Palestinian leaders vote to go for UN recognition
By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, Associated Press Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press – Sun Jun 26, 6:36 pm ET
RAMALLAH, West Bank – The West Bank Palestinian leadership on Sunday formally decided to press ahead with efforts in September to win U.N. recognition of a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, in what could be a blow to efforts to restart Israeli–Palestinian peace talks.
The leadership, made up of the Palestine Liberation Organization's decision–making body and officials of the Palestinian Authority, the self–rule government in the West Bank, said in a statement that the goal was to bring a state of Palestine into the family of nations of the world.
It approved the approach in principle, according to the statement, without adding operative steps about how to follow on from recognition.
The idea of asking the U.N. General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state inside the cease–fire lines that held until the 1967 Mideast War is a reflection of Palestinian frustration with stalemated peace talks with Israel.
In recent weeks, however, Palestinian leaders have been giving signs of backing away from the initiative and toward softening their position over the renewal of peace negotiations, as both the U.N. initiative and their drive to set up a unity government with the rival Hamas in Gaza have foundered.
Some Palestinians believe that contrary to the notion that U.N. recognition would stymie peace talks, such world status would force Israel to make concessions when negotiations resume.
Recognition of a Palestinian state by the U.N. General Assembly would carry considerable diplomatic weight but would not carry legal clout. Only the U.N. Security Council can add a nation to the world body, and the U.S. government has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the move, while stopping short of saying it would veto such a resolution.
Israel has denounced the Palestinian U.N. initiative, charging that it torpedoes efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the Israel–Palestinian conflict.
President Barack Obama has offered a formula under which a Palestinian state would be set up with borders based on the pre–1967 war cease–fire lines that delineate the West Bank, with agreed upon swaps of territory between the two sides. Previous Israeli governments have agreed to the concept, but that did not result in a peace accord.
The current Israeli leadership, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has reacted coolly to the Obama proposal. Netanyahu has rejected an Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and wants to retain Israeli control of east Jerusalem, claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. Israel pulled out of Gaza unilaterally in 2005.
Palestinians have been insisting that peace negotiations can be resumed only if Israel stops all construction in its West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, also considered settlements by the Palestinians and much of the world.
That would go well beyond a 10–month moratorium on new housing starts in the West Bank that Netanyahu imposed as an incentive to restart the talks. The negotiations resumed nine months later, last September, but were halted when the moratorium ended and was not renewed.
Now Israel rejects preconditions for peace talks and says that all issues, including the future of the settlements, should be on the negotiating table.
The Palestinians would be assured of a comfortable majority in favor of recognition of their state at the General Assembly session in September, as about 100 nations have already recognized a Palestinian state in one form or another. A U.N. vote would boost Palestinian prestige and further isolate Israel, but the path from there to an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, and from there to an actual independent Palestinian state, is difficult to chart.
The settlements in their already existing form are one of the main sticking points. About 300,000 Israelis live in more than 100 communities scattered across the territory. Israeli military posts and checkpoints dot the West Bank to protect them, limiting Palestinian access and freedom of movement.
The largest settlements are closest to the cease–fire line, virtual suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The smaller ones, in the heart of the West Bank, are home to some of the most strident Israeli nationalist and religious hard–liners who believe either that Israel must keep control of the West Bank for security reasons or that it is the biblical Land of Israel that belongs to the Jews – or both.
Even Netanyahu, who backed unbridled settlement activity for decades, has indicated in public that the settlements farthest from Israel proper would not be part of Israel in a peace deal, while the largest ones would be incorporated into the Jewish state. He has taken no steps toward implementing that idea, and if he did, it would cost him the support of most of his backers from hard–line and Orthodox Jewish parties, including his own Likud, and likely bring down his government.
Conflicting signals have been emanating from Ramallah, the seat of the West Bank government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. While frustrated over the stalemate in contacts with Israel, officials close to Abbas have begun signaling that they would ease their demands for a settlement construction freeze in order to facilitate resumption of peace negotiations because of difficulties with the U.N, initiative. Not only the U.S., but also some European nations have expressed reservations, declaring that the way to Mideast peace is through negotiations, not unilateral steps at the U.N.
Also, Abbas' efforts to patch up a rift with Hamas have run aground. The Islamic group overran Gaza in 2007 and expelled forces loyal to Abbas. Several weeks ago the two sides, with Egyptian mediation, announced a framework for reconciliation that was to lead to a joint government, ending the split. Such a unified government would be key to a push for a state.
Since the announcement, however, no further agreements have been announced. The two sides have failed to agree on a prime minister, and there is no sign of progress toward integrating their security forces, as Hamas insists on maintaining control of Gaza even after a unity government takes office.
In another development Sunday, Israel started dismantling a section of its West Bank separation barrier near the town of Bilin, scene of weekly demonstrations against the barrier by Palestinian villagers as well as Israeli and international activists. Israel is moving the section closer to the cease–fire line, in accordance with an Israeli Supreme Court decision, returning much of the town's land to its farmers. Israel built the barrier to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out.
Associated Press writer Mark Lavie in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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