Palestinians watch Mahmoud Abbas address the United Nations General Assembly in a video broadcast onto the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. (Photo: George Hale)
At around 5:00 pm in New York City, the United Nations General Assembly voted to approve Palestine’s bid to become a non-member observer state. The final vote stood at 138 in favor, 9 against and 41 abstentions. The United States voted against the measure along with Israel, Panama, Palau, Canada, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Czech Republic and Micronesia.
Following the vote U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice made a statement explaining the U.S. position. She downplayed the vote and promised it would do nothing to ease the occupation saying, “Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall. Nor does passing any resolution create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground.”
Here is the full U.S. statement:
For decades, the United States has worked to help achieve a comprehensive end to the long and tragic Arab-Israeli conflict. We have always been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two peoples, with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.
That remains our goal, and we therefore measure any proposed action against that clear yardstick: will it bring the parties closer to peace or push them further apart? Will it help Israelis and Palestinians return to negotiations or hinder their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable agreement? Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. That is why the United States voted against it.
The backers of today’s resolution say they seek a functioning, independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel. So do we.
But we have long been clear that the only way to establish such a Palestinian state and resolve all permanent-status issues is through the crucial, if painful, work of direct negotiations between the parties. This is not just a bedrock commitment of the United States. Israel and the Palestinians have repeatedly affirmed their own obligations under existing agreements to resolve all issues through direct negotiations, which have been endorsed frequently by the international community. The United States agrees—strongly.
Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade. And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.
The United States therefore calls upon both the parties to resume direct talks without preconditions on all the issues that divide them. And we pledge that the United States will be there to support the parties vigorously in such efforts.
The United States will continue to urge all parties to avoid any further provocative actions—in the region, in New York, or elsewhere.
We will continue to oppose firmly any and all unilateral actions in international bodies or treaties that circumvent or prejudge the very outcomes that can only be negotiated, including Palestinian statehood. And, we will continue to stand up to every effort that seeks to delegitimize Israel or undermine its security.
Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall. Nor does passing any resolution create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground.
For this reason, today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for U.N. membership. It does not. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.
The United States believes the current resolution should not and cannot be read as establishing terms of reference. In many respects, the resolution prejudges the very issues it says are to be resolved through negotiation, particularly with respect to territory. At the same time, it virtually ignores other core questions such as security, which must be solved for any viable agreement to be achieved.
President Obama has been clear in stating what the United States believes is a realistic basis for successful negotiations, and we will continue to base our efforts on that approach.
The recent conflict in Gaza is just the latest reminder that the absence of peace risks the presence of war. We urge those who share our hopes for peace between a sovereign Palestine and a secure Israel to join us in supporting negotiations, not encouraging further distractions. There simply are no short cuts.
Long after the votes have been cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who must still talk to each other—and listen to each other—and find a way to live side by side in the land they share.
Above is the livestream of the United Nations– this morning the “Special meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.” Gaza is still fresh on our minds, says the chair, a thought echoed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “I share the frustration that the two state solution seems ever more distant,” he says in urging all parties to “breathe new life into the peace process, which is now on life support.”
Vuc Jeremic, president of the General Assembly, says today will be historic; and no problem has bedevilled the UN so long as this one.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, says We shall never leave this land. And calls on the UN to affirm a two state solution and the right of refugees to return to their homes.
Iran’s representative has called for implementation of the two-state solution, and an end to the occupation, including of East Jerusalem — “a fair and credible peace process, based on the relevant UN resolutions,” the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Road Map.
Roger Waters is to deliver a speech on behalf UPDATE: Roger Waters, speaking as a member of the Russell Tribunal, emphasized the American responsibility for the conflict. “The battleground is here at the headquarters of the United Nations and simultaneously in new York city with access ot the media.” The great challenge, he said, is to inform the American people of their responsibility for supporting Israeli violations of human rights.
You can read the draft of the General Assembly resolution under consideration here.
Meanwhile, Republican senators swung into action yesterday afternoon. From Lara Friedman at Peace Now:
The first shot has been fired in the much-anticipated Congressional battle to punish the Palestinians for seeking to upgrade their status at the UN – and to also punish any UN agencies and any countries that support them.
The vehicle for this attack is S. 3254 – the highly contentious National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate is now considering. For those who keep track of these sorts of things, there is NOTHING in the NDAA that in any way relates to the Palestinians. No funding, no programs – nothing. But that hasn’t stopped Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Lee (R-UT), and Inhofe (R-OK) from introducing an amendment whose purpose is defined as “To provide for restrictions on foreign assistance related to the status of the Palestinian mission to the United Nations.” A copy of the amendment, which was filed this afternoon, is available here. Senator Barrasso’s press release touting introduction of the amendment is available here.
“The best path to a true and lasting peace is through direct negotiations between the two parties — not through manipulations at the United Nations,” said Barrasso. “The Palestinian Authority’s attempt to change their United Nations’ status is a purely political maneuver that will circumvent direct peace process negotiations with Israel. If the Palestinians move forward with this irresponsible plan, they will violate international agreements, undermine the peace process and threaten the security of our ally. My amendment makes it clear that undermining the peace process comes at a cost.”
Barrasso’s amendment specifically cuts 50 percent of the total U.S. funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and also to any U.N. entity that grants the Palestinians a status change. It also reduces 20 percent of all U.S. foreign assistance to any country voting for the status change.