Last updated: 28 November, 2012

UK to abstain on UN Palestinian vote unless conditions met

Global support for the Palestinians grew on Wednesday a day ahead of a fresh bid to seek upgraded UN status in a move likely to win them new recognition but with a price to pay.

President Mahmud Abbas will on Thursday submit the request seeking to upgrade their rank from an observer entity to that of a non-member observer state before the UN General Assembly.

If the request is approved by the 193 member states of the General Assembly, it will give the Palestinians access to a range of UN agencies and also potentially to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As Abbas prepared to make his move, a growing number of European countries said they would vote in favour of the motion, including Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, following France’s lead on Tuesday.

“We’re going to have a vast majority, more than two-thirds,” senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, saying they were confident of easily winning the simple majority needed for the upgrade.

The bid comes 14 months after Abbas first approached the UN to seek full state membership in a request which stalled at the Security Council after the United States threatened to use its veto.

“We are going to the United Nations fully confident in our steps,” Abbas said on Sunday. “We ask for a just peace, which is agreed on by the international community, which will give us our state with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

But the move is strongly opposed by the United States and Israel, which say a Palestinian state should only emerge out of bilateral negotiations, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday confirming that Washington saw the move as “a mistake” and would vote against it.

Israeli officials fear that the Palestinians could use their new-found status to sue them for war crimes at the ICC.

Germany said it would not vote in favour of the bid while Britain said it would abstain unless the Palestinians committed not to petition the ICC and pledged an immediate return to negotiations with Israel.

Despite what Ashrawi said was “intensive pressure” over the ICC, she said they had not caved in and insisted that the text of the resolution “will not be modified.”

“We haven’t decided that tomorrow we are going to be recognised as a state and the day after, we are going to the International Criminal Court.”

But she said she hoped the threat alone would prove to be “a positive inducement for corrective action” in Israel’s stance vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

This week, Abbas also received a rare show of support from the rival Islamist Hamas movement which rules the Gaza Strip.

Last year, Hamas publicly opposed the bid, but on Monday, its exiled chief Khaled Meshaal phoned Abbas to tell him that the faction “welcomes the step of going to the United Nations for state observer status.”

But Abbas knows there may well be a political backlash over his decision to return to the United Nations.

Israel has been weighing countermeasures such as potentially freezing the transfer of tax and tariff funds it collects on their behalf, while some ministers have raised the idea of cancelling the 1993 Oslo peace accords.

And a foreign ministry policy paper even suggested “toppling” the Palestinian Authority.

But a ministry spokeswoman said Israel would most likely not take any punitive measures — unless the Palestinians used the upgrade “as a platform for confrontation”.

“Israel’s reaction to the Palestinian move depends on what they choose to do. If they use this resolution as a platform for confrontation, we will have to act accordingly,” said Ilana Stein in reference to any move at the ICC.

Washington has repeatedly urged Abbas to drop the request, warning he risks losing around $200 million in development aid earmarked for the Palestinian Authority which is currently blocked in the US Congress.

It could also affect American financial aid to the United Nations under terms of a US law which prohibits funding international bodies that recognise a Palestinian state.

Abbas says the UN bid complements efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

“We don’t want any confrontations with the United States or Israel. If we could start a dialogue or negotiations the day after the vote, we will.”