Israel is actively working in key capitals around the world to prevent the Palestinians from participating in a UN arms trade treaty conference taking place in New York as a full-fledged state, and not merely as an observer, western diplomatic officials said Tuesday.
According to officials, Israel has lodged demarches in various capitals urging they work against seating the Palestinians as a state at the meeting, which aims to hammer out a binding treaty to regulate the global weapons market. The officials said Israel has let it be known that it would block the results of the treaty if the Palestinians were granted state status.
The treaty must be approved unanimously, so any one country can effectively override the deal. However, such a veto could eventually be bypassed by a two-thirds majority vote in the UN General Assembly.
“What this move shows is that the Palestinians have not given up on pursuing UN membership or on the unilateral UN track,” one Western official said.
The maneuvering at the arms trade treaty conference comes just days after UNESCO listed the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site under the name “Palestine.” So far it is the only UN agency that has accepted the Palestinian delegation as representatives of a state.
Since it suffered a cutoff of US funds as a result of that move, one diplomatic official said, the Palestinians set their sites not on UN agencies but rather on state accreditation at lesser UN meetings – such as the recent Rio+20 Earth Summit.
The Palestinians tried to gain the status of state at that meeting, but were outmaneuvered procedurally and were not successful, according to Israeli officials. The same type of wrangling is now taking place around the arms trade treaty meeting.
According to western officials, Israel, the US, Canada and the Netherlands are leading the charge against the Palestinian move. Egypt is the country that asked for the Palestinians to be recognized as a state.
The European Union is still discussing the issue, with some EU countries – such as Finland – in favor, and others, such as the Netherlands, opposed. Some European countries, Sweden for instance, are opposed on procedural grounds, feeling that if the Palestinians want UN statehood they need to go through the “front door” and gain admittance through approval by the Security Council. The Palestinians failed in their gambit for statehood last year at the council.
The arms trade treaty meeting is being held to try and curb the global weapons market, valued at more than $60 billion a year.
Arms control campaigners say one person dies every minute as a result of armed violence around the world and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities.
If they get their way, all signatories would be charged with enforcing compliance with any treaty by companies that produce arms, and with taking steps to prevent rogue dealers from operating within their borders.
They say conflicts in Syria and elsewhere cast a shadow over the talks, reminding delegates of the urgency of the situation.
While most UN member states favor a strong treaty, there are deep divisions on key issues to be tackled in the treaty negotiations, such as whether human rights should be a mandatory criterion for determining whether governments should permit weapons exports to specific countries.
Arms control advocates say a strong treaty is long overdue.
“It is an absurd and deadly reality that there are currently global rules governing the trade of fruit and dinosaur bones, but not ones for the trade of guns and tanks,” said Jeff Abramson, director of the Control Arms organization.
Reuters contributed to this report.