French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today announced that France would support the Palestinian bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations, frustrating efforts by President Barack Obama to persuade the Palestinian leader to stand down. "For several years, France's official position has been to recognize the Palestinian state.... When the question will be asked, France will answer "Yes" for consistency's sake," Fabius told the French Parliament.
The remarks come two days before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to preside over a U.N. General Assembly vote on a resolution recognizing Palestine as a "non-member state" at the United Nations. Fabius's comment also appeared calculated to deliver a political boost to the Palestinian leader, who has been eclipsed by its more militant rival, Hamas, whose influence has risen with the fortunes of the region's Islamist governments, principally Egypt.
The new status would not confer on the Palestinian the status of a full U.N. member state, but could pave the way for admission in other international organizations, including the International Criminal Court, that do not require states parties to be full-fledged members of the United Nations.
A previous bid by the Palestinians to become a U.N. member state faltered more than a year ago in the face of firm American opposition within the U.N. Security Council.
The United States maintains that the Palestinian route to statehood should proceed through a negotiated peace settlement with the Israeli government. But such talks have been stalled.
European governments have been generally sympathetic to the Palestinian quest for statehood, but several capitals, including London and Berlin, have urged the Palestinians to back down, saying the move could undercut prospects for a resumption of future peace talks, and could damage its relations with President Obama, who has appealed with Abbas not to move forward.
"We have made consistently clear that we think that it is wrong for the Palestinians to bring this resolution to a vote at this time and that it isn't likely to be a helpful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East," Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant told reporters today. "But we have not made a decision yet that if it does come to a vote, how we will vote."
The Guardian reported that Britain has privately pledged to back Abbas if he pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes through the International Criminal Court and agrees to return to the peace table with Israel without preconditions.
Germany is expected to vote against the measure or abstain on the grounds that the initiative provides little hope of advancing the prospects for peace in the region.
"Little can be achieved by it. If the Palestinians believe it will push the Israelis into negotiations we don't believe that. If they might have in mind to take the issue to the International Criminal Court it will not help, of course, from the perspective of a return to the negotiation table," said one senior U.N. based diplomat. "We fear Abbas is heading for a dangerous Phyrric victory ... the danger is the Palestinians will even more drastically and dramatically turn to Hamas when they see that Abbas has not brought anything tangible for them. It might backfire for Abbas."
But others say American and Israeli opposition to Abbas' statehood bid will backfire. "If the world wants to express support for the Palestinian party that recognizes Israel, seeks to avoid violence, and genuinely wishes to reach a peace agreement in which a Palestinian state exists alongside -- not instead of -- Israel, it will have its chance later this week when Mr. Abbas makes his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations," Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords wrote in the New York Times. "If American and Israeli opposition to a Palestinian bid continues, it could serve as a mortal blow to Mr. Abbas, and end up being a prize that enhances the power and legitimacy of Hamas."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.