United opposition: US, Israel and… Hamas

All eyes of the international community this week will be on New York, where world leaders are gathering for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. It promises to be one of the most dramatic ones in years because the Palestinians have announced their intention to submit to the Security Council an application for Palestine’s full membership in the UN.
According to the current schedule, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, will present the request right after he addresses the General Assembly this Friday. Until that moment, be prepared for a couple of hectic days in which all kinds of efforts will be made to have the Palestinians change their plans. For instance, promising them an immediate start to new negotiations with Israel for a comprehensive solution or, as a fallback position, convincing them not to apply to the Security Council for full membership (an attempt that would definitively be blocked by an American veto) but to go to the General Assembly in which no one has a veto and a comfortable majority would support the upgrading of Palestine’s position from observer to that of a non-state member of the UN.

For the moment, it seems as though Abbas is not going to give in to the mounting pressure from the US, Israel and some European countries. Understandably, the Palestinians are fed up with all sorts of promises that have led them nowhere in the past. They consider the membership application a desperate attempt to force the uncompromising and reluctant Israel back to the table and get meaningful and substantial negotiations back on track.

Personally, I hope that Abbas will stick to his original intentions. After two decades of failed talks with Israel, during which settlements in the West Bank doubled and Gaza was isolated, the Palestinians need a moral boost. Success in New York, in one way or the other, will strengthen their position vis-à-vis the Israelis. Abbas knows very well that a vote at the UN alone will not bring the Palestinians the state they are entitled to. In order to get there, difficult negotiations are necessary in which both Israel and the Palestinians will have to be pushed to make substantial concessions that hurt. But it does help if all players involved know that a large majority of UN member states want an outcome that guarantees the viability of two states, not just one.

One interesting aspect of this week’s diplomatic struggles in New York is the makeup of the opposition to Palestinian statehood. Of course, I am not talking about the Israeli government or the Obama administration, although the latter’s backpedaling on earlier promises is both disappointing and self-defeating. One of the prominent opponents is Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza.

Over the last few days, Hamas leaders have made it clear that, according to them, the UN move will lead nowhere. A lot of their rhetoric consists of the same old mix of maximalist demands and the unwillingness to think strategically that we have heard before. The crucial part is the rejection of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, meaning the territorial lines as they stood before the Arab-Israeli war in that year. This is what Abbas is asking for in New York, and that constitutes indeed the explicit recognition of Israel on the other side of these borders. In the past, several Hamas spokespersons have implicitly acknowledged the 1967 borders as the basis for a deal with Israel, including some adjustments and an acceptable solution for Palestinian refugees. This moderate approach has clearly been shelved. The last statement from Hamas again used the old-style rhetoric of “not giving up any inch of the land of Palestine or the rights of the Palestinians, including the right of return.” Everybody knows this is a non-starter, but apparently Hamas has decided to use this opportunity to underline the internal Palestinian differences. It does not bode well for the near future. Without Palestinian unity and some sort of involvement of Hamas, nothing sustainable will come out of new talks.

Maybe Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu can call the leadership of Hamas he knows so well and tell them that wasting historic opportunities is a thing the Palestinians cannot afford.

(JOOST LAGENDIJK / www.todayszaman.com / 20.09.2011)

Israel urged to reconsider punishing Palestinians over UN campaign

US and EU try to pacify Israel as ministers threaten to withhold customs revenue from Palestinian Authority over UN status bid

A member of the Palestinian delgation holds a symbolic seat outside the United Nations in New York.

A member of the Palestinian delgation holds a symbolic seat outside the United Nations HQ in New York.

US and European negotiators have urged Israel to refrain from taking punitive measures against Palestinians if they press ahead with their attempt to win recognition of their state at the United Nations.

The Israeli government is considering a range of retaliatory steps, including withholding customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the Oslo accords. Around 400m shekels (£69m) is forwarded to the PA each month.

Some Israeli ministers, including the extreme rightwing foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and the finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, are calling for the money to be withheld. But US and EU diplomats fear this could seriously destabilise the PA and even cause its collapse.

Dan Meridor, the deputy prime minister, who is believed to oppose such a move, said on Monday  that no decisions had been taken by the Israeli cabinet. “I try not to use the language of threats,” he told a conference in Jerusalem.

Co-operation between the PA and Israel on security and economic issues “has been helpful to both sides”, he added. Any decisions would “need to take into account Israeli interests”. If the PA collapsed, Israel would be forced to take responsibility for the Palestinian territories, which it is reluctant to do.

Nabil Shaath, a senior member of the Palestinian team in New York, said at the weekend that the PA was not unduly concerned about Israeli threats to withhold customs revenues.

The US Congress has also threatened to halt American funding of the PA if the UN move goes ahead. “You don’t barter your rights for money,” said Shaath. He said Arab states had given the PA assurances that they would make up any shortfall, and the Europeans and Japanese had also pledged not to cut funds.

