Congressional resolutions oppose unilateral Palestinian state

The American Jewish Committee is applauding passage by the House and Senate of similar resolutions decisively rejecting the Palestinian leadership’s campaign to seek recognition of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

“We pay tribute to the House for passing, by an overwhelming majority, this critically important and timely resolution declaring that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can be achieved only through direct negotiations,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “We note, too, that the House resolution follows last week’s equally welcome Senate resolution similarly urging the Palestinian leadership to abandon its dangerous unilateral campaign.”

H. Res. 268, introduced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), was passed by a vote of 407 in favor, 6 against. The resolution called upon the administration to announce that it would “veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood that comes before the United Nations Security Council which is not a result of agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians.” It urges the Palestinian leadership to “resume direct negotiations with Israel immediately and without preconditions,” adding that a continued UDI campaign would “have serious implications for the United States assistance programs for the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority.”

In its letter to members of the House of Representatives in support of the resolution, AJC stated that “only through direct negotiations with Israel can the Palestinians fully realize their national aspirations. Any attempted shortcut, either at the UN or elsewhere, will only delay a solution, thus unnecessarily prolonging the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians who desire to live in peace and security.”

An independent declaration of a Palestinian state, the AJC argues, will make it harder for the two parties to negotiate and compromise in the future.

Hezbollah officials indicted

Rafik Hariri. U.S. Defense Department photo

A UN tribunal has indicted Hezbollah officials in Lebanon for the 2005 murder of  former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Rafik Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri, also a former Lebanese prime minister, is calling the indictment an “historic moment” and is demanding of Lebanon’s now Hezbollah-led cabinent that it abide by the indictment and turn the four who have been charged.

Spirited protests continue in Yemen

Protests in Yemen continue unabated

Hundreds of thousands of people continue to take to the streets in Yemen demanding reforms, despite the temporary departure of embattled President Ali Abudullah Saleh for treatment in Saudi Arabia for wounds received during a mortar attack on the presidential palace.

But instead of seizing the moment by unifying against the government, the various factions that comprise the opposition remain splintered.

One one issue they seemingly are expressing a degree of unity. They want Saleh’s sons, and other top aides, to step down and leave the country.

That seems highly unlikely, given that Saleh reportedly is preparing to return to Yemen. He’s expected to give a speech soon, and that address will likely outline his vision for the nation’s future.

The United Nations is recommending dialogue between the dissidents and the government, something the government at least says it’s willing to do. The Security Council is, finally, speaking with one voice on the issue, expressing its “grave concern” over the situation in Yemen.

The EU is weighing in, too, asking all sides to agree to a cease-fire and to respect human rights. But even as the international community urges reconciliation, the government has posted a substantial reward for the capture of leaders of an opposition group it believes is responsible for the bombing of an oil pipeline.

Meanwhile, the escape of more than 60 al Qaeda terrorists from a prison has led to the arrest of the prison director.

Fatah-Hamas impasse puts UN vote in jeopardy

Hamas rejected Fatah's Salam Fayyad as head of new unity entity. World Economic Forum photo

By JONATHAN WOLFMAN

Last week I reported here that Hamas and Fatah leaders were to meet June 21 to finalize their pact. That meeting is now canceled and no one knows if the delicate merger will be realized.

The groups had run into a sticky patch over who would lead the combined group. Fatah has proposed its prime minister, Salaam Faayad. The Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, rejected the idea of Faayad as the new group’s leader. Ethan Bronner in the New York Times reports that Hamas considers Mr. Faayad a “stooge of Israel and the West…[and a] criminal.”

This impasse is seen in the Near East as a potential killer of the hoped-for UN vote on Palestinian statehood. The Obama administration has warned Abbas that “going ahead with the unity government” would jeopardize all American aid to Palestinians managed by Fatah. That sum totals nearly half a billion dollars, and has hovered in that area for many years.

