Wednesday

20th Jun 2018

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join 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

Europe could lose out in North Korean bonanza

South Korean businesses including Hyundai and Samsung are already scoping investment opportunities. Will North Korea become a 'new Vietnam' opportunity - or more like Myanmar, where slow Brussels policy-making meant EU exporters lost out.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. Hungary to push ahead with 'Stop Soros' law on NGOs
  2. Swedish party puts EU referendums back in fashion
  3. EU summit set to outsource asylum
  4. Dutch request to clarify Brexit Britons' rights annulled
  5. EU states set to back some asylum reform laws
  6. The Baltic 'Big Sea' strategy
  7. Orban to EPP: turn 'Christian democratic' or face challenge
  8. Is EU retail sector equipped for 21st century?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us