Other punitive measures proposed by Israeli ministers include annexing the West Bank settlements and tearing up the Oslo accords, under which the PA was given control of parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Negotiations to find a way to avoid a diplomatic collision at the UN continued in New York. A meeting of the Middle East quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – was due to resume on Monday after failing to agree on the wording of a statement.

Quartet envoy Tony Blair said on Sunday that a showdown could still be averted. “The question is, can people find a way that enables the Palestinians to take a significant step forward to statehood at the same time as not ending up in a situation where the UN replaces negotiations?”

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas yesterday told the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon he would seek full membership for a Palestinian state at the United Nations. Ban told Abbas he would send any application submitted to the Security Council and called for the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume talks “within a legitimate and balanced framework,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Abbas to meet him in New York. The Israel leader said he wanted to resume peace talks, upping the pressure on Abbas and building on the frenzied diplomacy swirling around the Palestinians bid.

He told ABC television that it was important that a quartet statement provided “some sense of a timeframe, a timeline, if you like, for a successful negotiation”. Blair is thought to be pushing for “benchmarked” talks, by which identified key issues would need to be agreed by defined dates.

Another proposal reportedly being floated is that the Palestinians submit their application for full membership of the UN as an independent state, but it is then “frozen” for a defined period, perhaps six months, during which bilateral talks resume in an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

A poll conducted for the BBC found that  an average of 49% of people in 19 countries supported the recognition of a Palestinian state, with 21% against. In the US, which has pledged to veto a proposal put before the security council, 45% backed the proposal and 36% were against. In the UK, 53% were in favour and 26% opposed. Support was highest in Muslim countries.

(www.guardian.co.uk / 20.09.2011)

6 killed in Syria bloodshed as opposition vies to organize

DAMASCUS (AFP) — Syrian security forces killed six people on Monday, five during a raid in the flash-point central province of Homs, as the opposition scrambled to organize against the regime, activists said.

In Geneva, the UN human rights office said the regime’s bloody crackdown on protesters is intensifying.

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces pursued their repression of anti-regime protesters, killing five in the town of Houla, a Kurdish youth in the province of Latakia, and conducting arrests elsewhere.

“Five residents, including a woman, were shot dead on Monday by security forces, who have been conducting a sweep in Houla since Sunday,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.

Later it reported that a “Kurdish youth was martyred in the village of Maruniyat (Latakia province) during a raid by security forces.”

Security forces also fired on demonstrators in two other towns in Homs, and made arrests in the second city Aleppo, eastern Deir Ezzor and the coastal cities of Latakia and Banias, it said.

The Britain-based Observatory cited an activist at Dhamir in the Damascus area as saying eight defecting soldiers came under intense fire from security forces, with two killed, four arrested and two fleeing.

It said the activist also reported 45 other arrests in Dhamir.

Activists have called for rallies on Tuesday in support of Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmush, the first officer to publicly declare his desertion in early June in protest at the crackdown.

On Thursday, state television broadcast an interview with Harmush in which he denied ever receiving orders to shoot civilians.

According to UN estimates at least 2,600 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the crackdown on pro-democracy protests since March 15.

“Despite the mounting international pressure in the past six months since the start of protests,… the bloody crackdown in Syria has intensified,” UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kang Kyung-wha said in Geneva.

Syria “has continuously undermined those promises by more excessive use of force, killing of demonstrators, mass arrests, raids on cities, torture and other abuses,” Kang told the UN Human Rights Council.

A fact-finding mission by Kang’s office to Syria found that the crackdown may amount to crimes against humanity and urged the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.

A Syrian envoy told the council in Geneva the mission’s report was “biased” and said “the events that have taken place have nothing to do with peaceful protests.”

Assad’s government says it is battling “armed terrorist gangs” and will proceed with reforms when Syria is rid of “chaos.”

Since mid-March, several opposition groups have emerged united in their call for the regime’s ouster but divided about how to do it.

The latest group, the Syrian Coalition of Secular and Democratic Forces (CSDF), meeting in Paris, issued a statement on Monday urging the international community to protect civilians against the repression.

The appeal — an implicit call for foreign intervention — conflicted with pleas by other opposition groups for an end to the bloodshed and political, economic and social reforms.

“We call on the international community to adopt a United Nations resolution to protect civilians,” said a statement modeled on UN Security Council Resolution 1973 that authorized international action in Libya.

The CSDF brings together a dozen parties and political figures representing non-Islamist opposition groups from Kurdish and Arab, Christian and Muslim communities.

Other opposition groups include the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change, a coalition of Arab and Kurdish nationalists, Marxists and independents such as writer Michel Kilo and economist Aref Dalila.

