The Guardian reports: Britain is prepared to back a key vote recognising Palestinian statehood at the United Nations if Mahmoud Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes and to resume peace talks.
Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has called for Britain’s backing in part because of its historic responsibility for Palestine. The government has previously refused, citing strong US and Israeli objections and fears of long-term damage to prospects for negotiations.
On Monday night, the government signalled it would change tack and vote yes if the Palestinians modified their application, which is to be debated by the UN general assembly in New York later this week. As a “non-member state”, Palestine would have the same status as the Vatican.
Whitehall officials said the Palestinians were now being asked to refrain from applying for membership of the international criminal court or the international court of justice, which could both be used to pursue war crimes charges or other legal claims against Israel.
Abbas is also being asked to commit to an immediate resumption of peace talks “without preconditions” with Israel. The third condition is that the general assembly’s resolution does not require the UN security council to follow suit.
The US and Israel have both hinted at possible retaliation if the vote goes ahead. Congress could block payments to the Palestinian Authority and Israel might freeze tax revenues it transfers under the 1993 Oslo agreement or, worse, withdraw from the agreement altogether. It could also annex West Bank settlements. Britain’s position is that it wants to reduce the risk that such threats might be implemented and bolster Palestinian moderates.
France has already signalled that it will vote yes on Thursday, and the long-awaited vote is certain to pass as 132 UN members have recognised the state of Palestine. Decisions by Germany, Spain and Britain are still pending and Palestinians would clearly prefer a united EU position as counterweight to the US.
Yossi Beilin, one of the architect of the Oslo Accords, writes: The cease-fire that ended the latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians has enhanced the popularity of the militant group Hamas. This extremist organization has become the only interlocutor for the Arab world, for the West and, indirectly, for Israel. But Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s existence or to negotiate with Israelis. Meanwhile, the pragmatic Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, is rapidly losing legitimacy and Israel’s recent strikes on Gaza will only weaken it further. Negotiating with Hamas may secure a lull, but Hamas cannot be a partner for peace.
If the world wants to express support for the Palestinian party that recognizes Israel, seeks to avoid violence, and genuinely wishes to reach a peace agreement in which a Palestinian state exists alongside — not instead of — Israel, it will have its chance later this week when Mr. Abbas makes his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations. If American and Israeli opposition to a Palestinian bid continues, it could serve as a mortal blow to Mr. Abbas, and end up being a prize that enhances the power and legitimacy of Hamas.
Beilin claims Hamas refuses to negotiate with Israel and yet he does so in the context of Hamas’s recent negotiations with Israel — a ceasefire agreement and before that the release of Gilad Shilat in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, both deals negotiated in Egypt. Moreover, Hamas’s political leader, Khalid Meshaal, has repeatedly stated that his organization would accept the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders if this has popular support among the Palestinian people.
The real issue that Israel, the E.U., and the U.S. are up against is their unwillingness to accept the fact that Palestinian political leaders cannot be both legitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people and subservient to Israel.