Ahead of the vote on enhanced observer status for Palestine at the UN General assembly today, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, laid before the House of Commons the Government’s intention on voting on the issue.
In a statement to the House yesterday, the Foreign Secretary set out “to inform the House of discussions the Government has had about this with the Palestinian leadership, and how we intend to proceed.”
Reinforcing the Government’s firm belief on returning to the negotiation table, Hague said the Government’s preference, and its diplomacy to date, had been focused on “ask[ing] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to move a resolution at the UN General Assembly for the time being.”
“Our view was that it would be better to give the US administration the opportunity to set out a new initiative. We pointed out that a UN resolution would be depicted by some as a move away from bilateral negotiations with Israel. We were also concerned about the considerable financial risks to the Palestinian Authority, at a time when their situation is already precarious, if a vote led to a strong backlash from Israel and within the US political system.”
The arguments advanced to deter the Palestinian Authority as bizarre indeed. As if to suggest that the Palestinians would do well not to antagonise Israel by pressing ahead with a vote at the UN when Israel has in its power the ability to cease tax revenue payments to the PA, or indeed, to force Israel back to bilateral negotiations by improving Palestinian standing in the international arena. To evince arguments buttressing the Palestinians’ relative weakness to the Israelis as a reason not to provoke the stronger party is disturbing to say the least. It is a threat made by the Israelis with Avigdor Lieberman, the hardline Foreign Minister threatening “to withhold Palestine’s tax revenues, to cut off their electricity and water supplies and to flood the occupied territories with new settlements if they go ahead with the UN vote,” according to EU Observer.
With the ball in Abbas’s court, Hague explained the Government’s conditions to voting positively on the motion if presented to the UNGA. He said, “…while there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments.
“The first is that the Palestinian Authority should indicate a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without preconditions.
“The second assurance relates to membership of other specialised UN agencies and action in the International Criminal Court.
“Our country is a strong supporter across all parties of international justice and the International Criminal Court. We would ultimately like to see a Palestinian state represented throughout all the organs of the United Nations. However we judge that if the Palestinians were to build on this resolution by pursuing ICC jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories at this stage it could make a return to negotiations impossible. This is extremely important given that we see 2013 as a crucial year for the reasons I have described for the Middle East Peace Process.
“…we would like to see language in the resolution which does not prejudge any deliberations by the United Nations Security Council, and for it to be clear that the resolution does not apply retrospectively.
“Up until the time of the vote itself we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution, if we see public assurances by the Palestinians on these points.
“…in the absence of these assurances, the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote. This would be consistent with our strong support for the principle of Palestinian statehood but our concern that the resolution could set the peace process back.”
The Foreign Secretary’s statement is hard to digest without contemplating a degree of double-speak at play. Hague states that the UK is “a strong supporter across all parties of international justice and the International Criminal Court” but goes on to argue a prerequisite to Britain’s support for Palestine is its abandoning its right to justice and redress of legal grievance at the ICC.
Sam Kiley for Sky News notes the implications of the pre-conditions set down by Hague. “What he [Hague] means is that UN observer status could give the Palestinians a platform for challenging Israel in an international court, thereby strengthening its position on issues such as settlements, which are illegal under international law, and the “right of return” for Arabs who fled their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 and 1967 – which is enshrined by UN resolution 194.
“In bilateral negotiations these are issues for negotiation and dilution.
“There is little room for such finesse in an international court room.”
An interesting dilemma for the Palestinians indeed – to seek the UK’s support for enhanced observer status or not given that her support comes at the cost of issues like challenging Israel over the illegal Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees’ right of return, the status of Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states. The UK’s support at this price would make any semblance of a Palestinian state in the future a bleak one indeed. It is shameful that the Government should place on the Palestinians the burden of choosing between preserving its rights under international law or garnering the UK’s support for its bid.
The Hobson’s choice the UK presents the Palestinians is a severe one when one considers that among priorities for the Conservative government elected in 2010 was changing the law on universal jurisdiction to allow Israelis suspected of war crimes to enter the UK without fear of arrest and prosecution. Is the UK’s “strong support” for “international justice and the International Criminal Court” demonstrated by its own actions?
The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, responded to Hague’s preconditions on UK support for the vote saying,
“It is also a matter of record that Israel is not a party to the ICC treaty, and does not accept its jurisdiction within its own boundaries. Given that, as recently as two weeks ago, the British Government were urging Israel to adhere to international law, will the Foreign Secretary explain why the UK Government now apparently wish to exempt it from possible actions in the ICC for any future breaches of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?”
“Does he [Hague] really believe that threats issued by a Republican-controlled Congress to punish the Palestinians for taking this diplomatic step are a reasonable basis on which to determine British policy? Does he really believe that Israel’s threat to withhold tax and customs revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, which legally belong to the Palestinian
s, are a reasonable basis on which to determine British policy on this vote? When will the Foreign Secretary understand that statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given, but a right to be acknowledged?
“If the United Kingdom abstains tomorrow it will not be a measure of our growing influence, it will be confirmation of our growing irrelevance to meaningful engagement in the search for peace. Abstention tomorrow would be an abdication of Britain’s responsibilities.”
The Honorary Vice President of the Conservative Middle East Council, Nicholas Soames MP accused Hague of adopting a “one-sided and grossly unfair” position.
The conditions set down by the UK to the Palestinians are indeed one-sided and grossly unfair. Perhaps no more so than for its demonstrating that while the UK demands that Muslims condemn acts of terrorism, it willingly frustrates the ability of Palestinians and their supporters from pursuing Israelis for war crimes committed in the Occupied Territories.