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Babylon & Beyond

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Category: United Nations

ISRAEL: Trying classic, digital and celebrity diplomacy

The Palestinian plan to ask the United Nations for statehood recognition has preoccupied Israel's leaders and news media for months, making "September" a code word for trouble ahead. Public officials have sounded dire warnings, each with a metaphor describing what awaits, including "tsunami" (Defense Minister Ehud Barak), "iceberg" (lawmaker Isaac Herzog) and "wall" (President Shimon Peres).

Last-minute efforts continue to reach a compromise that could keep Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from making what some commentators call a game-changing move, and spare the U.S. from resorting to exercising its veto power in the Security Council. One way or another other, "September" is here.

If classic diplomacy has limits, there's always Internet diplomacy. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is one of the country's most social-media-minded officials. This summer he posted on the Web a video titled "The Israel-Palestinian Conflict: The Truth About The Peace Process." It gained plenty of views but not so much traction. 

Now lay practitioners of hasbara, or public outreach, are joining the ranks of the digital diplomats. The latest video making the rounds to illustrate Israel's position is "Israel Wants Peace - Friend Request Pending" (above).  We're in a Facebook era, "like" it or not. Not everyone will agree with the video's message but most will understand its language.

While Netanyahu intends to present "Israel's truth" at the U.N., clever Internet presentations try to show Israel's softer face. And just for fun (and for art, for art!) mass-nude photographer Spencer Tunick showed some other parts over the weekend.

Joining the classic and the digital, there's "celebrity diplomacy" too.Americasvoices

The America's Voices in Israel program brings media and entertainment personalities to Israel for first-hand experiences, sight-seeing and briefings with government officials, to see for themselves and spread the word back home that Israel's a country, not just a conflict. Actor Miguel Ferrer, a member of the program's latest delegation, said he'd commit to offering positive messages on behalf of the people of Israel. "Twilight" star Kellan Lutz, visiting for the second time, noted that people are "not really informed" about Israel.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Video: "Israel Wants Peace- Friend Request Pending." Credit: YouTube

Photo: Kellan Lutz, left, Miguel Ferrer, Carolina La O and Didier Hernendez visiting Jerusalem. Credit: Yissachar Ruas

WEST BANK: U.S. envoys' paper emboldens Abbas to go before U.N.

A paper special U.S. peace envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday that was supposed to sway him away from going to the United Nations was what caused Abbas to take a final stand in favor of going, according to Nabil Shaath, a member of Abbas’ Fatah Central Committee.

Abbas told the Palestinian people on Friday that he is going to the Security Council to ask for membership in spite of strong U.S. objections and attempts to have him change his mind.

Shaath, speaking in Ramallah on Saturday, said the U.S. paper Hale and Ross had presented to Abbas when they met him at his headquarters and that was supposed to get him to decide against going to the U.N. has actually increased his resolve to go.

“It was the last straw” that got Abbas to take the decision in favor of going to the U.N. to ask for membership, Shaath said. “It seems that it [the paper] was designed to be rejected,” he said.

The American paper, Shaath said, was worse than a statement the U.S. had wanted the Middle East quartet -- the U.S., the U.N., Russia and the European Union -- to adopt two months ago and which the quartet members had then rejected.

The U.S. paper, he said, referred to the controversial settlements Israel had been building on Palestinian land occupied since 1967 as “demographic changes.” This, he said, would actually legalize the settlements, which the entire world, including the U.S., had so far considered as illegal.

Abbas is going to submit his membership application to the Security Council as soon as he finishes his speech, which he plans to make at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.

Shaath said it may take a few days to bring it up for discussion and then a vote.

However, he said, if the application was delayed for whatever reason beyond reasonable time, the Palestinian Authority may then go to the U.N. General Assembly to ask for nonmember state.

