Days away from UN vote, Palestinians practically assured of victory

Australia to abstain Thursday on upgrading Palestinian status to de facto state; Abbas to address forum

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in September 2012 (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in September 2012 (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinians said the UN General Assembly will vote Thursday afternoon on a resolution raising their status at the United Nations from an observer to a nonmember observer state, a move they believe is an important step toward a two-state solution with Israel.

Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly and the resolution is virtually certain of approval. The world body is dominated by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and the resolution only requires a majority vote for approval. To date, 132 countries — over two-thirds of the UN member states — have recognized the state of Palestine.

A spokesman for the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations said Monday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will address the 193-member world body before the resolution is put to a vote. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press about the matter.

The Palestinians are seeking to enhance their status because their application in September 2011 to become a full UN member state has been blocked. To become a member state, an applicant must be approved by the UN Security Council and the United States has made clear it would veto the bid until there is a final settlement with Israel.

Israel and the United States are also on record opposing the move for enhanced status, saying the Palestinians should first negotiate their statehood with the Jewish state, not take unilateral action and sidestep talks.

“We do not think that this step is going to bring the Palestinian people any closer to a state,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday in Washington.

“We think it is a mistake” she said. “We oppose it.”

Nuland said the US was continuing to make its case with other countries who will cast their votes.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told government colleagues that she intends for her country to abstain from the vote.

In Australia, an official spokesman for a ruling Labor Party said Tuesday that Gillard told lawmakers that she had found government members had “some sharply held and different views” on the subject.

The spokesman told reporters on the usual condition of anonymity for such briefings that Gillard said she intends for Australia to abstain from the vote.

The Palestinians believe their upgraded status would add weight to their 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 Palestinians also hope to use their upgraded status to join additional UN bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, where they could attempt to prosecute Israel.

At the same time, they have expressed fear of financial and diplomatic retaliation.

Following last year’s move by the Palestinians to join the UN cultural agency UNESCO, the United States withheld funds from the organization, which amount to 22 percent of its budget. The US also withheld money to the Palestinians, and the US Congress has threatened similar sanctions if the Palestinians proceed to improve their status at the UN again.

Israel also retaliated by accelerating settlement construction and withholding funds from the Palestinian government.

The latest draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, would have the General Assembly decide “to accord to Palestine Nonmember Observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice.”

It “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.”

The draft also expresses “the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process” to achieve “a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinian and Israeli sides that resolves all outstanding core issues, namely the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water.” It drops “prisoners” as a core issue.

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