Update – 22 September 2011

Posted by Emily Gian on 22 September 2011 at 1:53pm:

Dear All,

This update might well be called “The UN vote on a Palestinian State: A Tale of Two Newspapers”.

On Tuesday, I read the editorials of our two local broadsheets and, not for the first time, I gained the impression that The Australian and the Age were viewing two different situations when they provided their perspectives on the issue of a Palestinian State.

Please read ‘The UN vote is a risky sideshow’ and ‘Paralysis puts future Israeli security at risk’ and see below this article for a comprehensive coverage on the issue from our local newspapers.

As world leaders have come to meet at the United Nations in New York, we wait with bated breath as to what will happen in terms of the Palestinian’s unilateral bid for statehood. As it stands today, it would appear that any vote on a Palestinian state either in the United Nations Security Council or the General Assembly could still be weeks away as the United States attempts to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table (see more).

US President Barack Obama met with Palestinian President Abbas yesterday in New York where he told him that UN action would not achieve Palestinian statehood. In a statement following the meeting, Ben Rhodes, the White House national Security Council spokesman declared, “We would have to oppose any action at the UN Security Council, including, if necessary, vetoing” (see more).

Senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath declared that “the UN is the only alternative to violence”, which one supposes does nothing to allay fears that should the UN bid not be successful a Third Intifada could break out in the West Bank. One might also suppose that the sentiment implies a threat of violence if the PA doesn’t get 100% of everything for which it is asking which of course, probably explains its reluctance to negotiate with Israel because this concept does not incorporate any of the elements needed in seeking resolution to a conflict by way of compromise. To my knowledge, this tactic is acceptable to many others in the world only when it applies to the PA and its negotiations with Israel. Only Israel is obliged to buckle under in such circumstances even when the matter at hand concerns the vital issue of the security of its citizens.

Shaath continues, “it will be very costly to use and the Israelis. Our new heroes are Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King” (see more).  Quite frankly, I find these references offensive in this context but there’s no accounting for the bad taste of some PA negotiators. Invoking the methods of Gandhi and King by suggesting violence is indicative of the tragic state of the Palestinian leadership and its contempt for its own people.

In the meantime, it seems that the Palestinians will still submit their plan tomorrow to the United Nations Security Council and give them a few weeks to mull over it before taking it to the General Assembly. The UN Security Council comprises of five permanent member states, China, France, Russia, The UK and the US, all who have the power to veto any resolution brought to the table. It also consists of ten non-permanent members, and this position is currently held by Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Columbia, Gabon, India, Lebanon, Nigeria and South Africa. The Palestinians would need the approval of nine of these 15 countries in order to be granted full UN membership. At this stage, the United States is working hard to ensure that the Palestinians do not have a majority so that they will not have to use their veto power. It has been reported that Russia, China, South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon will most likely support the Palestinian’s bid for recognition but that the US might still be able to persuade Portugal, Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria in exchange for US economic aid (see more).

Yesterday, US President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Addressing the issue that peace can only be achieved by a return to the negotiating table he stated, “Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements ands resolutions at the United Nations – if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians – not us – who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem. Ultimately, peace depends on compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied” (see more).

Following this address, President Obama held a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. President Obama reiterated, “Peace cannot be imposed on the parties. It’s going to have to be negotiated. One-sided declarations in the United Nations will achieve neither statehood nor self-determination for the Palestinians”. PM Netanyahu thanked him for his efforts and made it clear that the PA’s attempt to shortcut peace negotiations through the UN will not succeed (see more).

To give this issue some Australian context it should be noted that just yesterday our own Prime Minister Julia Gillard had an Op-Ed published in the Australian entitled ‘Direct negotiations are the true path to peace in the Middle East’ where she declared, “if a Palestinian statehood resolution is introduced to the General Assembly we will consider it carefully and will consult widely before making our decision on how we will vote. But no UN resolution will change present realities on the ground. That is why we believe direct negotiation is the only true path to peace”.

I have read many interesting articles pointing to the legalities of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence, and I will point you in the direction of two articles that very succinctly argue that there is no legal basis for recognition for a Palestinian state at this stage, and therefore do not qualify for UN membership. The first is a piece by Tal Becker, who works as a legal advisor to the Israeli Ministry, entitled ‘International Recognition of a Unilaterally Declared Palestinian State: Legal and Policy Dilemmas’. The second is a piece that appeared in today’s Australia but originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal entitled, ‘The legal case against Palestinian Statehood’ by David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey, who are Washington D.C lawyers.

The second article points to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. Article 1 of the convention declares “the state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states”.

Rivkin and Casey argue that “as of today, the PA has neither a permanent population nor defined territory (both being the subject of ongoing if currently desultory negotiations), nor does it have a government with the capacity to enter into relations with other states. This pivotal requirement involves the ability to enter and keep international accords, which in turn posits that the “government” actually controls – exclusive of other sovereigns – at least some part of its population and territory. The PA does not control any part of the West Bank to the exclusion of Israeli authority, and it exercises no control at all in the Gaza Strip”.

For these reasons, the Palestinian Authority has no legal basis for statehood.

When one of Israel’s most celebrated authors, Amos Oz, was in Melbourne in early August, he spoke of the notion of Israel being the first country in the United Nations General Assembly to say “yes” to a Palestinian State. Negotiations could come later.

As I sit here at the University of Melbourne surrounded by the literature of Oz, Yehoshua, Grossman and other great Israeli authors, I can imagine that in the wonderful world of story telling, this would be the perfect ending. But this is not the world of novels, and in any event, most of Oz’s own stories do not have a fairytale ending. Here in the real world, we need to understand that a vote of “no” at the United Nations is not a vote against peace but a vote for peace. It sends a strong message to anyone that understands conflict and conflict resolution, that peace can only be achieved through negotiation and negotiation is the only way to a true and lasting peace based on a two-state solution.

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Best wishes,


Selected Coverage in Monday’s Local Papers:
UN folly of Palestinians ignore progress post Oslo – Yuval Rotem, the Australian
Statehood is the path to peace – Izzat Abdulhadi is ambassador and head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific – The Australian

Selected Coverage in Tuesday’s Local Papers:
The UN vote is a risky sideshow’ – The Australia
Paralysis puts future Israeli security at risk’ – The Age

Selected Coverage in Wednesday’s Local Papers:
Gillard urges Abbas to talk – The Australian
Stately procedure wrongfoots U.S. – The Australian
Last-minute bid for Middle East talks as vote looms – The Australian
Direct negotiations are the true path to peace in the Middle East – PM Julia Gillard, The Australian
Australia likely to vote no to Palestine – The Age
Israel urged not to take out ire on Palestinians – The Age

Selected Coverage in Thursday’s Local Papers:
PM told to stop delay on UN vote – The Australian
Recognition of Palestine could backfire on UN – first appeared in the Wall Street Journal as: The legal case against Palestinian Statehood – David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey – The Australian 
US peace ploy thwarts Palestine – The Australian
A friend of Israel must vote no to Palestinian State – Greg Sheridan, The Australian
Obama in UN push to revive Middle East talks – The Age
Israel a nation of contrasts on Palestinian state bid – The Age
Palestinian statehood not yet a solution – The Age Op-Ed by Irwin Cotler

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