In his speech to Palestinians Friday, Abbas said that he was going only to the Security Council without saying what would his next step be in case the U.S. vetoes the Palestinian application, as it has already said it would do. He only said that he will hold consultations on the next move.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

 

WEST BANK: 18 years after Oslo, Palestinians try a new tack

On Sept. 13, 1993, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and current Israeli President Shimon Peres signed at the While House the so-called Oslo Accords, ushering in a new era and hopes of peace in the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The agreement was signed in the presence of President Bill Clinton, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

At a news conference in Ramallah in the West Bank on Tuesday to talk about the Palestinians' latest U.N. statehood bid, Palestinian Authority negotiator Muhammad Shtayeh made reference to that agreement.

“The Oslo Accords was an interim agreement that should have reached a conclusion on May 4, 1999,” he said. “It was supposed to bring results through bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.”

However, 18 years later, as the Israeli occupation that was supposed to end more than 10 years ago remains in place and an independent Palestinian state is far from being a reality, the Palestinian Authority decided to try another course of action, asking the United Nations' 193 member states to recognize “Palestine” as member No. 194, based on the 1967 borders.

“The bilateral arrangement of Oslo is now taking us to the multilateral road, which is the U.N.,” said Shtayeh.

Whether the Palestinians will succeed in changing their fate remains to be seen when the Palestinian Authority formally asks the U.N. Security Council for recognition in a couple of weeks.

But as the date for submitting that application gets closer, Palestinians are coming under intense direct and indirect pressure from the U.S. and Europe to withdraw their initiative.

Well informed sources said the pressure seems to have made headway with at least some Arab countries upon which the Palestinians were counting for support in their bid.

Abbas traveled to Cairo on Monday to ask Arab foreign ministers meeting there for their support for the Palestinian application. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was also there for the exact opposite goal: to ask the Arabs to dissuade the Palestinians from proceeding with their move.

According to the sources, the U.S. and European pressure have persuaded some allies to discourage Abbas from proceeding with his U.N. adventure.

At his last news conference in Ramallah before traveling to New York to join the Palestinian delegation there to prepare the final documents for the statehood application, Shtayeh denied what he called “rumors” that the Palestinian Authority was backing down under Arab pressure.

He insisted that the plan was still on, and with the Security Council, not the General Assembly. He said Abbas was going to submit the application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a couple of days before speaks before the General Assembly on Sept. 23. In that speech, said Shtayeh, Abbas would "ask the member states to recognize Palestine as a state on the 1967 borders."

However, as the U.S. has already announced that it would veto such a proposal if it comes up for discussion at the Security Council, Shtayeh said that this initiative was not a one-time effort. The Palestinians may resubmit the application a second, third or tenth time until it finally succeeds, he said.

That process, as in Oslo, may take years.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

WEST BANK: Palestinians start pro-U.N. bid activities

Mahmoud Abbas The Palestinian support group for the United Nations bid to gain statehood recognition announced Saturday a series of activities that would reach a peak when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 23.

Abbas said on Thursday that he will be arriving in New York on Sept. 19 and that soon after he gets there he will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to hand him the Palestinian application seeking full membership in the U.N.

The application will go first to the U.N. Security Council, which is supposed to make the recommendation for the U.N. General Assembly for accepting Palestine as a member state. However, the U.S. has already officially announced that it will veto it, which means the application will be quickly buried.

Abbas did not say what will be his next step, but he is expected to be going for U.N. nonmember state, which should be easy to get at the General Assembly where the U.S. does not have veto power, and which would allow him to join all sorts of U.N. organizations, including the International Criminal Court, UNESCO, UNICEF, the Human Right Council, and many, many others.

The State Department’s expected announcement did not dampen Palestinian spirit to show support for their leaders as they fight for U.N. recognition and membership.

The popular support group, Palestine State 194, in reference to becoming the U.N. member state No. 194 if it succeeds, called on Palestinians everywhere to raise the Palestinian flag on their cars and homes and on everything within their reach starting Sunday.

Mass rallies are planned in West Bank city centers on Sept. 21, when the General Assembly opens, and Sept. 23, when Abbas is scheduled to make his plea for world recognition before the world body.

But before that, and on Friday, protest marches have been called for in the West Bank villages were Palestinians and their international and Israeli supporters hold weekly protests against Israel’s construction of sections of a barrier that goes right through their village land to separate them from Jewish settlements built on Palestinian-owned land.

