Wave of EU "yes" votes heightens confidence in UN bid

Riyad Mansour (back, C), Palestine Ambassador to the United Nations with Majed Abdulfattah (L), Basem al Baz (2nd R) and Ahmad Dari (R) carrying a symbolic Palestinian seat to a meeting with UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser September 15, 2011 at UN headquarters in New York ahead of preparations to request UN membership for Palestine. (Photo: AFP - Stan Honda)

Published Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Five EU states have said they will back the Palestinian Authority's bid to enhance its status at the United Nations, defying mounting pressure from the US and Israel to oppose the move.

The UK has said it would abstain because of "an absence of assurances" that the Palestinians would return to negotiations. Germany said it would not back the vote. It is unclear, however, whether the EU financial powerhouse would vote "no" or abstain.

Spain, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and France announced Tuesday and Wednesday that they would vote "Yes" when the Palestinian request for partial statehood is put before the UN's General Assembly on Friday. Australia has said it will abstain from the vote after discussions about the bid divided the center-left government.

Australia's major newspapers reported that Prime Minister Gillard had wanted to vote against the motion but faced a revolt from her most senior colleagues. Australia had voted against the Palestinian Authority's bid for full statehood last year.

Ashrawi told Ma'an the final resolution was submitted on Monday afternoon to the UN in New York, requesting an upgrade of Palestine's UN status to an "observer state."

Washington has warned European countries not to support the PA's bid to become an “observer state” at the UN, a secret memo published in part by The Guardian last month revealed.

The memo urged Europeans “to support [American] efforts” to block the bid. It was communicated to European representatives at the UN general assembly in New York last week.

It warned of “significant negative consequences” for the Palestinian Authority, including financial sanctions, should it go ahead with the bid.

France was the first major European country to come out in support of the Palestinian move, triggering an immediate public response from the US. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told parliament that France has long supported Palestinian ambitions for statehood and "will respond 'Yes'" when the issue comes up for a vote "out of a concern for coherency."

"We obviously disagree with our oldest ally on this issue. They know that we disagree with them," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "But it's their sovereign decision to make, how to proceed."

"We're focused on a policy objective on the ground for the Palestinian people, for the people of Israel, which is to end up with two states that can live peacefully next to each other," Nuland told journalists.

"Nothing in this action at the UN is going to take the Palestinians any closer to that ... If there is a vote, we will vote 'no'."

"I am happy to announce that Denmark will vote in favour ... (in) the vote on Thursday," Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal said in a statement.

"For some time it has been clear that the Palestinians have wanted an upgrade of their status at the United Nations to that of a non-member observer state. After several weeks of talks, a resolution was finally presented yesterday," Soevndal said.

"This is a moderate text that underlines the need for peace negotiations and a negotiated two-state solution that can ensure Palestinians a secure, viable state alongside Israel," the foreign minister added.

Norway, once host of the negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords, will back the Palestinian demand to obtain the status of a non-member observer state at the UN, its foreign minister said on Wednesday.

"Norway will vote yes to an upgraded status for Palestine at the UN General Assembly. The draft resolution is balanced and constructive," Espen Barth Eide wrote on social networking site Twitter.

The minister later told public broadcaster NRK that the decision was based on the need to give "a new impetus" to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and to strenghten the position of President Mahmoud Abbas, who will be submitting the request to the UN.

Lithuania will abstain on the looming Palestinian bid for upgraded UN membership, given the lack of a united stance in the 27-nation European Union, President Dalia Grybauskaite said Wednesday.

"Since the EU has not formed a common position -- as far as we know, around nine countries support this and others will abstain -- Lithuania will vote by abstaining," she said.

Eleven to 15 out of 27 EU states are expected to back the bid which is poised to win an overwhelming majority of votes at the UN General Assembly.

The General Assembly vote would upgrade the PA's status from a UN observer to a non-member observer state, making available to it more legal avenues to pursue at the United Nations, namely the power to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court.

In a sign of increased confidence in the UN move, the PA said Tuesday it would take Israel to the ICC should forensic tests on the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, exhumed in an official ceremony Monday, reveal he was assassinated.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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