Hardeep Singh Puri at the UN on Thursday. (AFP)
New York, Nov. 29: The UN will cast a historic “yes” vote on Palestine today, but its consequence may be a big “no” for peace in the long-festering Arab-Israeli dispute.
With 132 of the UN’s 193 members having already recognised Palestine as a state, approval of a General Assembly resolution upgrading its role from merely an “entity” with observer status to “non-member state” is certain to pass this afternoon here.
On Tuesday, France became the latest country to recognise Palestine as a state, the first western nation among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to do so. At the UN, the Vatican is presently the only country with the status of a non-member state, the position that Palestinians are aspiring for in today’s vote.
One side of the contradiction that the General Assembly’s latest involvement in Palestine, notwithstanding its outcome, may actually set back its peace efforts with Israel was summed up by the current president of the UN Security Council, India’s Permanent Representative to the world body, Hardeep Singh Puri. “If there is a poor turnout, a poor vote, the radicals gain,” Puri told reporters at the Indian mission here last night.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived here yesterday and met UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as part of his diplomatic drive to stave off such an eventuality.
In a day of hectic behind-the-scenes activity on the eve of the General Assembly vote, US President Barack Obama sent deputy secretary of state William Burns to New York to appeal to Abbas not to press for a vote today.
Abbas rejected the appeal, according to officials at the Palestine’s observer mission to the UN. His dilemma is that if he backs down on the resolution to upgrade Palestine’s status, he will cede ground to the more radical faction among his people, the Hamas, which rules Gaza.
Abbas and his Fatah movement, which rules from Ramallah, were already sidelined and reduced to being mere onlookers during the recent eight-day conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Although Puri did not name Hamas, his implication was clear: Abbas needs a comprehensive “yes” vote in the General Assembly to shore up his position against more radical Palestinians. The irony, however, is that such a victory will make Israel and its main backer, the US, more intransigent on a solution to the Palestinian issue. Worries that today’s outcome in the General Assembly will open the gates for Palestine to approach the International Criminal Court to file war crimes charges against Israel, the Jewish state is expected to take a harder line on peace and further delay the creation of a Palestinian state in its neighbourhood.
Further complicating the stalemate, US Senator Orrin Hatch yesterday filed an amendment to a defence bill on Capitol Hill to eliminate American funding for the UN itself if the General Assembly passes today’s resolution. The US is the biggest contributor to the UN budget.
Last year, when the Palestinians joined the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), the US immediately suspended its contribution to the world body. Washington’s money accounts for 22 per cent of Unesco’s budget.
Israel has threatened that it will withhold the equivalent of about $210 million in tax revenue that it collects every year, an amount that is customarily transferred to the Palestinians. The US may also withhold money that it gives to the UN specifically for relief to Palestinian refugees.
In addition to refugee relief funds via the UN route, the US aid package for Palestine averages about $600 million a year in direct budgetary assistance, non-lethal security assistance and project finance.
A cut off in such funds will make the already difficult plight of Palestinians more difficult once the General Assembly adopts today’s resolution.