Palestinians poised for status upgrade at U.N.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pose for photos at the United Nations Nov. 28, 2012, in New York City. / Getty Images
Updated 4:35 p.m. ET
UNITED NATIONS The Palestinians are certain to win U.N. recognition as a state Thursday in a General Assembly vote that Israel and the United States warn could delay hopes of achieving an independent Palestinian homeland through peace talks with Israel.
The United States, Israel's closest ally, mounted an aggressive campaign to head off the General Assembly vote, which the Palestinians view as a historic step in their quest for global recognition.
With most of the 193 General Assembly member states sympathetic to the Palestinians, the vote is certain to succeed. Several key countries, including France, have recently announced they would support the move to elevate the Palestinians from the status of U.N. observer to nonmember observer state. However, a country's vote in favor of the status change does not automatically imply its individual recognition of a Palestine state, something that must be done bilaterally.
The Palestinians say they need U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967, to be able to resume negotiations with Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the General Assembly Thursday to issue "the birth certificate of Palestine" and said the vote was the last chance to save a two-state solution.
"The window of opportunity is narrowing and time is quickly running out. The rope of patience is shortening and hope is withering. The innocent lives that have been taken by Israeli bombs ... are a painful reminder to the world that this racist, colonial occupation is making the two-State solution and the prospect for realizing peace a very difficult choice, if not impossible," Abbas said. He got a huge round of applause as he left the podium.
Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, warned the General Assembly that "the Palestinians are turning their backs on peace" and that the U.N. can't break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.
"For as long as President Abbas prefers symbolism over reality, as long as he prefers to travel to New York for UN resolutions, rather than travel to Jerusalem for genuine dialogue, any hope of peace will be out of reach," Prosor said.
CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk explains that many diplomats believe the Palestinian bid for non-member state status, despite U.S. and Israeli objections, could restart peace talks for several reasons: "The support for the bid of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert; because there is agreement between the leadership of the West Bank and Gaza on the vote; and because the recent fighting has raised the stakes."
But Israeli and the U.S. officials say that the largely symbolic vote will not be at all productive toward peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians will not win a state until they recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, declare an end to their conflict with the Jewish state and agree to security arrangements that protect Israel. He called Abbas' speech "hostile and poisonous," according to Reuters.
The non-member observer state status could also open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court.
A bipartisan group of senators have already warned the Palestinians they could lose U.S. financial aid if they use their newfound status against Israel. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso and Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez said Thursday that they are pushing for an amendment to the defense bill on the Palestinians that would also shut down the Palestinian Liberation Organization's office if they use their upgraded U.N. status to file such charges.
In a last-ditch move Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made a personal appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood. But the Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.
For Abbas, the U.N. bid is crucial if he wants to maintain his leadership and relevance, especially following the recent conflict between his Hamas rivals in Gaza and Israel. The conflict saw the Islamic militant group claim victory and raise its standing in the Arab world, while Abbas' Fatah movement was sidelined and marginalized. Hamas does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state.
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The Palestinians chose the "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People" for the vote. Before it takes place, there will be a morning of speeches by supporters focusing on the rights of the Palestinians. Abbas is scheduled to speak at that meeting, and again in the afternoon when he will present the case for Palestinian statehood in the General Assembly.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that the U.N. vote will not fulfill the goal of independent Palestinian and Israeli states living side by side in peace, which the U.S. strongly supports because that requires direct negotiations.
"We need an environment conducive to that," she told reporters in Washington. "And we've urged both parties to refrain from actions that might in any way make a return to meaningful negotiations that focus on getting to a resolution more difficult."
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that by going to the U.N., the Palestinians violate "both the spirit and the word of signed agreements to solve issues through negotiations," which broke down four years ago.
But Israeli officials appeared to back away from threats of drastic measures if the Palestinians get U.N. approval, with officials suggesting the government would take steps only if the Palestinians use their new status to act against Israel.
Regev, meanwhile, affirmed that Israel is willing to resume talks without preconditions.
"Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been clear that Israel has no preconditions to negotiations, and the U.N. Resolution makes a point of calling for the resumption and acceleration of those talks," Falk reports, "which is a reversal of past policy."
As a sign of the importance Israel attaches to the vote, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman flew to New York and was scheduled to meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the vote. Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosorspoke to the General Assembly after Abbas
Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly. The world body is dominated by countries sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and the resolution to raise its status from an observer to a nonmember observer state only requires a majority vote for approval. To date, 132 countries -- over two-thirds of the U.N. member states -- have recognized the state of Palestine.
The Palestinians have been courting Western nations, especially the Europeans, seen as critical to enhancing their international standing. A number have announced they will vote "yes" including France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland. Those opposed or abstaining include the U.S., Israel, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia.
A high vote could boost Abbas' standing.
"If there is a poor turnout, a poor vote, the radicals gain," said India's U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri.
The Palestinians turned to the General Assembly after the United States announced it would veto their bid last fall for full U.N. membership until there is a peace deal with Israel.
Following last year's move by the Palestinians to join the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, the United States withheld funds from the organization, which amount to 22 percent of its budget. The U.S. also withheld money from the Palestinians.
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