Last updated: 14 December, 2011

Abbas seeks EU backing for UN membership

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas urged the European Union on Wednesday to support the Palestinian bid for full UN membership, as the bloc’s top diplomat called for the resumption of direct talks with Israel.

“Yesterday we raised the flag of Palestine in front of UNESCO and I thanked the president (Herman Van Rompuy) for their support for this endeavour,” Abbas said after meeting the EU president.

“I hope the day will come when we will raise the flag of Palestine at the UN and with the support of the European Union,” he added.

The EU is split on the issue, however.

At a vote concerning raising the flag at the UN’s education, science and culture agency, 11 EU nations voted in favour — Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and Spain.

Eleven others abstained — Britain, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia — and five voted against. They were the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Meanwhile, the EU’s chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said after a meeting with Abbas that the bloc’s “overarching objective” was “the creation of an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.

“The EU, along with its Quartet partners, has a key role to play in this process,” she said Wednesday, alluding to the UN, United States and Russia.

“I believe we all share the understanding that ultimately direct negotiations are essential in order to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood,” she said in a statement.

Israel took retaliatory measures after the Palestinian admission into UNESCO, by deciding to accelerate settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank and freezing the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Every month, Israel transfers tens of millions of dollars in customs duties on Palestinian-bound goods that transit through Israeli ports, but it often freezes them as a punitive measure during disagreements.

Faced with international criticism, Israel later lifted its freeze on the funds, which represent a large chunk of the Palestinian Authority’s budget.