Palestinians hope EU split will help them

Nov. 30, 2012 at 4:31 PM
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BRUSSELS, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Palestinian campaigners and lobbyists said they hope to capitalize on EU divisions over the U.N. vote that gave Palestinians a permanent non-member observer status but it's far from clear if they can succeed.

EU members split on the U.N. General Assembly vote, those backing a Palestinian status upgrade ignoring U.S. and Israeli exhortations but also keeping domestic political landscape in full view.

Leading the "yes" pack, France insisted its support for Palestinian entry as a non-member observer state, next to the Vatican, was consistent with its past policies on Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinian mission in London in a statement said the vote had salvaged the two-state solution.

A stronger interpretation is that the vote irrevocably changes conditions on ground, whether eventually in Palestinians' favor remains unclear, analysts said.

In an indication that major European powers who cast abstentions may be shifting positions to reinterpret their abstentions and possibly reposition themselves, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle followed up one statement Friday with another later in the day, with a stronger message to reinforce Berlin's view the vote was a mandate for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The German comment highlighted the Europeans' not-so-subtle tactic: they abstained to avoid contradicting U.S. and Israeli positions on the Palestinian bid but, once the die was cast, appeared all too keen to be seen closer to the majority that voted a Palestinian observer state in.

"The U.N. vote is a mandate for the parties in the Middle East to enter into direct peace talks now," Westerwelle said after meeting reporters in Berlin. "This decision must be taken as an opportunity to restart direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis in order to enable a two-state solution.

"Our objective is and shall remain a fair, negotiated two-state solution, as the only way for the region to achieve lasting peace and stability. That is why this U.N. vote is at one level a mandate to end the current stalemate in negotiations and relaunch direct peace talks," he said.

"The international community will provide constructive support for these efforts."

"It is a shame that the European Union was unable to arrive at a common position in this vote," Westerwelle said.

France and Denmark backed Palestinian admission but the Czech Republic joined the Israel-U.S. minority that opposed the vote. Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal said the U.N. vote would create momentum in the peace process.

The six other states that joined Israel and the United States were: Canada, Palau, Panama, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Micronesia.

Of the 138 countries that voted in favor, 48 states sponsored the U.N. resolution.

There were 41 abstentions, including Britain.

Westerwelle said the vote "will not prevent us from continuing to work together for a negotiated, fair, stable two-state solution which will not only enable Israel to reside within secure borders but also ensure that the Palestinians have their own, secure, independent state."

Analysts said the German comments will make it harder for the "no" voters to issue reprisals, such as the suspension of aid, against Palestinian territories, as was widely predicted before the vote.

French U.N. envoy Gerard Araud said: "The Palestinian initiative comes at a difficult time and its repercussions could be significant.

"But France calls on all parties to understand and acknowledge its critical importance and to respond by the resumption of negotiations and not by reprisals that would serve only the play in the hand of extremists."

"France also calls on the international community -- Americans, Europeans, Arabs -- to unite in this view," Araud said.

He urged Palestinians to "build on this political success" by being more constructive and avoid "sterile confrontations."

The Palestinians' EU representative Leila Shahid told that European support for Palestinians would have important "symbolic" value due to the EU's financial and political clout in the region.

"It will not change anything on the ground, but symbolically and in terms of the legal framework, in terms of the symbolic recognition of the capital and the borders and the right of the refugees, it is very important," Shahid said.

Palestinian campaigners say a U.N. status would help them protect Palestinian land from Israeli settlement expansion.

"There isn't a third alternative -- either you accept the fact that going to the U.N. is a non-violent and diplomatic way of building a Palestinian state, or you can't give moral lessons to the Palestinians and tell them to face (Israeli]) F-16s and F-15s with their bare hands," Shahid said.

A Friday report in The New York Times said Israel was working on the early stages of a settlement project that would mean Ramallah and Bethlehem would be cut off from East Jerusalem. Another 3,000 housing units were planned for East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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