World players may vow open mind on Trump plan, but won’t abandon old positions

US has feted Palestinians’ failure to get UNSC to condemn proposal, but last word hasn’t been spoken; even close allies still pledge allegiance to the familiar two-state parameters

Raphael Ahren

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, February 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, February 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The US on Tuesday celebrated the fact that the Palestinians withdrew a planned United Nations Security Council resolution rejecting President Donald Trump’s peace proposal, saying this marked the dawn of a new era.

The old way of doing things is over, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

“For the first time on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the council was willing to think outside the conventional box, and not reflexively fall back on the calcified Palestinian position, which has only allowed the failed status quo to continue,” the US official said.

According to Ron Prosor, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, the Palestinians’ “inability to put forward a vote tonight shows the change that the international community has gone through in recent years.”

On December 18, 2017, the Palestinians easily got 14 out of 15 countries on the Security Council to support a resolution condemning the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prosor recalled. The US vetoed the decision.

“This time they don’t have nine countries behind them. It shows that countries have different priorities now and they put their own interests first,” he told The Times of Israel.

It is indeed noteworthy that the Palestinians failed to garner at least nine council members to back their text. This may be indicative of a slow paradigm shift regarding the so-called automatic Arab majority, which has for decades guaranteed comfortable majorities for every and any anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian resolution.

General view of the UN General Assembly on December 6, 2018. (UN/Loey Felipe)

The first harbingers of this process could be seen on December 6, 2018, when a US-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas for “repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence” garnered a majority at the UN General Assembly. Nearly 90 countries voted in favor of this resolution, though it was not adopted because it did not gain the required two-thirds majority (57 countries opposed, 33 abstained).

Still, the “deal of the century” may yet get its day at the UN. It is quite possible that the Palestinians, unhappy about the resolution’s watered-down text, only temporarily backed off on calling for a vote. Behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure the required nine yes votes, which would compel the Americans to veto —  are likely continuing in New York.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert hold a briefing to the press on February 11, 2020 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP)

True, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas failed to get a trophy vote after his speech to the council on Tuesday. He will make his way home without a concrete achievement in his pocket, except for the support of a disgraced former Israeli premier, Ehud Olmert.

But officials in Ramallah indicated they are currently assessing the situation and may yet propose a resolution at a later stage.

“There is a big chance that this will come up again at the Security Council,” one Palestinian official said Wednesday, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity.

The Trump administration threatened countries that considered backing the resolution, the official claimed. Still, he added, the text would have easily received more than nine yeas, but it was decided, “for several reasons,” not to hold the vote at this particular time.

If a resolution is brought to — and eventually vetoed by — the Security Council, the Palestinians can be expected to propose the same text at the UN’s General Assembly, as they did two years ago after the US blocked their Jerusalem resolution.

There are no vetoes at the GA, and a resolution rejecting the terms of the Trump plan and endorsing the traditional parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is likely to be passed with a comfortable majority.

Belgian FM Philippe Goffin (center),presides over a UN Security Council meeting discussing the Trump peace plan, February 11, 2020. At left is Secretary-General António Guterres and at right is Hasmik Egian, director of the Security Council Affairs Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. (UN Photo)

During Tuesday’s session, representatives from the UN Secretariat, all 15 members of the Security Council, Israel, the “State of Palestine” and the Arab League made statements.

“If you look at these speeches, they all emphasized, more than was done before, the need to respect existing UN resolutions,” the Palestinian official said. “Every single country told Trump: ‘No, your plan doesn’t work for us.’ That’s the bottom line.”

Indeed, while most speakers — everyone but Abbas and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit — were careful not to outright criticize the Trump plan, all of them, except for the US and Israel, reiterated their support for the international community’s traditional framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon, left, speaks with UN Secretary-General Guterres at a UN Security Council meeting discussing the Trump peace plan, February 11, 2020 (UN Photo)

Opening the session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that his institution’s stance toward the conflict has been defined by numerous resolutions to which he is bound.

UN special envoy to the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov then specified that peace can only be achieved with a two-state solution “on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.”

It was no surprise that Indonesia and Tunisia — two Muslim states with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations — did not warmly embrace the Trump plan.

It was also not shocking that Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia invoked the 1991 Madrid principles and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 in calling for “the establishment of an independent, sovereign, territorially contiguous Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Equally expected was that the European Union, represented on the council by France, Germany, Estonia and Belgium, would restate its “longstanding position” calling for a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines and Jerusalem as a shared capital.

“The US initiative, as presented on 28 January, departs from these internationally agreed parameters,” these countries said in a joint statement released just before the council meeting.

At a speech Tuesday to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, EU foreign policy czar Josep Borrell said 25 out of 27 member states agree with Brussels’s critical view of the Trump plan.

Germany welcomes ‘fresh thinking,’ endorses old positions

Back at the Security Council, Germany — which repeatedly pledged to fight anti-Israel bias at the UN — welcomed “fresh thinking” on the Middle East conflict. But in the same sentence, Berlin’s deputy ambassador, Jürgen Schulz, stressed that “any viable proposal for direct negotiations must be accepted by both parties,” thus all but disqualifying the US outline.

The White House’s peace plan merits “thorough analysis and discussion,” Schulz went on. However, he emphasized the need to respect international law and previous Security Council resolutions, calling for the full implementation of resolution 2334 — which directly opposes the terms proposed by the US peace proposal.

For Israel to annex parts of the West Bank — a centerpiece of the Trump plan — would not only breach international law but also challenge the prospects for just and lasting peace, Schulz contended.

Even the United Kingdom, which is no longer bound by EU consensus on the peace process and seeks to get closer to its traditional ally in Washington, did not embrace the initiative.

Trump’s plan shows a “genuine desire to resolve this conflict,” and London hopes it “may lead to a first step,” Ambassador Karen Pierce said.

We support a negotiated settlement based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees

“Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders owe it to their people to give them due consideration,” she went on.

“All of us here today understand that the proposals put forward by the United States may feel very different to what has been discussed before. Time will be needed to digest them, and members of the Council should strive to provide this,” she added.

At the same time, Pierce made plain that the UK is not about to abandon its long-held views on the peace process. “We support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair, agreed and realistic settlement for refugees,” she declared.

The Palestinians may be disappointed that the world’s opposition to the Trump peace plan is far less unequivocal than it was to the administration’s decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem or to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

But the fact that some countries promised to approach the so-called deal of the century with an open mind, does not mean they are ready to abandon their deeply entrenched positions on what the ultimate settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should look like.

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