So, “while the desire for unity is widely shared” in the West Bank (Fatah), and in Gaza (Hamas), there is no clear path, now, toward that unity aside from rhetoric.

Might a Palestinian statehood vote at the UN be thwarted?

Abbas favors negotiations. UN photo

There are indications that support for a  unilateral vote for a Palestinian state may be stalling.

The president of the EU Parliament, during a West Bank visit on Tuesday, termed such a vote “dangerous.”

And even the Palestinians are seemingly backing off.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority seems to be moderating his position, having told a meeting of Socialist International delegates that he prefers negotiations over a UN vote. But he continues to put the blame for a failure for talks to proceed on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, the the event that a vote does take place, Israel is reportedly pressuring governments to vote against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

Hamas launches media campaign against Ban

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. World Economic Forum photo

Hamas is upset with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The terrorist organization controlling the Gaza is targeting Ban for his suggestion that a planned humanitarian flotilla, designed to break the Israeli security barricade, would not bring sufficient supplies to the people of Gaza. And would be counterproductive, confrontational and might possibly result in violence. Moon is asking governments in the region to prevent the flotilla, planned for later this month, from sailing.

Hamas is terming Ban’s communique a “dangerous deviation” from the UN’s founding principles. Hamas is calling on Ban to instead demand that Israel end the “siege” and support steps to transfer humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

The Popular Committee to Break the Siege on Gaza issued a press release on the Hamas website holding Ban responsible for the safety of Freedom Flotilla It charges that Ban is endorsing “Israeli piracy” by encouraging Israel to attack the flotilla.

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center says Rami Abdo, a European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) activist and one of the central figures organizing the flotilla, denounced the UN secretary-general’s appeal in a television interview. He said that the flotilla was a “popular activity” of civilian organizations and that governments could not prevent it from sailing, the center said.

The center says Zaher al-Birawi, Hamas activist living in Britain, who also serves as a spokesman for the International campaign to Break the Siege on Gaza, emphasized that the UN should protect the flotilla instead of inciting people against it.

French try to bring Israelis, Palestinians to table

Alain Juppe in Israel

By JONATHAN WOLFMAN

The French are making a last ditch stab at bringing Israel and Palestinians to negotiations before an expected September UN vote on Palestinian statehood.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, met with his Palestinian counterpart and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. He hopes to bring the sides to a Paris negotiating table by early July.

The negotiations would call on President Obama’s outline for a possible settlement as a basis for discussion. Juppe said he “slightly optimistic” about the outcomes of the talks.

Juppe also met with the parents of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

UN: Israel not doing enough for Palestinians

Gaza City. World Bank photo by Natalia Cieslik

By TALA DOWLATSHAHI
Talk Radio News Service

UNITED NATIONS – UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos Tuesday implored Israel to do more for the Palestinians living in the occupied territories and Israel.

The call follows her meeting with senior Palestinian officials and Israeli defense representatives in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“During the mission I witnessed first hand the impact on the Palestinians and was deeply disturbed by what I saw,” Amos said.

“I recognize Israel’s concern about security, but the impact on Palestinians is devastating,” she said.

Amos was gravely concerned about the ongoing attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers which she added are rarely prosecuted. She underlined that many Palestinian families still lack appropriate medical facilities and schools and children’s well being is being undermined.

“Certainly for me, in part of the West Bank, the economic development is clear, but there are pockets of displacement where people are lacking access to basic services. With respect to Gaza, the humanitarian situation is quite clearer – over one million people are dependent on food aid.”

Amos was questioned on the Israeli blockade. She responded that in her conversations with Israeli defense officials she talked in particular about the planning and zoning laws and she underscored the impact of the daily policies on Palestinians “…would not be something they would want to live with.”

On the Rafah crossing, she said there were some discussions about opening the crossing for the movement of people.