The next day, Saturday, calls were made on Palestinians to join the women's movement and march to the Israeli army-controlled Qalandia checkpoint, half way between Ramallah and Jerusalem, also in a show of protest against the Israeli occupation.

In the Thursday meeting at his Ramallah headquarters with members of the foreign press in Israel, Abbas made it clear that he will not tolerate any act of violence by Palestinians during their rallies in support of his effort to get U.N. recognition.

“We will hold rallies in the city centers,” he said. “But we will not allow any one to reach contact points with the Israelis. This will not be tolerated. Even if Israel comes to our cities, we will not fight back.”

Abbas’ turn-the-other-cheek approach is supposed to convince the international community that he wants freedom and liberation for his people Gandhi-style.

While he said he can guarantee that there will not be any act of violence by Palestinians, he could not guarantee that there will not be acts of violence by Israelis, whether from soldiers or settlers, against Palestinians.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank have been carrying out almost daily attacks against Palestinians on West Bank roads and in their villages.

Settlers have set fire to a mosque in the northern West Bank, wrote anti-Islam hate graffiti on mosques and university walls, attacked fields, setting fully grown olive trees on fire or cutting them down as the olive harvest season nears when thousands of Palestinian families earn their entire year’s living from the olive harvest, and threw rocks at Palestinians commuting on West Bank roads, damaging cars.

The U.S., on Friday, joined world condemnation of escalated settlers’ violence. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland described these acts as “dangerous and provocative attacks.” She said that “such hateful actions are never justified,” stating that “those responsible should be arrested and subject to the full force of the law.”

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-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee in the West Bank. Credit: Majdi Mohammed / Associated Press

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Legal opinion muddies U.N. statehood bid

Palestinian-activists

As the Palestinian Authority is getting ready to ask the United Nations to accept the West Bank and Gaza Strip within the 1967 borders as a member state, a legal opinion by an Oxford University international-law professor has provoked second thoughts about the move among many Palestinians.

In the opinion, Guy Goodwin-Gill, a member of the legal team that argued in the International Court of Justice against Israel's construction of a wall in the West Bank, warned that a state in the West Bank and Gaza would not be able to represent Palestinians everywhere, nor would it have the legal status the Palestine Liberation Organization has achieved at the U.N. since it was accepted as an observer in 1974.

"Until such a time as a final settlement is agreed, the putative State of Palestine will have no territory over which it exercises effective sovereignty, its borders will be indeterminate or disputed, its population, actual and potential, undetermined and many of them continuing to live under occupation or in states of refuge," he wrote.

This state, he said, "will fall short of meeting the internationally agreed criteria of statehood, with serious implications for Palestinians at large, particularly as concerns the popular representation of those not currently present in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

In conclusion, he wrote: "The interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation, unless steps are taken to ensure and maintain their representation through the Palestinian Liberation Organization, until such time as there is in place a State competent and fully able to assume these responsibilities towards the people at large."

Responding to this opinion, University of Illinois professor of international law Francis A. Boyle, who describes himself as a legal advisor to the PLO and former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Goodwin-Gill's argument is "based upon most erroneous assumptions," describing it as a "doomsday scenario."

He said the Executive Committee of the PLO was set up as the provisional government for the proposed state, which means that it would continue to represent the interests of all Palestinians around the world if the proposed state becomes a U.N. member.

"Hence all your rights will be preserved: for all Palestinians and for the PLO. No one will be disenfranchised. The PLO will not lose its status," he wrote. "All of your rights have been protected and will be protected by Palestine becoming a member state of the United Nations, including the right of return."

The Palestinian Authority, determined to proceed with its U.N. plan, has tried to ease concerns raised by Goodwin-Gill's opinion.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said state recognition would not affect the status of the PLO or the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to his spokesman, is to address the Palestinian people in the coming days on the implications of going to the U.N. -- and also apparently to ease their fears as more are questioning the wisdom of this move.

