Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Hebron Mayor Addresses Concerns of Dutch U.N. Ambassador, Israeli Academic

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Hebron Mayor Addresses Concerns of Dutch U.N. Ambassador, Israeli Academic

Article excerpt

On Nov. 28, the eve of the U.N. General Assembly vote on upgrading Palestine's status to non-member observer state, New York University's Center for Global Affairs hosted a conversation between a Dutch diplomat and a Palestinian mayor, moderated by an Israeli academic. Former member of the Dutch Parliament Herman Schaper has been the Netherlands' permanent representative to the United Nations since 2009. Khaled Osaily is a businessman who was appointed mayor of Hebron in 2007. In addition to his position as professor of international relations at NYU, Alon Ben-Meir has long been involved in negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

In the course of the discussion, it became clear that the two New York-based observers had different perspectives and concerns than the mayor who lives under Israeli occupation. Schaper observed that the Arab Spring and the frozen "peace process" had sidelined the question of Palestine at the U.N., thus motivating President Mahmoud Abbas to make an unsuccessful bid for U.N. membership to the Security Council in 2011 as a means of returning the focus to Palestine. The only real way out is to resume the "peace process," Schaper maintained, adding that there is general agreement the U.S. should play a central role.

From Osaily's point of view, 18 years after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, with a leadership that has renounced violence and believes in peace, and with very difficult conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, the outcome of the "peace process" has been zero. In addition, he noted, for 10 years the Israelis have ignored the Arab Peace Initiative. Palestinians therefore are justified in looking for other options.

All three expected a large majority to adopt the resolution accepting non-member statehood for Palestine. Ben-Meir predicted that, due to Hamas' rise in popularity after Israel's latest "Gaza war" that month, more countries might vote yes in order to strengthen Abbas' position, and that the total could be as high as 115 to 130. (The actual vote was 138 for, 9 against and 41 abstaining.) Asked how European countries would vote, Schaper replied there is no common position in the EU and quipped, "One victim of the resolution is European unity." In fact only the Czech Republic voted no.

As to the implications of the vote, Osaily said that from the following day, with its new legal status, instead of "disputed territories" there will be the occupied state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders. Schaper acknowledged that a positive vote would be a psychological boost to Palestinians, but said that the real concern is that it would allow Palestine to join international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). For Palestine to appeal to the ICC, he cautioned, would be unhelpful and willfully create problems. Ben-Meir pointed out that while the ICC can make judgments, enforcement requires a Security Council vote, with a U.S. veto guaranteed. Schaper agreed, but warned that any Israelis condemned by the ICC would be subject to arrest in any country that is a signatory to the ICC. Osaily responded that the Palestinian aim is not to punish Israel and arrest criminals, but to end the occupation.

To Ben-Meir's concern that Israel is under threat from Hamas, which it and Washington still view as a terrorist organization, Osaily replied that Hamas too wants to see results and supported Abbas' position at the U.N. He expects U.N. acceptance of Palestinian statehood will make all Palestinians, including Hamas, more moderate, and cautioned that it will never work to leave Gaza out. "We are the same Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza," he affirmed. Asked where Palestine stands on the Sunni/Shi'i issue, Osaily replied, "We don't worry about that. We are opposed to President Bashar al-Assad not because he is Alawite [a Shi'i sect], but because of how he governs." Nor is Osaily adamant about a two-state or one-state solution. What Palestinians want, he reiterated more than once, is a normal life, one without military checkpoints and metal detectors. …

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