“Palestinians are frustrated and cannot move about freely,” Amos said. “In my meeting with Israeli defense ministers I stressed the forced eviction of civilians is illegal by international law. Freedom of movement can facilitate economic growth.”

The UN General Assembly is expected to vote on a free Palestinian state in September.

Countdown to September: Israel, the Palestinians and the UN

UN General Assembly. Lara Torvi photo

By AMBASSADOR DORE GOLD

The public debate in Israel over the Palestinian plan to seek UN support for statehood in September is based on a fundamental misconception: the UN General Assembly cannot by itself establish or recognize a Palestinian state. It can admit new members to the UN only after they have been nominated first by the UN Security Council, where any of the five permanent members could veto the nomination.

The current Palestinian effort at the UN, moreover, seems redundant. The UN General Assembly already recommended the creation of a Palestinian state on December 15, 1988, and has even insisted on the 1967 lines. The 1988 resolution was backed by 104 countries; only the U.S. and Israel opposed it. But this and other past resolutions (including one as recently as December 18, 2008) did not create a new legal reality, nor did they change anything on the ground.

In 1998, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was confronted with a plan by Yasser Arafat to declare a state in 1999, the Israeli government warned that such a move would constitute “a substantive and fundamental violation of the Interim Agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians (the Oslo II agreement). It issued a formal statement saying that if such a violation occurred, then Israel would be entitled to take all necessary steps, including the application of Israeli law to settlement blocs and security zones in the West Bank.

Oslo II clearly established that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations” (Article 31). The European Union actually signed Oslo II as a witness. Can EU countries then become active participants in changing the status of the territories whose fate is supposed to be determined only by negotiations?

Israel must firmly oppose the September initiative in the General Assembly, even if the Palestinians already have the votes. It must make absolutely clear that this move is no less than a material breach of a core commitment in the Oslo Agreements, as the Israeli government asserted in 1998. Only a strong Israeli response will deter Abbas from going further down the road of unilateralism.

The public debate in Israel over the Palestinian plan to seek UN support for statehood in September is based on a fundamental misconception: that the UN General Assembly can decide about the existence of new states. Contrary to widespread beliefs, it was not the UN General Assembly that formally established the State of Israel. UN General Assembly Resolution 181, also known as the Partition Plan, from November 29, 1947, only recommended the establishment of a Jewish state. It was an important moral boost for the Jewish people. But the actual legal basis for the creation of the State of Israel was the declaration of independence by David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians speak about the UN “recognizing” a new Palestinian state this September. Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah Central Committee member, referred to the PA gaining recognition for a Palestinian state from two-thirds of the UN member-states. In early 2011, Riad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, expanded on the idea of UN recognition: “Such recognition would create political and legal pressure on Israel to withdraw its forces from the land of another state that is recognized within the 1967 borders by the international organization.”

Indeed, because Abbas wants international recognition to cover both the West Bank, where his government rules, and Hamas-controlled Gaza, he felt driven to seek a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas just recently.

Yet, the General Assembly does not recognize new states either. It can admit new members to the UN only after they have been nominated first by the UN Security Council. If one of the five permanent members of the Security Council refuses to support the admission of a new state to the UN, then there is nothing the General Assembly can do about it.

Kosovo is recognized by at least 75 states, but Russia refuses to support its admission to the UN, so it is not a UN member state. The General Assembly has recognized the right of self-determination of national movements; it has accepted different national movements as representing peoples with national aspirations. But the UN General Assembly cannot by itself establish or recognize a Palestinian state. It can only make recommendations for other states to follow in their bilateral contacts.

It should be pointed out that the current Palestinian effort at the UN seems redundant. The UN General Assembly has already recommended the creation of a Palestinian state in the past. It even insisted on the 1967 lines. On December 15, 1988, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 43/177 which acknowledged “the proclamation of the State of Palestine” by Yasser Arafat at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers on November 15, 1988. It was a virtual state, since it did not meet any of the minimal conditions that international law has determined must be met in order for a political community to be recognized as a state. Nonetheless, the UN went ahead and tried to grant some sort of status to Arafat’s declaration.