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-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: Activists in the West Bank hold placards asking for United Nations membership for a Palestinian state as they protest against Jewish settlements on Saturday. Credit: Abed Al Hashlamoun / EPA

LIBYA: Ban Ki-moon stresses 'smooth transition,' urges aid

Ban United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a "smooth transition" in Libya during a speech  Friday in New York.

"That transition must be grounded in inclusiveness, reconciliation and national unity  under a new government that can effectively deliver on the Libyan people's aspirations for democracy, freedom and growing social and economic prosperity," he said. "There is an urgent need to put an end to the conflict and restore order and stability."

Questions have emerged in recent days about whether the new rebel government, the Transitional National Council, is prepared to police the country.

"If the Libyan authorities request, we should be prepared to help develop police capacity, bearing in mind that the country is awash with small arms," Ban said.

Continue reading »

LIBYA: New government may request U.N., foreign police

Streets Libya’s rebel leadership may seek international assistance in establishing policing in the nation, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a Thursday briefing, according to Bloomberg reports.

Nuland said that at Thursday's meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Istanbul, participants discussed the security needs of the rebel’s fledgling government, the National Transitional Council.

Nuland said the council is “unlikely to request a formal peacekeeping force,” but may request international and United Nations help in support of its policing needs.

“Precisely what it may ask for is still to be determined,” Nuland said.

Continue reading »

TURKEY: Opposition calls for Kadafi surrender, unfreezing Libyan assets

Istanbul
The Libya Contact Group of international powers issued a statement in Istanbul, Turkey, Thursday urging embattled Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi to turn himself in to avoid further bloodshed.

The group, which met in Istanbul earlier in the day, includes members of Libya's rebel leadership, the National Transitional Council, as well as senior diplomats opposed to Kadafi's rule.

They issued a 14-point statement, excerpts of which were posted online by Reuters, also urged the United Nations Security Council to pass a U.S.-supported resolution currently under discussion to unfreeze Libyan assets so that they could free up the assets in an “expedited” manner.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: From left, Fatih Mohammed Baja, adviser of political affairs to head of National Transitional Council of Libya; Khalid Al Ghaith, United Arab Emirates assistant minister for the Department of Economic Affairs; Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu; and Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway attend the Political Directors meeting during a Libya Contact Group summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday. Credit: Mustafa Ozer / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

 

LIBYA: U.S. pushes U.N. resolution to unfreeze Libyan assets

U.S. officials plan to present a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council Wednesday asking members to unfreeze $1.5 billion in Libyan assets, a council diplomat told Reuters.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he did not expect a vote on the resolution on Wednesday.

“It's for urgent humanitarian needs in Libya,” the diplomat said.

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BATTLE FOR KADAFI'S COMPOUND

The diplomat said the decision to submit a draft resolution came after the Security Council's Libya sanctions committee failed to act on a similar request by U.S. officials earlier this month.

A diplomat told Reuters that South African officials had objected to the unfreezing of Libyan assets. Another diplomat said U.S. and South African officials were discussing the issue. A third diplomat said South Africa was not alone in objecting to the release of Libya's assets, that Russia and others had reservations about the proposal to aid the rebel government, whose forces claimed to control most of Tripoli Wednesday.

"People want to make sure that the money isn't going to be used by one side for military action," the diplomat told Reuters.

The committee works on the basis of consensus, which means all 15 members have a virtual veto. By presenting a resolution to the council, the United States would bypass the committee. Council resolutions need nine votes and no vetoes from the five permanent council members to pass.

If the committee members' objections remain, the U.S. delegation could call for a vote on the resolution Thursday or Friday, a diplomat told Reuters.

The United States hopes to be able to announce the release of up to $1.5 billion to the rebels on Thursday, when Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attends a meeting in Istanbul of members of the Libyan Contact Group, a U.S. official told Reuters.

"We are not quite there yet at the [Security] Council but I understand we are making progress," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

LIBYA: U.S., U.N., EU may release frozen Libyan assets to new government

Rebels
The United States is working with the United Nations to release from $1 to $1.5 billion in U.S.-held frozen Libyan assets, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing in Washington DC on Tuesday.

