Palestinians will ask UN to recognise statehood

Originally published in Financial Times  (June 16 2011) – via Worthy News

The Palestinians will call on the UN in September to recognise an independent state in the West Bank, East Jersualem and Gaza Strip “under any circumstances”, even if peace talks with Israel can be revived, a senior Palestinian official says.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, a close adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, told journalists in Ramallah on Thursday: “We are asking for admission to the United Nations as a state – that is our first target.”

He added that the Palestinians would make their move “whether there are negotiations [with Israel] or whether there are no negotiations”.

The Palestinian bid to seek formal international backing for an independent state is opposed by Israel, and has attracted criticism from the US and other western governments. Washington is widely expected to veto recognition of a Palestinian state in the UN Security Council. However, diplomats said such a move would severely weaken the country’s standing in the Arab world – an outcome the US administration is keen to avoid.

The US and other countries have tried to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to return to talks, not least to avoid a showdown at the UN in September. Mr Shtayyeh’s comments make clear, however, that the Palestinians are determined to pursue their new strategy regardless of the diplomatic effort.

He insisted that the UN move was not an alternative to peace talks. “We think that going to the UN and negotiations go hand in hand. They are complementary rather than contradictory.”

Mr Shtayyeh, a veteran of peace talks with Israel, said UN recognition would help “rebalance” the relationship between a strong Israeli and a weak Palestinian side. It would also make clear to Israeli negotiators that there were “clear terms of reference” for the peace process – such as the need to establish a Palestinian state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, meaning in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

He conceded that the US was trying to persuade the Palestinians to drop their UN bid but said such attempts were misguided. “We have been listening [to the US] for a long, long time. I think now is the time for Washington to listen, not just to us Palestinians but also to the Arab masses on the street.”

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