6:33am

Thu November 29, 2012
Middle East

Palestinians' Abbas Goes To U.N. Seeking New Status

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 7:38 am

Transcript

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The United States is strongly against it. So even more strongly is Israel, but this will not deter the Palestinians from going to the United Nations today to secure a vote formally upgrading Palestine's U.N. status. There's little doubt the vote will pass easily, securing what the Palestinian leadership considers a significant diplomatic victory.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The Palestinians are about to get an upgrade. It's enshrined in the all-important language of diplomacy. Right now, their status at the United Nations is that of a non-member, observer entity. Today, the U.N. General Assembly will vote to change that word entity to state.

Peace talks with Israel have gone nowhere for some years. The Palestinian leadership believes this change will strengthen their position, as Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, explained to a press conference.

HANAN ASHRAWI: We want to ensure that our land is defined as is, and to ensure that Israel knows its occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza.

REEVES: The United States tried hard to persuade the Palestinians to cancel today's trip to the U.N. Washington argues the proper path to Palestinian statehood is through negotiations with Israel. It'll vote against the resolution. Israel's also strongly opposed.

MARK REGEV: We think this is a mistake.

REEVES: Mark Regev is spokesman for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

REGEV: This Palestinian action at the U.N. is going to do nothing whatsoever to change realities on the ground for Palestinians or Israelis. It's not going to help make peace. It's not going to bring forward Palestinian statehood. I mean, all that can only happen in the framework of dialogue and negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians.

REEVES: The upgrade makes it easier for the Palestinians to join other U.N. bodies. Controversially, that includes the International Criminal Court. That could pave the way for the Palestinians to launch proceedings against Israeli officials, alleging war crimes or other abuses. Western diplomats fear that might scupper all chances of getting peace talks going again any time soon.

Attention is now focusing on Israel's response to the vote. Israeli officials have toned down earlier warnings of tough measures. There's speculation Israel may withhold tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Regev declines to give details.

REGEV: I can only say that our response will be proportionate to what is ultimately a fundamental violation by the Palestinians of signed agreements. I mean, they committed to solving all outstanding issues through negotiations. And by going to the U.N., they're doing the opposite.

REEVES: So there will be a response.

REGEV: Yes.

REEVES: Ashwari denies that going to the U.N. for formal recognition of statehood amounts to unilateral action.

ASHRAWI: It is not. It is a commitment to multilateralism, to international law, to responsibility, actually, as an equal player on the international arena.

REEVES: Today's vote throws a spotlight on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This is an important moment for him. His popularity and influence have waned. Many Palestinians complain their leadership's corrupt, and say Abbas has made no progress in negotiating peace, while Israel's continued building settlements on their land.

At the same time, the rival Hamas, who rule Gaza, is enjoying a surge in public and international support, following its recent bloody confrontation with Israel. It's unclear how much Abbas' standing will be boosted by today's vote. Palestinians on the West Bank don't seem especially enthused by it, and they view it as merely symbolic.

Lawyer Diana Buttu is a former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization. She says everything depends on what Abbas - also known as Abu Mazen - does next.

DIANA BUTTU: Is this just another move to boost Abu Mazen's popularity, a popularity that has died? Or does he really want to do something different? Does he really want to change course? Does he really want to push for Israel's isolation? Is he going to push for accountability?

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.