November 29, 2012


[The resolution is expected to win backing from a number of European countries, among them France, Spain and Switzerland — a rebuff to intense American and Israeli diplomacy. Others, like Germany, say they will abstain, and a tiny handful of countries are expected to join Israel and the United States in voting no. ]

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority spoke at the United Nations
 before the General Assembly voted on Palestine's status as a “nonmember
observer state” on Thursday.
UNITED NATIONS — An overwhelming majority of countries are expected on Thursday to vote to recognize Palestine as a “nonmember observer state” at the United Nations. Palestinian leaders say the step advances a two-state solution with Israel, but Israeli and American officials condemn it as detrimental to peaceful coexistence.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly before the vote, called the moment a “last chance” to save the two-state solution and said that the window of opportunity was narrowing.
“The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine,” he said just before the vote was scheduled to take place.
The resolution is expected to win backing from a number of European countries, among them France, Spain and Switzerland — a rebuff to intense American and Israeli diplomacy. Others, like Germany, say they will abstain, and a tiny handful of countries are expected to join Israel and the United States in voting no.
The resolution comes shortly after an eight-day Israeli military assault on Gaza that Israel described as a response to stepped-up rocket fire into Israel. The operation killed scores of Palestinians and was aimed at reducing the arsenal of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, a part of the territory that the United Nations resolution expects to make up a future state of Palestine.
Mr. Abbas directed harsh criticism toward Israel, saying that the “aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip has confirmed once again the urgent and pressing need to end the Israeli occupation and for our people to gain their freedom and independence.”
“This aggression also confirms the Israeli Government’s adherence to the policy of occupation, brute force and war, which in turn obliges the international community to shoulder its responsibilities toward the Palestinian people and toward peace,” Mr. Abbas said early in his speech.
The Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, was politically weakened by the Gaza fighting, with its rivals in Hamas seen by many Palestinians as more willing to stand up to Israel and fight back. That shift in sentiment is one reason that some Western countries give for backing the United Nations resolution, to strengthen Mr. Abbas and his more moderate colleagues in their contest with Hamas.
“We have not heard one word from any Israeli official expressing any sincere concern to save the peace process,” Mr. Abbas said.
“On the contrary, our people have witnessed, and continue to witness, an unprecedented intensification of military assaults, the blockade, settlement activities and ethnic cleansing, particularly in Occupied East Jerusalem, and mass arrests, attacks by settlers and other practices by which this Israeli occupation is becoming synonymous with an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement.”
“The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: Enough of aggression, settlements and occupation,” he said.
The vote is taking place exactly 65 years after the General Assembly voted to divide the former British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab — a vote that Israel considers the international seal of approval for its birth.
At the time, Arabs rejected the division of the land and the creation of Israel. But since the late 1980s, the Palestine Liberation Organization has officially endorsed two states, with the state of Palestine defined as comprising the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza — areas beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders that it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Mr. Abbas said the Palestinians wanted to breathe new life into the negotiations. He said the Palestinians would accept “no less than the independence of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, to live in peace and security alongside the State of Israel,” adding they were also seeking a solution to the refugee issue based on the resolutions.
Israel says that it, too, favors a two-state resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but reached through negotiations, with some parts of those areas remaining in Israeli hands, with a strong focus on security concerns and with a formal recognition by the Palestinians of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.
“The Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state, and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a statement on Thursday. “None of these vital interests, these vital interests of peace, none of them appear in the resolution that will be put forward before the General Assembly today, and that is why Israel cannot accept it.”
The Israelis also say that the fact that Mr. Abbas is not welcome in Hamas-run Gaza, from which he was ejected five years ago, shows that there is no viable Palestinian leadership living up to its obligations now.
Palestinian officials said that it is Israel that has violated its agreements and international law by building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They say that 20 years of failed negotiations with Israel pushed them to seek this kind of international recognition in the hopes that it would press Israel and its allies in Washington to step up peace talks.
“Israel, the United States and a handful of countries are on the wrong side of morality, the wrong side of justice and the wrong side of the law,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, at a news conference in Ramallah on Wednesday. She said the United Nations vote would “begin a process of historical redemption and healing in Palestine.”
Realizing that they could not head off the vote on Thursday, Israel and the United States have been working to contain the fallout from it.
On Wednesday, two senior American diplomats — William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, and David Hale, the special envoy to the Middle East — met at a hotel in New York with Mr. Abbas to register American concerns.
“No one should be under any illusion that this resolution is going to produce the results that the Palestinians claim to seek, namely to have their own state living in peace next to Israel,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said on Wednesday. “We thought it was important to make our case one more time.”
A major concern for the Americans is that the Palestinians might use their new status to try to join the International Criminal Court. That prospect particularly worries the Israelis, who fear that the Palestinians might press for an investigation of their practices in the occupied territories.
Another worry is that the Palestinians might use the vote to seek membership in specialized agencies of the United Nations, a move that could have consequences for the financing of the international organizations as well as the Palestinian Authority itself. Congress cut off financing to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as Unesco, in 2011 after it accepted Palestine as a member. The United States is a major contributor to many of these agencies and plays an active role on their governing boards.
“To my knowledge, there’s no legislative impact that is triggered in the same way that there was with regard to Unesco,” Ms. Nuland said on Monday. “However, as you know, we also have money pending in the Congress for the Palestinian Authority, money that they need to support their regular endeavors and to support administration of the territories. So, obviously, if they take this step, it’s going to complicate the way the Congress looks at the Palestinians.”
Anticipating approval of the resolution, which would upgrade Palestine’s observer status at the United Nations from that of an “entity,” Western diplomats have pushed for a Palestinian commitment not to seek membership in the International Criminal Court and United Nations specialized agencies, a privilege that has been open to other nonmember observer states.
Another step would be an affirmation by the Palestinians that the road to statehood was through the peace process. And a third could be a Palestinian commitment to open negotiations with the Israelis.
Such assurances do not appear to have been provided.
Israeli officials, aware that a harsh reaction to the vote would only tend to isolate their country further, have begun playing down the significance of the draft resolution, and have toned down threats of countermeasures if it is approved. Israel’s response will be “proportionate” to how the Palestinians act after the vote, said an Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said there would be no automatic response from Israel. “We’re going to see where the Palestinians take this,” he said. “If they use it to continue confronting Israel and other U.N. bodies, there will be a firm response. If not, then there won’t.”
Some Middle East experts said the Obama administration’s determination to vote against the Palestinian Authority’s motion was self-defeating, since it would accelerate the weakening of the authority as a voice for the Palestinian people and as a partner in peace negotiations.
A better strategy, said Robert Malley, the Middle East program director at the International Crisis Group, would be for the United States and Israel simply to “shrug their shoulders” and treat the resolution a desperate bid for political legitimacy, not a threat to Israel or to the prospects for a peace agreement.
“He really, politically, has no choice,” Mr. Malley said of Mr. Abbas during a panel discussion at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This is less an act of confrontation than an act of survival.”
Reporting was contributed by Michael R. Gordon and Mark Landler from Washington, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, and Nicholas Kulish from Berlin.