Palestinians predict historic UN vote on statehood
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinians predicted a historic U.N. vote recognizing their statehood this week, praising important new support from France on Tuesday and likely backing from other European nations seen as critical to enhancing their international standing.
The United States and Israel strongly oppose the resolution, and there are fears it could torpedo Palestinian hopes of quickly resuming negotiations with Israel to end their decades-old conflict. Israeli officials have already said they will not return to negotiations after the vote and believe it instead undermines hopes for a peace deal.
The General Assembly vote to raise the Palestinians' status from a U.N. observer to a nonmember observer state is scheduled for Thursday — the "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People" — just a week after a cease-fire ended eight days of punishing Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip and intense rocketing of the Jewish state by Gaza's Hamas rulers that reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and the resolution is virtually certain of approval. The 193-member world body is dominated by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and the resolution only requires a majority vote for approval.
The U.N. recognition of their statehood would elevate the Palestinians to the same status as the Vatican, another nonmember observer state. However, a country's vote to raise the Palestinian status at the U.N. does not imply its individual recognition of a Palestinian state, something that must be done bilaterally. To date, 132 countries — over two-thirds of the U.N. member states — have recognized the state of Palestine.
The U.N. recognition, however, would add weight Palestinian claims for a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
The vote is taking place while the Palestinians themselves remain bitterly divided: Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, claimed victory in the recent conflict and raised its standing in the Arab world, while the rival Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the West Bank, remained sidelined.
Abbas needs a solid vote in the General Assembly to strengthen his domestic position and he is flying to New York to present the case for U.N. recognition of the state of Palestine.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said the final draft resolution, which was only circulated to U.N. members late Monday, has close to 60 cosponsors and he expects more by the time of the vote.
"I think that the great majority of nations will vote with us because there is a global consensus on the two-state solution" that envisions Palestine and Israel living side-by-side in peace, Mansour said at a news conference. "So we expect a large number of countries to vote in favor."
The Palestinians have focused much attention on getting support from European nations because of the clout that their backing would give to Palestinian statehood dream. France came through Tuesday when Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Parliament in Paris that the country will vote "yes" on the resolution.
"We tried very hard to win the largest number of European countries to vote in favor," Mansour said. "We are delighted that a certain number have declared their support to our draft resolution including France and other key European countries, and I don't want to name them."
Portugal will also vote yes and Switzerland will likely back the resolution, but Germany is expected to vote no or abstain. Britain's position remains unclear.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced in a statement Tuesday that her country will abstain.
Mansour said approval of the resolution will be "a historic moment" for the Palestinian people and for the United Nations.
The Palestinians are seeking to enhance their status because their application in September 2011 to become a full U.N. member state has been blocked. To become a member state, an applicant must be approved by the U.N. Security Council and the United States has made clear it would veto the bid until there is a final settlement with Israel.
Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Redeineh told AP on Tuesday that there was pressure "around the clock from all sides in order to prevent us going to the General Assembly."
But he said the move toward statehood would not be reversed and adoption of the resolution would be "a major turning point in the Palestinian-Israeli track and ... a Palestinian and Arab achievement."
The Palestinians hope to use their upgraded status to join additional U.N. bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, where they could attempt to prosecute Israel for war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The draft resolution makes no mention of the ICC. U.N. diplomats said the issue was raised during discussions with the Palestinians by some governments. Israel reportedly wanted to include assurances that the Palestinians won't go to the ICC, and that the resolution does not infringe on sovereignty, but these amendments were rejected.
Mansour told reporters the Palestinians' top priority is resuming negotiations and not going to the ICC.
"I believe that the day after we adopt the resolution, if the other side is ready and willing to negotiate in good faith with us, I believe that the Palestinian leadership would reciprocate in a positive way," he said.
"I don't believe that we are going to be rushing the second day to join everything related to the United Nations, including to the ICC," Mansour said.
He said if Israel acts in good faith, according to international law, "I don't think that anybody will be going after them for anything."
But if Israel continues to violate the law, refuses to comply with U.N. resolutions and keeps building settlements, he said, the Palestinians will look at other options to bring them into compliance.
Following last year's move by the Palestinians to join the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, the United States withheld funds from the organization, which amount to 22 percent of its budget. The U.S. also withheld money to the Palestinians, and the U.S. Congress has threatened similar sanctions if the Palestinians improve their status at the U.N. again.
Israel also retaliated by accelerating settlement construction and withholding funds from the Palestinian government.
Mansour said he is sure Abbas will try everything possible to avoid any punishment after the vote, but if "some negative things are going to be imposed on us we will deal with them in the best way that we know how."
He also expressed hope that the resolution will improve prospects for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
Asked whether Hamas supports a two-state solution, which would imply recognition of Israel, Mansour said "I think they would — yes — because it is in the interest of the Palestinian people."
Associated Press Writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Karin Laub in Ramallah, Jamey Keaten in Paris and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report