The 1988 UN resolution affirmed “the need to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their sovereignty over their territory occupied since 1967.” It was backed by 104 countries; only the U.S. and Israel opposed it (36 countries abstained). Since that time, other UN General Assembly resolutions, as recently as December 18, 2008, reaffirmed the rights of the Palestinians to an independent state. But all these past resolutions did not create a new legal reality, nor did they change anything on the ground. Moreover, they did not alter the fundamental fact that UN Security Council Resolution 242 from November 1967 still stood out as the only agreed basis for every Arab-Israeli peace agreement since 1979. Resolution 242 did not demand of Israel to pull back to the 1967 lines.

There are several reasons why the Palestinian leadership is pursuing this UN strategy. First, Mahmoud Abbas has been convinced that the UN route allows him to obtain a Palestinian state on a silver platter without having to actually stand up in a hall in Ramallah and issue a declaration. He told Newsweek’s Dan Ephron, in an interview published on April 24, that he is not prepared to declare a state by himself, if the UN General Assembly adopts a resolution on Palestinian statehood. Abbas prefers to be passive and let the international community do all the work. He is not following the sequence of state-creation practiced by Israel’s leader, David Ben-Gurion, in 1947-48.

Abbas knows there are risks if he decides to unilaterally declare a state. In 1998, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was confronted with a plan by Yasser Arafat to declare a state, when the five-year interim agreement was to expire in 1999, the Israeli government warned that such a move would constitute “a substantive and fundamental violation of the interim agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians (the Oslo II agreement). It issued a formal statement on November 11, 1998, saying that if such a violation occurred, then Israel would be entitled to take all necessary steps, including the application of Israeli law to settlement blocs and security zones in the West Bank. At the time, the U.S. and Israel deterred Arafat’s declaration. This also raises the question: if the 1988 declaration was really a meaningful act, then why did Arafat plan on making another declaration of independence in 1999?

This September, Abbas can say that he is not responsible for what the UN does, but at the same time is looking forward to 130 states or more recognizing the new Palestinian state, in the aftermath of a UN resolution. Under such conditions, he obtains the benefits of statehood without having to take responsibility. It is normal state practice that states only recognize a new state that has already been declared.

If Abbas leaves the UN General Assembly in New York after receiving support for a Palestinian state, but does not issue a declaration of statehood in Ramallah, then there could be legal limits on how states respond to this situation. For that reason, there are Palestinian spokesmen who try to put forward a legal argument that Abbas does not have to declare a state because Arafat already made the declaration in 1988.

The real importance of any new UN General Assembly resolution is the follow-up the Palestinians pursue. Abbas’ advisors are probably reading doomsday scenarios in the Israeli press that Israeli settlements and military bases in the West Bank will no longer be “occupiers” but rather “invaders” in a sovereign state.

Might Israel be subject to sanctions? It would be irresponsible to dismiss these ideas completely, but to take these next steps, the Palestinians would need the UN Security Council. The Obama administration may not like Israeli settlements, but it is not about to support UN resolutions treating Israel like Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Besides, after pushing a resolution in the General Assembly in defiance of Washington, Abbas will have little credit left to ask for new Security Council actions.

Palestinian diplomatic strategy at the UN has always been based on gaining qualitative support for pro-Palestinian initiatives and not just quantitative backing. In other words, it was not enough for the Palestinians and the Arab bloc to win 130 votes in the UN General Assembly based on the Non-Aligned Movement. Something is clearly missing for the Palestinians if they can only rely on countries like Cuba, Yemen, and Pakistan. For that reason, the European Union’s support for their resolutions is always pivotal. Moroever, many states, like Japan or Argentina, will decide how to vote on the basis of what the European Union decides to do.

