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MIDEAST: Countdown to Birth of New Nation Begins

Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH, Apr 28 2011 (IPS) - The countdown to the birth of an independent Palestinian state continues as September approaches. Although the new state will have the moral support of the majority of the international community, Israel’s lack of flexibility – supported by a possible U.S. veto – could stymie any recognition of permanent borders by the U.N. Security Council.

“Israel and the U.S. who are against what they call a unilateral declaration will be swimming against an international tide,” Samir Awad of Birzeit University, near Ramallah, told IPS.

“The time has come for Palestine to become a permanent member of the U.N.,” said Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. “Our people deserve freedom and independence so that they can live in their homeland like the rest of the people in the world.”

The PA has been preparing for Palestinian statehood for the last couple of years with the building of state institutions. PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad announced last September that he would take the case for independence to the U.N. General Assembly in September of this year.

The PA accuses Israel of working toward unilaterally establishing facts on the ground with its continued expropriation of Palestinian land and illegal settlement construction, warning that this is unacceptable.

Nothing can stop the momentum for Palestinian statehood, Awad said.

Israeli academic and Mideast specialist Professor Moshe Ma’oz of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University believes that the Palestinians will obtain the support of the majority of U.N. General Assembly members for statehood come September.

“But the problem with recognition by the U.N. General Assembly is that this is not a binding resolution but mostly moral support,” Ma’oz told IPS. “For a new state to officially come into being it has to have internationally recognised borders. These would have to be approved at the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. as a permanent member of the council could possibly veto this.”

“Even if the U.S. vetoes a U.N. Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood the Palestinians could use the moral victory from the General Assembly to take their plan to other international bodies such as the International Court of Justice,” Ma’oz explained. “These would find in favour of the Palestinians which would further underline Israel’s occupation as illegal under international law.”

As the controversial period draws closer, Israel has been lobbying hard to fight off U.N. General Assembly recognition.

“If the Americans do veto a U.N. Security Council resolution, they and the Israelis will come under increasing international pressure and find themselves isolated,” said Awad.

Many members of the European Union (EU) have lent their support to Palestinian statehood.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted Abbas in Paris last week. A source in the presidential office said that Sarkozy had given the Palestinian leader his “clear support” for efforts leading to the creation of a Palestinian state.

France’s ambassador to the U.N. stated during a Security Council debate on the Middle East, that recognition of the state of Palestine is one of the options which France was considering – with its European partners – with a view to creating a political horizon for re-launching the peace process.

A British government spokesman was quoted recently as saying that nothing was off the table in regard to recognition in September.

But there is some disagreement amongst the Europeans. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be meeting with Abbas in Berlin next month and reportedly will urge him not to seek international recognition.

“If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition survives then the Israeli government will fight Palestinian statehood with all its might. But what Netanyahu will probably do is come up with some half-baked plan for a glorified Bantustan or semi-autonomous state with Israel controlling air, border, water and land resources,” Ma’oz told IPS.

“He will do this in the hope of turning international pressure off Israel and back on to the Palestinians. This will not wash with the international community. Forty years of occupation is more than enough,” Ma’oz added. “Israel’s intransigence could lead to sanctions against Israel and strengthen the growing Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the country. Another possibility is that international peacekeeping troops could be sent to the Palestinian territories to defend the fledgling state against Israel which would be seen as the aggressor.”

Palestinian hopes are high, and Abbas has warned of the possible outbreak of a third Intifada, or uprising, should the political vacuum continue.

“A third Intifada can not be ruled out. The tensions between Israelis and Palestinians are mounting. The shooting several days ago of an Israeli settler [who broke through a Palestinian police roadblock, refusing to stop while driving illegally through the West Bank] and the subsequent clashes is a warning of things to come,” said Ma’oz.

Nevertheless, Awad has not entirely ruled out the Americans possibly supporting a demilitarised Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

“In return the Palestinians would give up the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel proper, and only return to the new Palestinian state,” explained Awad.

As tensions in the area build over the issue of Palestinian statehood, other major flashpoints are looming on the horizon.

The second major ‘Free Gaza’ flotilla is due to attempt to breech Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza in May which could again lead to bloody confrontations and deaths. Palestinians will also soon commemorate the Nakba – a commemoration Israel’s establishment and the flight of Palestinians from their land.

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