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UN meetings open to avert Palestinian crisis

Yossi Beilin (left) and Yasser Abed Rabbo signing the Geneva Accord in 2003 Keystone

President Mahmoud Abbas is sticking to his plan to seek full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state although “all hell has broken out” over the move.

Nevertheless, two architects of the 2003 Geneva Accords tell that, given the circumstances, they see a chance, using the Swiss-backed initiative as a “reference point”.

Abbas, speaking en route to the UN General Assembly in New York, said the United States and Israel wanted to keep the peace process restricted to “a bilateral dialogue” overseen from afar by Washington. But this dialogue had failed, prompting the UN membership move.

“We decided to take this step and all hell has broken out against us,” he said.

Abbas has said he will ask the UN on Friday to recognise an independent Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the lands Israel occupied in 1967.

However, this is destined to fail because of opposition from the US, which has veto power in the Security Council.

“If the Palestinians go ahead with such a unilateral decision, that will spell the end of all accords, freeing Israel of all its commitments and the Palestinians will bear the entire responsibility,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said last week.

But he expressed lingering hopes for a deal. “We have not crossed the point of no return. We can negotiate and conclude a historic compromise if there is good will on all sides.”

The last round of direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu collapsed nearly a year ago because of a row over Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

Time running out

Speaking in New York, Israeli Yossi Beilin and Palestinian Yasser Abed Rabbo, said the 2003 Geneva Accord, which they both negotiated and signed, could play a major role in any peace agreement.

The initiative outlines the practical measures required for a successful implementation of the two-state solution. All key issues are addressed, including the borders and citizenship of the new Palestinian state, the status of Palestinian refugees outside the final borders, and the status of Arab citizens of present-day Israel, in addition to the future of East Jerusalem and water rights.

Beilin, a former justice minister for the centre-left Labour Party, and Rabbo, on the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, were attending an event on Friday organised by the International Peace Institute and the Swiss UN Mission.

The event began with Swiss Ambassador to the UN Paul Seger pointing out that the details of the Palestinian bid to the UN were still unknown, but time was running out for a peaceful two-state solution.

He said the aim of the meeting was to give a platform to rational thinking and dialogue.

Last option

Rabbo said the proposal was not the Palestinians’ preferred option, but rather a last option to get a situation moving that they believe has ground to a halt.

He said the Israeli government’s decision to allow the continued construction of Jewish settlements deep inside the West Bank simply added to the factors making a sustainable peace impossible.

“We no longer see any other option of saving the two-state solution,” he said.

Beilin said the UN bid was “actually a tragedy that pleases no one” – the Palestinians, the Israelis, the US or indeed Europe which sees itself split. He said nothing would change in the Middle East even if Palestine joined the UN.

Both said there was still hope but admitted they were under no illusions faced with the enormous challenges: given the present conditions, a two-state solution could only be achieved with the firm commitment of the international community. Israel and the Palestinians wouldn’t be able to reach their target on their own, they said.

Extremist elements

Rabbo admitted they were obviously disappointed that after so many years working on the peace process there had been no significant progress.

He explained there were powerful extremist elements on both sides which were against any form of solution.

“These forces must see that the whole world is saying, loud and clear, ‘the game is over’,” he said.

Beilin believed the current Israeli government wasn’t ready for a lasting solution – “temporary solutions, however, are conceivable”.

He was still hopeful regarding the formulation of a resolution, wanting to see signals sent to the Israeli public that could strengthen the peace camp there. For example, describing not only East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, but also West Jerusalem as Israeli.

“Then it could become an important resolution for both sides,” he said.

Rabbo stressed that more time couldn’t be wasted. “This is threatening the safety of Israel and Palestine. The prospects of a two-state solution are receding and civil war is increasingly likely,” he said.

“Reference point”

Beilin and Rabbo agreed that if the political will for a peace treaty existed in the world, in Israel and in Palestine, such a treaty would lie on a table alongside the Geneva Accord.

“The [Geneva] initiative has become a reference point,” Beilin said. “When it comes to Middle East peace treaties, there’s no major competition.”

Rabbo added that the accord was a “credible, pragmatic and detailed document that addresses all key issues. It should finally become policy.”

There are two main options for the Palestinians to proceed.

They can apply for the recognition of an independent state and full UN membership, but any decision on a formal request is likely to take time.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will examine the application and submit it to the Security Council for a decision. However, the US said it will veto the request.

Another UN member state could also file a request for the General Assembly to grant the Palestinians permanent observer status as a state.

The Palestinians currently only hold observer status at the General Assembly as an “entity”.

Such a request is likely to win a majority in the General Assembly. However, the resolution is not legally binding and the implications of an admission of the Palestinians are not clear.

Permanent observer status as a state grants access to various UN bodies. The Palestinians, if given such a standing, might have the right to lodge complaints with the International Criminal Court.

Switzerland still has to announce its position in the General Assembly on the Palestinian issue.

Ambassador Paul Seger said the Swiss stance depended on the exact wording of the application and the position of the EU or some of its key member states.

Switzerland had observer status before it became a member of the UN in 2002.

Ygal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign minister told “What we expect from Switzerland, as with all the other countries which are implicated in the peace process or want to contribute to it, is that they explain to the Palestinians that to obtain a recognised, independent state, they cannot bypass direct negotiations. A state can only emerge from direct negotiations and a bilateral accord.”

(Adapted from German by Thomas Stephens)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR