognition continue to move forward, even as Israel continues to call for a renewal of peace talks and prepares in case the Palestinians follow-through with the UN. Arab nations are also continuing their prep work. An urgent meeting of the Arab League’s Arab peace initiative follow-up committee, at the foreign minister level, is now planned for next Tuesday (August 23) to discuss plans related to the UN approach.
According to the WAFA Palestinian news agency, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to be in attendance at the Arab meeting. The event comes in the context of preparatory work for the UN appeal, as well as what WAFA characterized as “intensive Arab talks” with foreign capitals for international support of Palestinian statehood recognition.
The meeting is set to be held less than a month before the annual UN meeting where the Palestinians are expected to make their statehood request. The UN Security Council is capable of issuing a legally-binding resolution on statehood recognition, but the US is expected to veto the move. In light of that, WAFA has reported in the past that the Palestinians are planning to turn to the UN General Assembly—which cannot issue legally binding edicts on the statehood matter—for an upgrade to nonmember UN status, which would enable them to join a number of UN organizations.
Meanwhile, with the Palestinians and Arabs moving towards the oncoming UN event, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made yet another appeal for Abbas to restart peace talks. Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev, speaking with The Mideast Update by phone, said the Israeli leader on Monday again invited Abbas to come to Jerusalem to negotiate.
Said Regev of Netanyahu, “He’s said he’s willing to go to Ramallah to negotiate, he’s said the only way to move forward in peace, the only way to overcome the problems, is through negotiations. But unfortunately the Palestinians have stubbornly refused to engage in peace talks, and I would ask them: How do you expect to make peace without talking?”
As for Israel’s diplomatic attempts to find allies in opposing Palestinian unilateralism and encouraging a return to direct peace talks, Regev said Israel is “engaging with many foreign governments.”
“Our message is clear: Israel wants peace, and we think the international community should do what it can to encourage the Palestinians not to walk away from peace talks,” said Regev. “Everything else is a mirage, there’s no other way to solve the issues that are on the table—only through negotiations. And so we think the international community should be sending a message to the Palestinians: It’s time to negotiate.”
He said Israel has met with different foreign leaders and different representatives of governments “from all continents.” Those diplomatic efforts obviously include European countries, a key diplomatic battleground ahead of a Palestinian UN effort.
The US has expressed its opposition to Palestinian unilateralism, while the Arab states and a number of those outside the West are expected to vote as a bloc in support of the move. That leaves Europe as giving the perception of being more undecided, as well as notably influential in terms of both moral and symbolic momentum either for or against the Palestinian diplomatic fight against Israel.
That’s significant since the battle doesn’t end with the UN. Following the expected Palestinian UN step, an international legal onslaught against Israel could be forthcoming. Without going into details, Regev said Israel is also considering “the day after” for a prospective Palestinian UN move. “We’re looking at all sorts of different scenarios, diplomatic and other, that’s the job of the government,” said Regev.
As for potential concerns, such as the potential for violence or international legal attacks on Israel, he said Israel is “looking at all the different implications and different scenarios and looking at our options.”
Looking ahead, it looks like the situation’s emotional intensity could only increase. The status of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital and yet also claimed by the Palestinians, is among the matters on which the Arabs are seeking to get global comment. WAFA said that the Arabs are seeking “to gain an international recognition of the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
The so-called 1967 borders were actually armistice lines between Israel and multiple Arab states, including Jordan in the West Bank and Egypt in Gaza, prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. While commonly referred to as borders, they have never been formal borders.
Regev said that Israel believes that all the core issues of the conflict, including Jerusalem, borders, legitimacy, refugees, settlements and security, should be “on the table for negotiations.” He noted that for the peace process to work both sides are going to have show leadership, creativity and flexibility, saying that Netanyahu is willing to do so.
Abbas has claimed that a UN move can work alongside peace negotiations, but the US, Germany and other nations are opposed to a UN approach. Israel sees it as hurting the peace process—both now and in the future.
Said Regev, “This Palestinian attempt to try to detour around negotiations is at the very best unhelpful and at the worst it could actually set peace back by putting extremist Palestinian positions into UN resolutions, making it much more difficult for any future Palestinian leadership to show flexibility in peace talks.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, August 17, 2011)