Last Updated: Sun May 29, 2011 12:01 pm (KSA) 09:01 am (GMT)

Arab League to seek UN seat for Palestine in Gaza Strip and West Bank

The Arab League's peace process committee said it would request membership for the state of Palestine at the UN General Assembly's meeting in September. (File photo)
The Arab League's peace process committee said it would request membership for the state of Palestine at the UN General Assembly's meeting in September. (File photo)

The Arab League decided on Saturday to seek full UN membership for a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital, ignoring opposition from the United States and Israel.

The Arab League's peace process committee, meeting in Doha, said it would request membership for the state of Palestine at the UN General Assembly's meeting in New York in September.

"The committee decided to go to the United Nations to request full membership for Palestine on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital," it said in a statement.

The 1967 borders refer to Israel's frontiers as they stood on the eve of the 1967 Middle East war in which it captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank, including

The Palestinian leadership began peace talks with Israel nearly two decades ago with the aim of founding a state alongside Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel says that peace talks and an agreement are the only way for the Palestinians to achieve their goal of nationhood.

But with the peace process at a standstill, the Palestinian leadership has been seeking new ways to advance their cause. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas opposes the use of violence.

The Arab League's UN move looks set to fail because of the opposition of the United States, which has veto power in the Security Council. But Israel fears the maneuvering will leave them looking vulnerable on the diplomatic front.

US President Barack Obama, in a May 19 speech, condemned what he described as "symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations", a reference to the Palestinians' plan to push for recognition at the September meeting. The Palestinians currently have the status of UN observers without voting rights.

The Doha meeting had been convened in the wake of major Middle East policy speeches in Washington by Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Netanyahu had said in a speech to the US Congress he was ready to make "painful concessions" for peace, saying he was ready to give up parts of what he called the ancestral Jewish homeland -- a reference to the West Bank.

The Palestinians said Mr. Netanyahu's ideas for peace had put more obstacles in the path of an already moribund peace process.

Mr. Abbas, in his opening remarks to the Doha meeting, said there were "no shared foundations" for peace talks with Mr. Netanyahu and seeking UN recognition was his only option.

He expressed fear that the step would lead some states to "try to impose a siege upon us", though he did not say to which governments he was referring. "We hope that there will be a safety net from the Arab states," he said.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Mr. Abbas is dependent on financial support from international donors including the United States and the European Union.

It also relies on customs duties collected on its behalf by Israel, which triggered a financial crisis for the PA earlier this month when the Israeli government temporarily withheld the funds following a reconciliation deal between the rival Fatah and Hamas groups.

US-brokered talks between the Palestinians and Israel broke down last September in a dispute over continued Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The Arab League meeting was examining the latest developments concerning the Palestinian issue following a proposal from US President Barack Obama to resolve the long-standing issue.

In a keynote policy speech on May 19, Mr. Obama issued a clear call for Israel and the Palestinians to use the borders existing before the 1967 Six Day War as the basis for talks to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Such a state would include the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank and mostly Arab but Israel-annexed east Jerusalem, with some adjustments and land swaps so that Israel can maintain settlement blocs.

Mr. Obama also hoped that progress on border security would then allow moving towards a solution on "the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Mr. Obama's proposal outright, saying the Jewish state would be "indefensible" if it returned to the borders which existed in 1967, which would not include dozens of settlements.

He also rejected dividing the holy city of Jerusalem. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

"In these circumstances, it seems better to me that we freeze discussion of the peace process until there is a partner ready for peace," said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, who was chairing the meeting.

The Qatari premier also criticized "US hesitations that led Washington to abandon efforts to make Israel respond favorably to initiatives" for peace.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, a leading candidate for the Egyptian presidency, told Reuters that Mr. Netanyahu had presented nothing but a series of "no's" in his speech to the US Congress.

"The sound path is going to the United Nations and political struggle," Mr. Moussa said. "I believe that negotiations have become futile in light of all of these nos. What will you negotiate on?"

(Sara Ghasemilee, an editor at Al Arabiya, can be reached at sara.ghasemilee@mbc.net)

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