Palestinian Arabs Set To Test Obama II With Demarche at United Nations

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The New York Sun

“We hope that there will be a positive way of looking at this effort by the US administration,” the Palestinian Arab observer at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told me, expressing a wish that America will favor a new Arab proposal for a General Assembly resolution extending recognition to a Palestinian Arab state.

He may be disappointed. Washington is widely expected to maintain its opposition to the move and to vote against the proposed resolution that the Arab group at the U.N. circulated today among the 193 Assembly members. Nevertheless, the Assembly is likely to adopt the proposal at the end of this month.

Mr. Mansour’s wish reflects a widely-held belief here that in coming months the newly-elected American president intends to adopt an even more U.N.-favorable stance, especially on Israel-related issues, and to significantly alter past American policies. The Palestinian Arab observer spoke just after a group of Arab ambassadors met at the Sudanese mission here, where they worked out the language for a three-page resolution proposal.

Several diplomats said that the group intends to bring the new text to a vote on November 29, the date in which, back in 1947, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the partition of mandatory Palestine.

According to today’s proposed resolution, the General Assembly would decide “to accord to Palestine Observer State status in the United Nations system.” The assembly also “Expresses the hope that the Security Council will consider favorably” last year’s Palestinian application for full membership in the world body.

The Obama administration used its veto right at the council last year to nix full Palestinian membership, arguing that past agreements between Israeli and Palestinians require that statehood would be achieved only through direct negotiations between the two sides. The same argument is expected to be invoked at the General Assembly later this month. American diplomats have told colleagues that they would vote against upgrading the Palestinian representation here from an observer “organization” to an observer “state.” But unlike at the 15-member Security Council, America cannot veto General Assembly resolutions. A large majority is expected to approve the measure.

Ramallah officials have said that once they’re recognized as a state at the U.N. system, they can apply for membership in bodies like the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where they can attempt to sue Israeli soldiers for committing war crimes.

Two Western diplomats told me that European Union envoys, who also met today to discuss the Palestinian recognition drive, are leaning on Ramallah to postpone the vote in the assembly and also to “soften” the proposed resolution’s language.

The Europeans fear that a clash between Ramallah and Washington at such an early date, as Mr. Obama resets his second term, may damage a hoped-for relaunch of a Middle East “Peace process.”

Moreover, the Europeans are concerned about mandatory American cuts for funding international bodies that accept Palestine for membership. Last year, after the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization accepted Palestine as a member, Congress defunded the Paris-based body.

Now Europeans fear that America will similarly cut funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which cares for Arabs interned in refugee camps across the region since 1949. They also worry that other U.N. bodies would be defunded, and that Israel, America, or both would “punish” the Palestinian Authority by cutting its funding.

On the other hand, many diplomats here cautiously hope that America will change its widely unpopular behavior at the UN as the Obama administration settles into a second term. Washington already backed a Turtle Bay committee call this week for renewed push of an international treaty that would regulate and limit sales of conventional arms around the world.

Looming in the horizon is an international gathering to declare the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons. Iran said this week it will attend the conference, tentatively scheduled for December in Helsinki. Israel, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is likely to skip the Helsinki gathering, seen as an Arab attempt to isolate the Jewish state.

In the past, American diplomats objected the expected “ganging up” on Israel in the planned conference. U.N. diplomats now say they hope for a “softened” stance from the Obama administration.

Several diplomats here searched for signals indicating a shift in Mr. Obama’s policies at the U.N. and around the globe. “A lot would depend on Susan Rice,” said India’s ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, indicating that if the American ambassador at Turtle Bay becomes Secretary of State or National Security Adviser, she may push a more pro-U.N. stance.

Others said that Mr. Obama may, at least in the short term, maintain the pro-Israel principles that have guided American foreign policy for decades. The Arabs’ fear of such an outcome may explain today’s move on Palestinian statehood, said a Western diplomat.

The New York Sun

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