“We need to end the tyrannical security regime. We must overthrow the tyranny and the security (agents),” Hassan Abdel Azim, a senior member of the group said on Sunday.

On Thursday, opposition figures identified members of the “Syrian National Council,” revealing the names of just 72 of the 140-strong body for security reasons.

Two more opposition groups were created in Turkey in August — the mainly Islamist “National Council” and the “National Council of Syrian Transition” headed by Paris-based academic Burhan Ghaliyoun.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Monday that “crimes against humanity are committed in Syria. The silence of the Security Council is unacceptable.”

Russia — one of the five permanent Security Council members — has resisted attempts by the United States and EU nations to issue a resolution condemning Damascus, a key ally and buyer of Russian weapons.

(www.maannews.net / 20.09.2011)

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IOF soldiers fire at Palestinian citizens in Al-Khalil

AL-KHALIL, (PIC)– Israeli occupation forces (IOF)
fired at Palestinian citizens in Arub refugee camp in Al-Khalil and at Beit Ummar village to the north of the city on Tuesday, local sources reported.

They said that young men at the entrance to the refugee camp threw stones at the invading troops.

In the village, the IOF soldiers occupied a house that is under construction at a late night hour on Monday prompting clashes with neighbors and civilians in the vicinity.

(www.palestine-info.co.uk / 20.09.2011)

Demonstrations planned to support UN bid

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — The West Bank will witness large demonstrations Wednesday in support of the UN statehood bid, and some institutions are encouraging their employees and students to take the day off to attend.

In Ramallah, Palestinians are expected to gather in the early morning for a march to the tomb of late President Yasser Arafat.

An official from the Union of Workers, Mueen Insawi, told Ma’an that the union decided to suspend work at 10 a.m. to allow employees to participate in the marches.

Some transportation will also be free to allow people to attend.

The Birzeit University student senate has also announced that it will be suspending all lectures from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. in order to allow students to participate.

The ministry of education will also suspend classes during the rallies.

In Bethlehem, Muhammad Al-Masri, a Fatah member, told Ma’an that marches will head toward the Nativity square. All universities and schools in the city will be participating, he said.

In Gaza, the government has banned demonstrations in favor of the initiative.

“Seeking to prevent any moves that could further disagreement and rivalry, Hamas and Fatah agreed to avoid any popular activities, or rallies both pro or against the UN bid,” a statement said.

Fatah leader Thiab al-Louh  on Monday denied that an agreement had been reached in the Gaza Strip to prevent the organization of rallies supporting the UN bid.

Al-Louh said the claims “represent Hamas’ own attitude,” noting that Fatah had asked that the public be allowed enough freedom to express “their feelings at this historic stage.”

(www.maannews.net / 20.09.2011)

Let Palestine be Palestine: Letter to President Obama

From: U.S. Ambassador Charles Ceci

To President Barack Obama

U.S. Ambassador Charles Cecil

U.S. Ambassador, Charles Cecil

September 17, 2011

Dear Mr. President:

Just think for a minute—what would happen if the United States abstained when the Palestinian question comes before the UN Security Council in the next week or two?

The resolution would pass. The world would be stunned. The United States would enter an entirely new era in our relations with the Muslim countries of the world. The vision you outlined in Cairo for better relations with the Islamic world would take the largest step forward of your presidency. The United States would once again have regained the high moral ground we so often claim to occupy. The energies loosed by the “Arab spring” would continue to be devoted to their own domestic affairs rather than being diverted into condemning the United States. We are hypocrites when we claim to want justice for the Palestinians but we do nothing meaningful to help achieve this.

On the other hand, if the United States vetoes the Palestinian request for statehood, we will damage our position in the Islamic world—not merely the Arab World—for untold years to come. We will become the object of retribution throughout the Muslim world, and will give new energy to the lagging efforts of al-Qaida to retaliate against us. I served my country 36 years in the Foreign Service of the United States, ten assignments in ten Muslim countries. I know the power of this issue. Why would we want to give new impetus to anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world?

Mr. Netanyahu’s office has issued a statement saying “Peace will be achieved only through direct negotiations with Israel.” You know, and I know, that Mr. Netanyahu has no intention of concluding a just and fair peace with the Palestinian Authority. His only concern is to continue the inexorable construction of more settlements, creating more “facts on the ground” until the idea of an independent Palestinian state becomes a mere memory of a bygone era. When Israel declared its independence in 1948 it did not do so after direct negotiations with Palestine. If Israel really wants to negotiate with the Palestinians, why would negotiating with an independent Palestinian government, on an equal footing, deter it from engaging in these negotiations?

The Reagan administration launched an international information campaign under the slogan “Let Poland be Poland.” It’s time we let Palestine be Palestine.

Abstain from this upcoming vote. Just think about it.

