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Source: European Parliament
27 September 2011

Palestinian case: controversial issue within Parliament

On 23 September Palestine applied for UN membership. Its request for recognition of Palestinian statehood is controversial, with some seeing it as a legitimate step, while others regard it as provocation. The US has already opposed it and the EU is divided. We asked Proinsias De Rossa, the head of the Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Bastiaan Belder, the head of the Israel Delegation, for their opinions.

How should the UN react to this request, should it back a state with pre-1967 borders?

Israel and the West Bank  ©UN/OCHA
Israel and the West Bank ©UN/OCHA

De Rossa: It is likely that the UN will say "no" if it comes to a formal vote because the US has said it will veto such an application. But what is the justification? There is no justification in international law, no justification in morality. There is no contradiction between being a member of the UN and negotiations about the final status for Palestine.

In terms of what the borders will be, President Obama himself outlined what should be the basis of a solution: the 1967 Green line with land swaps. The Palestinians have said "yes" to that, Netanyahu has said "no". The obstacle is on the Israeli side.

Belder: First, for whom is (president of the Palestinian Authority) Mahmoud Abbas speaking? Hamas said very clearly that they don't share his position. So is he a real peace partner for Israel? There is reconciliation but there is still no unified government. Second, what legitimacy does a president that postpoed several elections have?

Furthermore, it's a fundamental problem for me that Mahmoud Abbas refuses to speak about a two-state solution, with a Jewish State next to the Palestinian state. He took a unilateral step, not backed by the whole Palestinian people. It is a propaganda offensive by the Palestinian Authority that is in my view entirely weak and divided.

What would UN recognition change for the people of Palestine?

Belder: That is the big problem, should it really bring a change? Mahmoud Abbas wants to use an upgrading, for example an observer status like the Vatican, to file accusations at the International Criminal Court. Again - that is confrontation not peace.

Abbas said that he was going to the UN because after all these decades there is no real peace proposal. But twice in 2000 Yasser Arafat refused far-reaching peace proposals as did Mr Abbas in 2008.

De Rossa: It changes their sense of who they are, it grants them the dignity of being part of the international family of nations. At the moment they are referred to in the UN as an entity. Given that the Palestinians agreed more than 20 years ago that they would accept the Green line as the border with Israel, accounting for 22% of the original Palestinian territory before partition in 1947, they should be given a seat in the UN.
It also gives the Palestinians negotiators equal status. There is clearly a mismatch in terms of power and resources, in favour of the Israeli side.

The EU is the biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority. What position should it take an can a common position be achieved?

De Rossa: So far unfortunately no EU common position has been found. It's a mistake for some member states to believe that it has to be a choice between membership of the UN and negotiations.

When I talk to Palestinians, their only question is when negotiations will resume. Their land is being taken by Israeli settlers - as a Palestinian explained: it's like negotiating the sharing of a pizza when the other party keeps eating the pizza.

It's clear from Obama's speech last week that the Palestinians can't expect more concessions from the US before the American elections. The EU should take the lead now and to act as a mediator. All the member states want an independent Palestinian State to be established on the basis of negotiations. They have all acknowledged the enormous progress that Abbas and (prime minister) Fayyad have made in terms of putting institutions in place. We all must be united in bringing starting negotiations and bringing them to a conclusion.

Belder: The EU signed the Oslo agreements, which clearly said that there should not be any unilateral step by any party. The EU should stick to its position and to the negotiation table, and unambiguously call on the Palestinians to sit down with the Israelis. Look at what happened when the Quartet (UN, US, EU and Russia) called for: negotiations. Israel accepted and the Palestinians refused. They are now reconsidering it and I hope that they will come back to the negotiation table.

The issue is being debated in plenary with High Representative Catherine Ashton Tuesday afternoon.

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