27th Oct 2016

EU countries declare positions on Palestine's UN bid

  • Palestine's UN resolution says Jerusalem should be a shared capital (Photo: Hadar)

France has said it will vote Yes in a UN vote on making Palestine into an "observer state," but the UK will only back the move with strings attached.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told parliament on Tuesday (27 November): "You know that for years and years France's consistent position has been the recognition of the Palestinian state ... That is why when the question is raised [in New York] on Thursday and Friday, France will respond with a 'Yes'."

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The French decision comes as no surprise.

France, along with 10 other EU countries last year voted to admit Palestine to the UN's cultural heritage agency, Unesco.

EU diplomats expect that most of the group-of-11 will take the same line on the UN "state" vote.

Denmark on Tuesday restated its Unesco position by publicly joining France in the Yes camp. "It is an ambition that we support wholeheartedly," its foreign minister, Villy Sovdnal, told the Berlingske daily.

But some countries have changed their mind.

Belgium, which voted Yes on Unesco, plans to abstain on the statehood vote, its foreign ministry's spokesman told the Le Soir daily on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the UK, which abstained last year, has indicated it will vote Yes, but with conditions.

Foreign minister William Hague told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by phone late on Monday that he will back the UN bid if Palestine binds itself not to use its new status to file anti-Israeli cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

A positive UK vote would be a coup for the Palestinian side.

But Palestine's EU ambassador, Leila Shahid, told EUobserver the ICC conditionality is not acceptable.

"We will not give up any rights which the status gives us. We are equal people to those others who have this status, including the right to go to the ICC," she said.

She noted the vote will in any case go through because a majority of UN members already recognise Palestine on a bilateral basis.

But she said European support would have important "symbolic" value due to the EU's financial and political clout in the region: "It will not change anything on the ground, but symbolically and in terms of the legal framework, in terms of the symbolic recognition of the capital and the borders and the right of the refugees, it is very important."

For their part, the US and Israel say the move will harm the prospect of restarting peace talks.

"It's a British call how they want to take this forward. They know exactly where we stand," US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Tuesday.

"It enflames the situation between the parties and makes it harder for them to come to the table, makes the political situation harder between them," she added.

But Palestine believes UN status is the only way to protect its land in the face of decades-long Israeli settlement expansion.

"There isn't a third alternative - either you accept the fact that going to the UN is a non-violent and diplomatic way of building a Palestinian state, or you can't give moral lessons to the Palestinians and tell them to face [Israeli] F16s and F15s with their bare hands," Shahid said.

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