Yet, the EU and certain pivotal states in the international community will have certain problems with Abbas’ move, though these concerns are not always apparent on the surface. In the UN system, new states have been admitted when they resolved bilaterally their differences with those states with which they have fundamental disputes. Thus Bangladesh could only become a UN member when it resolved its conflict with Pakistan, of which it was once a part.

Europeans are sensitive to the dangers of premature recognition of states in unresolved conflicts, because of their own experiences. The Yugoslav Wars (1991-1995) were ignited when Germany recognized Croatia and Slovenia, prior to solving the problems created by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. And Spain was reluctant to recognize Kosovo, because it feared the precedent that it set for Basque separatists.

According to Der Spiegel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is urging Abbas to refrain from a unilateralist course at the UN.3 Abbas cannot take EU support for his September UN bid for granted.

There is another factor that can affect European attitudes, in particular.

The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, also known as Oslo II, clearly established that “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations” (Article 31).

The European Union actually signed Oslo II as a witness. How can the EU then support a Palestinian initiative at the UN which violates this core commitment in an international agreement, when the EU itself is a signatory to the agreement in question? Can EU countries go ahead and recognize a Palestinian state when they then become active participants in changing the status of the territories whose fate is supposed to be determined only by negotiations?

Moreover, because the Palestinians would be violating a signed international agreement with Israel by going to the UN in pursuit of unilateral change of the status of the West Bank and Gaza, they would be engaging in a clearly illegal act. There are implications from this for how states treat the issue of recognition. For example, states strictly adhering to international law would have grounds to deny recognition to a Palestinian state. After all, there is a general principle of law, noted by Professor Malcolm Shaw, that an “illegal act cannot produce legal rights.” Furthermore, according to the Second Restatement of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States (1981), a state is required not to recognize or treat as a state any entity which has “attained the qualifications of statehood in violation of international law.”

Abbas is hoping that European political interests in backing the Palestinians will trump the question of legality. He also wants to change the political context of his struggle with Israel to his favor. He is hoping that any reference to the 1967 lines will weaken the resolve of the Israeli public. He wants to influence the public debate and get Israelis to accept the inevitability of a full withdrawal from the West Bank. He is hoping that Israelis will draw parallels between a UN General Assembly resolution this September and the partition resolution from 1947 and thereby create political momentum that will put new pressures on the Israeli government to make concessions that previous Israeli prime ministers thought would be unwise.

In this sense, Abbas’ move is aimed at shaping the political context of the diplomatic struggle between Israel and the Palestinians in the future in the Palestinians’ favor. He is hoping that the Obama administration will be more reluctant to use the U.S. veto at the UN Security Council if he can obtain an overwhelming vote in his favor at the UN General Assembly. What this means is that Israel’s countermoves should be aimed at affecting the terms of the international debate that Abbas is trying to shift. This is as much a struggle about political consciousness as it is about international law.

What Should Israel Do?

What should Israel do? It must firmly oppose the September initiative in the General Assembly, even if the Palestinians already have the votes. It must make absolutely clear that this move is no less than a material breach of a core commitment in the Oslo Agreements, as the Israeli government asserted in 1998. It cannot leave any doubts about how serious it views Abbas’ move, especially if the UN resolution he seeks mentions the 1967 lines, thereby predetermining Israel’s future borders, without any negotiations, as called for in the Oslo Agreements. It must make clear that Abbas has chosen unilateralism over a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as called for in previous signed agreements.

As an additional step, Israel should ask the Obama administration and Congress to reconfirm the April 14, 2004, U.S. letter to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which specifically ruled out a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and promised “defensible borders” for Israel in the future. The letter was confirmed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress in June 2004.

Obama has neither embraced nor renounced the 2004 letter. Israel is not helpless if the Palestinian leadership takes hostile diplomatic action against it. Only a strong Israeli response will deter Abbas from going further down the road of unilateralism.

Dore Gore, a former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.