Dec 1, 2012

Palestine UN 'observer state' vote: Harper government lines up with Palau and Nauru

Palestine observer status UN - Harper
 Bottom: Palestinians in Ramallah protest Harper's 
remarks about UN status upgrade bid

This week the UN resolution A/67/L28 granting Palestine non-member observer state status passed in resounding style - 138 "yes" votes to 9 "no" with 41 abstaining. The nine "no" votes included the US, Canada and Israel along with Panama, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Czech Republic and Micronesia.

Given the scale of the repudiation of the US/Israel position, the vote has placed the Harper government in a tiny "no" camp along with a few islands, Uncle Sam and best bud Ben.

The Harper government's Israel stance appears to be getting more hardline, if that is indeed possible. On the day of the UN vote a Canadian news report included the wry observation that the Harper government's position seems to be getting more pro-Israel... than well, Israel.

Harper even acted as an enforcer of sorts in opposing the status upgrade. According to reports in the Globe and Mail and T-Star in the weeks prior to the UN vote, when he was in New York to receive an award from a pro-Israel Foundation, he went to meet with Mahmoud Abbas in a room at the UN. In what has been described as a "brusque" meeting Harper instructed Abbas to drop his bid for upgraded status or "there will be consequences."

More recently in a needless piece of drama following the UN vote, the Harper government temporarily recalled senior diplomats from the West Bank, Israel and the UN mission, further isolating Canada on this issue. The NDP's Paul Dewar made the very good point: "I don't think they understand that [their] decisions, their tone and their ultimatums isolate Canada not just from Palestinians but from the rest of the world." If they even care.

The Palestine status upgrade should make it easier to contest illegal Jewish settlements and Israeli military aggressions through the International Criminal Court (ICC), although there is some question about how that process might play itself out. The other area where it could be important is in helping provide greater Palestinian access and presence in UN agencies and organizations. Importantly the new status will provide much needed momentum.

The peace process has been a complete failure and one of the main reasons is the unwillingness of the Israelis to abide by international law. A more accurate term to describe their activities would be "the annexation process" given that there are now around 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem with plans for greater expansion in the works.

Israel continues to run rough shod over international law. In any negotiations instead of starting with the 1967 borders Israeli negotiators start wherever it suits them. The continued building of illegal settlements in the West Bank is an example of their colonial settler mentality and high handed dismissal of international law. These and other Israeli human rights outrages are never condemned in outright terms by "human rights" champ Harper.

The PLO's Hanan Ashrawi is quoted in a Mondoweiss article giving her views on the upgrade:

The United States and Israel have tried to "blackmail" the Palestinians against pressing the statehood initiative at the U.N. today, Hanan Ashrawi, senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, said today...

"Things will be different. It's not going to be the same... This is a gamechanger. The Palestinians are no longer at [Israel's] mercy,” Ashrawi said, speaking on a call arranged by the Institute for Middle East Understanding. Saying that Palestinians will no longer be "stateless" and "vulnerable," she promised that Palestine would use statehood status to press its case in international courts that Israeli settlements in occupied territory are a war crime, in violation of the Geneva convention.

"Europe has taken a stand," Ashrawi said. While America's "unilateral support for Israel" had damaged the U.S.'s standing around the world.

In his UN speech Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas noted the symbolism of the vote -  the 65th anniversary of the UN vote to partition British-ruled Palestine.

The full transcript of his UN speech (English version) - here.

While I applaud the UN vote, the situation has changed and is changing on the ground. Israel has plans to build 3,000 new settlement homes and expand the "E1" zone that splits the West Bank in two. Israeli expansion has led frontline activists to believe a two-state solution is less tenable... at least one that meets the demands of justice and that is consonant with Palestinian self-determination. Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada articulates his position in a Brussels speech on the One State solution... link to it here