27th Oct 2016

EU opinions multiply on Palestinian UN upgrade

  • The potential UN vote on Palestine's status could end up splitting the EU and causing a clash with the US in what diplomats are calling a 'train wreck' (Photo: tomdz)

Five EU countries have joined France in saying the UN should upgrade Palestine's status. Three have joined the UK in saying No. Others fall in between the two camps or are staying out of the debate for now.

Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain in their UN General Assembly speeches over the weekend joined France in backing the upgrade.

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"This session may be remembered as the one in which the general assembly granted Palestine the status of a non-member observer state. This decision could be supported by Spain," Spanish foreign minister Trinidad Jimenez said in New York on Saturday (24 September).

Her speech was marked by a defence of Israel as a Jewish state, however - a red line for Palestinians who say that one fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs and that Palestinian refugees in neighbouring countries should have the right of return.

"I wish to underline Spain's commitment to the state of Israel as the embodiment of the project to create a homeland for the Jewish people," she said.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho backed the upgrade unconditionally. Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere said Palestine "has now reached a level of statehood the world cannot ignore." Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn and his Greek counterpart Stavros Lambrinidis went even further, saying Palestine's appeal to get full UN membership must "be heard" and "respected."

In a second group, Finland, Malta and Sweden did not explicitly back an upgrade but underlined Palestine's rights and its institutional readiness for statehood while criticising Israeli settlement-building.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Italy joined the UK and the US in the anti-upgrade camp.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini told the UN: "We continue to strongly back the American efforts" to restart peace talks with no change in Palestine's UN status. Czech President Vaclav Klaus said "I agree with [US] President Obama."

Bulgarian foreign minister Nickolay Mladenov was confusing. On one hand he criticised Palestine's "unilateral" UN bid and supported Israel as a Jewish state. But on the other, he noted that Bulgaria already recognised Palestinian independence in 1988.

Most of the other member states who spoke over the weekend - Austria, Cyprus and former Communist EU countries - did not take a position. The group, many of which are more interested in EU-Russia relations than the Middle East, instead repeated generalities about a two-state solution or said nothing on the subject.

Germany and the Netherlands (traditionally pro-Israeli), Ireland and Denmark (pro-Palestinian) as well as Romania have not yet spoken at the UN event.

The EU's Catherine Ashton is trying to avoid a UN vote on the upgrade by promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks based on a timetable agreed by the Quartet - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US. Almost every EU country paid lip service to her official role as the union's foreign policy chief by wishing the Quartet well.

The Quartet plan has suffered two early knock-backs, however.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday after returning home to a hero's welcome he cannot accept it because it does not call for a freeze on Israeli settlements. And Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said it is a "failure" because it is skewed in Israel's favour.

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