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30th Mar 2017

Twelve EU countries likely to back Palestine's UN bid

  • Picture of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in refugee camp in Beirut (Photo: EUobserver)

Palestine can count on about 12 Yes votes by EU countries when it tries to upgrade its UN status, in a move expected later this month.

EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told EUobserver on Thursday (8 November) that foreign ministers will discuss the subject at a regular meeting in Brussels on 19 November.

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She added: "The EU maintains that negotiations remain the best way forward to resolve the Middle East peace process."

A senior EU diplomat told this website the Union is divided on the question, however.

He noted that member states' votes "will probably follow the same pattern as with Unesco," referring to a decision by the UN's cultural office to admit Palestine as a member last year.

Eleven EU countries - Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and Spain - backed its Unesco entry.

Another 11 - Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the UK - abstained.

The other five - the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden - voted No.

Some positions might have shifted over the past 12 months.

Cyprus and Israel have developed closer ties over joint exploration of natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea.

But Israel lost an ally when Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal left his post in a new coalition government this week.

Rosenthal's successor, centre-left politician Frans Timmermans, has in the past criticised the Dutch government's pro-Israeli line. Last September, he tabled a motion in the Dutch parliament saying The Hague should back Palestine's bid to get Vatican-type observer "state" status in the UN.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians on Thursday circulated a draft UN resolution seeking "Observer State status ... on the basis of the pre-1967 borders."

The text echoes the EU's common position on the conflict by also calling for "the resumption and acceleration of negotiations" and for "two states, an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel."

It needs a simple majority in the UN to pass, with the vote expected on 15 November or 29 November.

Palestine's chief negotiator on the conflict, Saeb Erekat, recently described the move as "a sword on [the] neck" of Israel, because if it goes through, Palestine will have the right to file cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

For his part, Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman will on Friday in Vienna meet Israel's ambassadors to European countries to plan a blocking campaign.

He indicated what Israeli diplomats will say to EU capitals in his recent meeting with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in Israel.

"[Lieberman] threatened to withhold Palestine's tax revenues, to cut off their electricity and water supplies and to flood the occupied territories with new settlements if they go ahead with the UN vote," an EU source told this website.

Israel this week already gave permits for the construction of 1,300 new settler homes on occupied land.

The US is also lobbying EU countries not to back the UN bid.

The state department sent a restricted memo to member states' UN ambassadors in September saying the observer state bid "would have significant negative consequences, for the peace process itself, for the UN system, as well for our ability to maintain significant financial support for the Palestinian Authority."

It added: "We believe your government understands what is at stake here, and - like us - wants to avoid a collision."

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