Monday

6th Apr 2020

Interview

Palestine's UN upgrade coming back on EU agenda

  • Palestinian girl walks by poster of late PLO leader Yasser Arafat in the Mar Elias camp, Beirut (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU should get ready for Palestine's renewed push to upgrade its UN status and stop calling for "illusory" peace talks with Israel, a senior Palestinian politician has said.

Palestine grabbed world attention in New York last September when it asked the UN for full membership and in November when the UN's cultural agency, Unesco, let it join.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The UN campaign then vanished from sight. But Souheil Natour - a legal scholar and a senior politician in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) - told EUobserver in an interview that it will come back on the agenda after Palestinian elections, expected in May or June.

"[PLO chairman] Abu Mazen was initially scared off by US and Israeli threats to withhold funds. But now he is coming back to this," Natour said.

He noted that the elections will count votes from Palestinians in Israeli-occupied Gaza and the West Bank, as well as mass numbers of Palestinian refugees in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria - an act of defiance against Israel, which says the exiles can never come back because it would destroy the idea of Israel as a homeland for Jewish people.

Natour added that after elections Palestine will seek a vote in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to upgrade its status from "non-voting organisation" to "non-voting state."

"The EU shouldn't pressure us to go on with the illusory process of so-called peace talks with Israel ... We do not have two states because of Israel. They have no interest in a Palestinian state because they already have their own country," he said.

Natour was born in 1947 in what Arabs call Akka, a city in what is today northern Israel and which appears on most maps under its Hebrew name, Acre. Jewish forces expelled his family in 1948 and he has not been allowed back, even to visit, in 64 years. He now lives in the squalid refugee camp of Mar Elias in Beirut. Like the other 280,000-or-so Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, he has permanent residency but no right to vote or work.

In an insight into the psychology of the conflict, he said refugees will not give up their right of return.

"When the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982 and surrounded West Beirut, it took 80 days of siege, of bombardment by the mightiest army in the Middle East and we did not kneel. If we were afraid of them, we could not have resisted."

He said Palestinians are prepared to live side by side with Jews in a two-state solution. But he rejected the idea of a Jewish homeland which forbids refugees from coming home.

"It's bullshit ... You can't create a modern country based on religious principles - this is not the Middle Ages. A modern country, like all European countries, must have equal status for all its citizens," he said.

Natour urged the EU to support Palestine by voting in favour of the UNGA upgrade, making good on promises to rebuild Gaza and boycotting Israeli exports from illegal settlements. He said it would be in the Union's interest in terms of relations with Arab countries and promoting peace in its southern "hinterland."

Submarine diplomacy

The PLO is sceptical on whether the Union can or will make a change, however.

"Without an American decision the Europeans cannot do much ... The Germans delivered their fourth submarine [to Israel] last week. So, if you are selling such weapons, submarines capable of firing an atomic bomb, when we ask for pressure on the Israeli economy or on the settlement problem, we don't trust the Europeans," Natour said.

He was equally sceptical on whether Arab powers such as US-allied Saudi Arabia, or the Saudi-linked Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, will confront Israel for Palestine's sake.

He added that Palestinians have their own Arab Spring, however.

He pointed to popular protests last year for Palestinian political parties Fatah and Hamas to join forces and to last May, when Palestinian youths from Lebanon, Jordan and Syria marched to the border "to see their land, to see their Palestine," in what ended with Israeli soldiers killing over 10 people.

"We have to work for our Spring also, to join the club, and the path is through the re-unification of all the Palestinian forces, all the factions," Natour said.

Pro-Palestinian NGOs have called for another mass walk to the border on 30 March.

Meanwhile, a recent Israeli intelligence report seen by the Haaretz newspaper says there is increasing risk of unrest. "At this point, neither the Palestinian leadership nor public opinion seems to want a violent escalation with Israel ... Still, the continuing freeze of the diplomatic process, combined with any drastic Israeli moves in the military and/or economic realm and the continuing stormy situation in the Middle East, could bring about a change in this approach," the report notes.

Unesco vote highlights EU split on Palestine

Just five EU countries voted "No" on admitting Palestine to the UN heritage agency, Unesco, in an indication of loyalties on the big question of UN membership.

Palestine fed up with waiting for EU common position

Palestine's ambassador to the EU has said Mahmoud Abbas will on Friday ask the UN Security Council for full UN membership despite last-minute British, French and US warnings not to go ahead.

Agenda

This WEEK in the European Union

The Union's next seven-year budget, new tax laws, Palestinian refugees, Belarus and Syria stand out on next week's EU agenda.

Opinion

Why EU should reject new Israeli trade pact

By rejecting the so-called ACAA agreement, MEPs could begin to play a mature and constructive role in EU foreign policy in the Arab Spring region.

Opinion

Trump's 'plan' for Israel will go against EU values

As someone who has been personally targeted by Benjamin Netanyahu's incitement against Arabs and Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and Druze, I still believe that peace is possible. But Donald Trump's 'plan' will be a gift to Netanyahu's campaign.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. EU's 'Irini' Libya mission: Europe's Operation Cassandra
  2. Slovak army deployed to quarantine Roma settlements
  3. Lockdown: EU officials lobbied via WhatsApp and Skype
  4. EU: Athens can handle Covid outbreak at Greek camp
  5. New push to kick Orban's party out of centre-right EPP
  6. EU launches €100bn worker support scheme
  7. Court: Three countries broke EU law on migrant relocation
  8. Journalism hit hard by corona crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us