Nuland said officials plan to give the assets to Libyan rebels' National Transitional Council for humanitarian purposes and to “help it establish a secure, stable government."

The U.S. has $37 billion in frozen Libyan money, while Germany blocked 7.3 billion euros. Britain has frozen about 12 billion pounds and the Netherlands has frozen 3 billion euros, according to the Associated Press.

Ashton While they wait for the green light from the U.N., Germany and the Netherlands each agreed to lend the Libyan rebels 100 million euros to fund immediate rebuilding and humanitarian needs. The money will then be deducted from the assets they unfreeze.

Nuland said U.S. officials were confident the money would be used properly.

“We would not have taken this step if we didn’t have confidence that the money would get to the people who need it,” she said.

Nuland also said it was clear the Kadafi regime has nearly collapsed and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday about how the U.N. could provide Libya with humanitarian relief, security assistance and help writing their constitution.

Once the UN gives its approval, European Union member countries were also preparing to unfreeze Libyan assets, according to Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, who spoke with reporters in Brussels Tuesday.

Libya’s transitional government will need money to pay public sector workers such as policemen and nurses, ensure stores are stocked and the economy can be redeveloped, Ashton said.

She said she held discussions with the EU’s 27 member states, the leader of the Libyan National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, and Ban Ki-Moon.

“This is a rich country. The question is how to get the economy moving again quickly,” Ashton said.

Continue reading »

WEST BANK: Palestinians determined to get more recognition

The Palestinian Authority is doubling its efforts to get as many countries to recognize it before September, when it plans to officially ask the United Nations for recognition and membership.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki said on Saturday that “we have made very important breakthroughs, but we need to do more and build on what we have achieved so far.”

Malki was talking about 19 countries in Central America and the Caribbean who still have not made up their mind regarding recognition. He had recently visited most of these countries, including Caribbean Sea islands with a population not exceeding 45,000 people but are nevertheless sovereign U.N. member states, in an attempt to persuade them to recognize Palestine as a state.

He has to wait until the Caribbean Common Market and Community (CARICOM) and the Central American SICA group convene their joint meeting Aug. 19 before he gets their final answer. So far, the situation does not look good since El Salvador, seat of SICA, has refused to place Palestine’s request on its agenda, nor invited the Palestinian Authority to attend the meeting.

But Malki said he would not give up. He would still travel to El Salvador and meet foreign ministers and officials of these countries to sway them to the Palestinian point of view.

The Palestinians need two-thirds of the U.N. member states -- that is at least 129 countries -- to vote in favor of their recognition resolution at the General Assembly if they are to gain membership. But they need first to go through the Security Council, which has to make the membership recommendation to the General Assembly.

If the Security Council adopts that resolution and recommends membership, the two-thirds vote will be needed in case any country asks for a count of vote rather than just applause as was the case with South Sudan.

With the U.S. strongly opposed to the Palestinian step, describing it as a unilateral act, it is expected to veto it once it comes up at the Security Council. If that happens, the resolution will never make it to the General Assembly, deeming the scrambling for two-thirds of the votes pointless.

This would leave the Palestinians with one option: to ask the General Assembly for nonmember state status, which they can get with only a majority of the votes of those present in the session. But that would be far short of their intended goal.

--Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Abbas not deterred by U.S. threats regarding Palestinian state recognition

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, does not seem deterred by U.S. threats of financial cuts or political castigation if he proceeds with plans to ask the U.N. for recognition of a Palestinian state in September.

Abbas Wednesday summoned his Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, a 120-strong legislative body in exile, to ask its blessings for his plans.

He complained that he had tried every avenue possible to resume negotiations, stressing that negotiations was his first and foremost option for resolving the decades old Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But when everything failed, he was left with no other choice but to go to the U.N.

“We tried, at U.S. persistence, to relaunch negotiations on Sept. 2 [in Washington] but we were not successful. Then we went to Sharm el-Sheik [in Egypt] and to West Jerusalem, but again we did not succeed. The reason was always because [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] did not want to discuss anything other than security,” Abbas said.

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