President Barack Obama's backing of a key Palestinian demand on the borders of its future state will help win UN recognition of a Palestinian state, Egypt's UN ambassador said Thursday.
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Maged Abdelaziz linked Obama's support for the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war to the Palestinian campaign to get two-thirds of the UN General Assembly — at least 128 of its 192 member states — to recognize Palestine as a state by September.
He predicted the Palestinians would get support from at least 130 nations, which would be "a milestone," and would keep pursuing additional recognitions.
But for a newly created Palestine to become a member of the United Nations, Abdelaziz said, it must get support from the Security Council, where the United States, Israel's closest ally, has veto power.
"If they put a resolution in the General Assembly requesting the Security Council to recognize the state of Palestine and this resolution passes ... with 170 or 180 votes, I'm sure that this is going to put a lot of moral pressure on the Security Council, and particularly on the United States, in order not to veto," Abdelaziz told a group of reporters.
He said he didn't know whether the Palestinians will push for a resolution in September because Palestinian leaders are still discussing what to do.
A resolution would be purely "symbolic" — not legally binding like Security Council resolutions — but it would have an impact, Abdelaziz said.
"I think the Palestinian situation would be much stronger if they got the two-thirds majority required for the General Assembly — not to use it in the General Assembly, but use it as a card to put more emphasis on their issue in the Security Council in order to have the Security Council also act," he said.
Abdelaziz welcomed Obama's support for the pre-1967 borders with "mutually agreed swaps" of land because it "runs in conjunction with the efforts by the Palestinian leadership to garner the most possible number of recognitions of the state of Palestine on the borders of 1967, with those swaps."
But the Egyptian ambassador said Obama missed an opportunity to address other key issues including Israel's continued settlement activities, water, ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the return of refugees "which is a critical issue," and the Palestinian demand for East Jerusalem as its capital.
He said he hoped that Israel and the Palestinians will resume negotiations but said the U.S. president didn't outline the basis of negotiations, which many had hoped for, or give a timeline.
Abdelaziz said one possibility being discussed by Palestinian leaders would be to adopt a General Assembly resolution supporting Palestinian statehood in September "and then allowing one or two years for negotiations on the basis of the parameters to be established in that resolution."
By the time those negotiations end, he said, the next U.S. presidential elections would be over, which presumably would mean the White House would not face the political pressures that exist today and might look favorably on UN membership for Palestine.
September has loomed large because Israel and the Palestinians have agreed on Obama's target of September 2011 for a peace agreement, a date endorsed by the European Union and much of the world.
As U.S.-brokered direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed last September, Obama announced at the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting that a peace treaty should be signed in a year. But those talks collapsed weeks later after Israel ended its freeze on building settlements.
The Palestinians insist they will not resume peace talks until Israel stops building settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — lands it captured in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians want for their future state.
Israel maintains that the Palestinians should not be setting conditions for talks and that settlements didn't stop them negotiating in the past.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama have expressed vastly different visions about the path forward — Obama is urging a return to the bargaining table while Netanyahu has attacked the Palestinians' intention to set up a "unity government" backed by both the moderate Fatah of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Iranian-backed Hamas which controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel.
Abdelaziz said Obama's statement last September created momentum among Arab nations and the Palestinians which they don't want to lose.
Egypt mediated talks between Fatah and Hamas that led to the agreement on a unity government, he said, and it is trying to ensure that the reconciliation is not just symbolic.
"We're putting a lot of emphasis on Hamas changing its positions in order to join the peace process and to stop all kinds of activities that it's doing against it," Abdelaziz said.
He said this means having Hamas accept the principles outlined by the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the UN, U.S., European Union and Russia — which include recognition of Israel and honoring all past agreements with the Jewish state.