Sincerely yours, Charles O. Cecil U.S. Ambassador, retired
(Ambassador to the Republic of Niger during the Clinton Administration)

Write or Telephone those working for you in Washington.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
(202) 456-1414
White House Comment Line: (202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

State Department Public Information Line: (202) 647-6575


Press and Public Diplomacy Section
United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10017
Opinion & Comment line: 212-415-4062
Fax: 212-415-4053

Any Senator
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-3121

Any Representative
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-3121

E-mail Congress and the White House

E-mail Congress: visit the Web site <www.congress.org> for contact ­information.

E-mail President Obama:

E-mail Vice President Joe Biden:

(occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com / 20.09.2011)

Lebanon warns against Israel intrusion

Lebanon has warned about officially complaining to the UN Security Council against Israel for its encroachment into the Lebanese territorial waters, Press TV reports.

The Lebanese cabinet issued the warning in a session on Tuesday during which it determined the line of demarcation for the country’s exclusive economic zone in its maritime borders, a Press correspondent reported.

In July, Israel approved a map of what it described as “proposed maritime borders.” Lebanon, on the other hand, condemned the move, calling it “an aggression.”

Meanwhile, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said in the cabinet meeting that Lebanon has the right to preserve its natural resources.

Berri urged Lebanese authorities to speed up the process of contracting foreign companies to carry out drilling projects on the oil and gas fields in the exclusive economic zone.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman is also expected to raise the issue on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly, which begins on September 20.

Israel also violates Lebanon’s airspace on an almost daily basis.

In 2009, Lebanon lodged a complaint with the United Nations, presenting over 7,000 documents pertaining to Israeli violations of the Lebanese airspace and territory.

(www.presstv.ir / 20.09.2011)

‘Palestinians need just two more Security Council votes in bid for statehood’

Palestinian Foreign Minister says attempts underway to win over Gabon, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina, in quest for UNSC majority; U.S. has vowed to veto the proposal if it cannot garner a blocking majority.

Palestinian officials have so far enlisted the support of at least six or seven members of the 15-member Security Council in their bid to gain United Nations recognition as a sovereign state, a senior official said Tuesday.

“They are trying to convince two or three more Security Council members to vote in favor of accepting Palestine as a UN member state,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki said.

The Palestinians hope to enlist nine members behind them, even if “the U.S. is going to veto it and embarrass itself,” he told Voice of Palestine Radio from New York.

For any decision to pass in the 15-member Council, nine affirmative votes are needed, as well as no veto by any of the permanent Security Council members. The United States holds a veto and has promised to use it, if necessary.

Even as Palestinian diplomats work feverishly to enlist the nine votes to achieve a moral victory – even if it results in a technical defeat – US diplomats were working frantically to muster a blocking minority of seven.

Washington wants to avoid having to use its veto and appear as having single-handedly foiled the Palestinian bid.

So far only Germany and Colombia, which receives much financial support from the U.S. for fighting rebels and drug lords, are said to be with the US and Israel. France and Britain remain unclear.

The Palestinians are trying to win over Gabon, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The first, west-central African state seemed to have made up its mind to vote for the Palestinians, but the other two remained hesitant, Malki said.

Portugal, earlier still defined as undecided, by Tuesday seemed inclined to vote with the Palestinians, Israeli officials said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York Monday he would go ahead and submit the membership application on Friday, immediately after his address to the General Assembly’s 66th session.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ahead of his scheduled departure to the General Assembly session late Tuesday or early Wednesday, called on Abbas to meet with him in New York.

“I call on the chairman of the Palestinian Authority to open direct negotiations in New York, which would continue in Jerusalem and Ramallah,” he said in statement from his Jerusalem office.

“I propose to President Abbas to begin peace negotiations instead of wasting time on futile unilateral measures.”

Abbas replied he was willing to meet Netanyahu in New York, but for protocol purposes, not to relaunch negotiations.

“I am ready to meet any Israeli official at any time he wants, but to meet only for meeting, I think it’s useless,” he told Fox News.

Abbas has conditioned negotiations on an Israeli construction freeze in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu insists on negotiations without preconditions. The last round of talks broke off one year ago.

Malki said Abbas was under heavy pressure not to submit the application.

Europe is trying to convince Abbas not to go to the Security Council, but to the General Assembly, for a watered-down request.

“The president was clear in his position,” Malki said.

“He told them we are committed to going to the Security Council for full UN membership and we will not accept anything less.”

But a senior Israeli government official warned this would be a “mistake” that goes against past Israeli-Palestinian interim deals.

“It’s impossible to impose peace from the outside. It won’t happen,” Mark Regev told correspondents in Jerusalem.     Meanwhile, an opinion poll published Tuesday said the vast majority of Palestinians (83 per cent) support Abbas’ bid.

The poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) interviewed some 1,200 Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza between September 15-17, and had a margin of error of 3 per cent.

(www.haaretz.com / 20.09.2011)