Palestine Pushes On at United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 9, 2011 (IPS) – Palestine plans to continue its bid to become a full member at the United Nations, even with the odds stacked against the Palestinians receiving the requisite nine votes from the Security Council.

“We are not the first country nor the last country that did not prevail from the first time,” Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., said at a media conference Nov. 3 about the upcoming vote.

Mansour said they would try again if they failed to receive the necessary votes for the Security Council to recommend the admission of the state of Palestine, as it was their “destiny”.

Palestine overcame another hurdle last week when it gained membership to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), but the U.S. government decided to withdraw funding to UNESCO following the decision.

“It was very unfortunate for the U.S. to withdraw funding to UNESCO,” Mansour said. “We are trying to become like others in joining this very important U.N. agency as a full member, to be involved in a collective process with the rest of humanity. That, in our opinion, would not be offensive to anyone nor harming anyone.”

“To punish UNESCO financially for this harmless act and legal act by the Palestinian side is beyond comprehension,” he added, saying that he hoped the decision would be reversed in some form.

“Our desire is to be admitted, to have a recommendation from the Security Council,” said Mansour.

“We hope that we prevail in the Security Council… so this is the reality of the matter and we want this exercise to come to a closure,” he said. But he acknowledged, in reference to what the U.S. has already made clear, that “this powerful country, regardless whether we have 14 votes in favour or one vote… will cast a negative vote against our application”.

Israel reacts

Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, said Israel’s decision to withhold taxes was further evidence of the bankruptcy of the Oslo-Palestinian Authority approach.

Following the UNESCO vote, Israel decided to withhold millions of dollars in tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority.

“It shows that this is really just an element of the occupation and that the occupied territories are still fully controlled by Israel and that this illusion of Palestinian autonomy is no longer an illusion,” Khalidi, an outspoken proponent of Palestinian rights, told IPS.

Khalidi added that the U.S. backlash in Congress was another example of the hysterical overreaction of elected officials who “have no idea of what’s really happening except for what they are spoon fed by Israeli propagandists on the Hill”.

“The membership of Palestine in the U.N. should be seen as a step towards the resolution of this conflict, towards putting the parties on the bases of greater equality and overcoming the 20 year and counting failure of the so-called peace process to actually produce peace,” said Khalidi.

“The idea that the Palestinians should go outside this path that has led them down the path of ruin should be welcomed by anyone who really wants a resolution.”

John Quigley, professor of international law and comparative law at Ohio State University, called the U.S.’s approach unfortunate and worried that if Palestine applied for other memberships, such as in the World Health Organisation, where the U.S. contribution is even higher than it is to UNESCO, further negative repercussions could follow.

“One positive thing in the UNESCO vote was that it was a substantial vote (France voted in favour),” Quigley told IPS.

“I think it establishes the fact that Palestine is accepted as a state in the international community and its statehood is a prerequisite to be a member of UNESCO. So that’s probably the most significant aspect of it.”

He added that Israel’s decision to withhold tax was a violation of the country’s obligation as a belligerent occupant, “as this is money that accrues to the Palestine government and the only reason Israel has it is because of military force is controlling the borders”.

“This is serious violation of the law of belligerent occupation. The Security Council should be taking sanctions over Israel as a result.”

A long process

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas submitted an application for U.N. membership on Sep. 23, despite U.S. officials’ urging Palestinians to direct peace talks with Israel instead.

“It will be about 50 days since our submission and nine meetings,” said Mansour, about the upcoming vote on Nov. 11.

“We believe that it’s a sufficient number of meetings to consider our application and it is time for the Security Council to act on this application.”

Mansour said they were very serious about the issue and wanted the Security Council to act on Palestine’s submission once all areas had been exhausted.

However, “if past practice going back to 1947 is any guide, the U.S. will twist enough arms to get its way one way or another,” Khalidi said.

“Whether there is a veto or whether the requisite nine votes in favour are prevented by American pressure tactics, the results will be the same: the U.S. will once again have shun itself to be an obstacle.”