The UN General Assembly in September is once again shaping up as a “hot front” in Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic skirmishes, with the PA saying it will seek non-state membership in the General Assembly, and Israel responding that such a move would elicit a tough response.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki announced the move on Saturday.
The PA is hoping that a vote in favor of its application to the General Assembly, where the Palestinians enjoy the backing of more than 130 countries, would pave the way for taking the case back to the UN Security Council to seek full recognition of a Palestinian state.
Such a move would have no impact on the ground, but would go a long way toward furthering the Palestinian goal that any future state should be based on the June 4, 1967, lines, something Israel opposes.
A similar statehood bid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the Security Council last September failed when the Palestinians were unable to secure the backing of enough members to even force a US veto.
Malki said that Abbas, who is scheduled to address the annual meeting of the General Assembly on September 27, will file the new application.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not decided whether he will attend the UN General Assembly meeting.
The general debate begins on September 25, the morning before Yom Kippur.
Abbas will not ask the General Assembly to set a date for holding a vote on the application, Malki said. By refraining from demanding a vote, Abbas is hoping to avoid a confrontation with the US, which according to top PA officials is strongly opposed to the new unilateral statehood bid.
Although Malki did not say when the PA would ask for a vote on its new statehood bid, he told reporters in Ramallah: “In the year 2012 we will achieve a state that enjoys the status of nonmember of the UN.”
Israeli government officials slammed the intended move, with one official saying “the Palestinians will be doing no one a favor, least of all themselves, if they chose to go to the UN. And if they do so, they will be violating their most fundamental commitment in the peace process.”
The official explained that since the Oslo process began in 1993, the process has been based on a letter from Yasser Arafat to Yitzhak Rabin promising to renounce terrorism and “resolve all outstanding issues through negotiations.”
“Refusing to negotiate and unilaterally trying to change the status is a direct and deliberate violation of the whole peace process up until now,” the official said. “Israel reserves the right to respond if it indeed occurs.”
The official refused to say how Israel would respond, but AP last week reported that an internal Palestinian document listed increasing restriction on Palestinian trade and movement as possible punitive Israeli responses.
The document also listed possible US reactions as a decision to close the PLO mission in Washington, suspend financial aid to the Palestinians or withhold contributions to any UN agency the Palestinians try to join, as was done when the Palestinians gained admittance to UNESCO last year.
The official said Israel was urging the international community to convince the Palestinians not to go down this track, and to make clear that it wanted to see an agreement come through negotiations.
The Jerusalem Post reported Friday on an internal Israeli government document last week reflecting anger in Jerusalem over the PA’s failure to respond positively to a number of recent Israeli goodwill gestures.
Instead, the document said Abbas was “unable to enter into negotiations that will require concessions.”
Malki said he was aware of US pressure to avoid going back to the UN. He denied that some Arab countries have been exerting pressure on the PA leadership to avoid another showdown with the Americans at the UN. Malki pointed out that Arab League foreign ministers who met last month in Qatar gave Abbas a green light to go ahead with his new move at the General Assembly.
Meanwhile, Ramallah is expected to host an emergency meeting Sunday of the “Palestine Committee” of the Non-Aligned Movement – the first gathering of its kind in the West Bank since the establishment of the PA in 1994.
The Non-Aligned Movement, which has about 120 members, is a group of countries considering themselves not aligned formally with or against any major power bloc.
Twelve out of 13 countries that are members of the “Palestine Committee” are expected to dispatch representatives to the meeting.
Malki said new Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amru would deliver a speech at the conference, which he described as an historic event because it was being held in Ramallah for the first time.
Abbas, who is also expected to address the conference, will seek the backing of the Non- Aligned Movement for his plan to seek the status of nonmember state at the upcoming General Assembly session in New York, the PA foreign minister said.