Palestine’s UN bid will divide body

2011-09-10 15:27

The push by Palestine for membership of the United Nations will take centre stage at the upcoming UN General Assembly which starts next week in New York with ministerial meetings.

Diplomats at the UN this week told City Press that the bid by the Palestinians to become a full voting member of the world body is expected to divide the UN between members who think Palestine deserves membership, and those who feel it should not be recognised as a state yet and that negotiations should be resuscitated instead.

President Barack Obama raised expectations last year when he said he hoped Palestine would have a seat at the 2011 general assembly.

“When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel,” Obama said in his 2010 speech to the assembly.

But since then negotiations between Palestine and Israel have broken down and the US is now expected to use its veto power to deny the application in the UN Security Council, where the application for statehood will be heard before it goes to the assembly.

Palestine has the option of applying for full membership or using the Vatican model – which is full observer status but no voting rights. Although Palestine has overwhelming support in the general assembly, it first needs to clear the security council hurdle.

“Those 120 countries that support them won’t lead them anywhere if they don’t get past the UN Security Council first,” a diplomat briefed on the issue said.

“We are still waiting for the application that Palestine is expected to make and only then will we know which way to go on it,” South Africa’s UN ambassador Baso Sangqu in New York said in a telephonic interview.

However, the rebel government of Libya should have an easier time and receive formal recognition from the UN. This will allow the national transitional council (NTC) to take up the seat in the general assembly previously occupied by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The decision to recognise the NTC may face resistance from some African countries, including South Africa, who feel the NTC is not representative of all Libyans.

President Jacob Zuma last week refused to attend a “Friends of Libya” conference in Paris where 60 countries converged to discuss the reconstruction of the North African country.
The conference decided to unfreeze $15 billion (about R105 billion) of Gaddafi’s assets to help the NTC rebuild the country.

Another Friends of Libya conference is planned for New York on the sidelines of the UN events.
Discussions on Libya will be awkward for South Africa because it may be the odd one out in the security council given its refusal to recognise the NTC.

Although Western diplomats now admit the military intervention in Libya went too far, they say these are now the “debates of yesteryear”.

Said one: “What will South Africa gain by claiming the rebels are not legitimate? There is no Plan B, we have to accept them with all the possible problems they present. Swallow your pride and say you were wrong and right at the same time.”

Recent reports showing the links that NTC leaders have with al-Qaeda strengthened the belief that the NTC should not be trusted.

“Who are these guys,” one South African official said, “do we know where they come from and who pays them?”

Sangqu said he expected Libya to be discussed in the corridors during the general assembly, but it would continue to feature in the security council.

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