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Palestine Pushes Again for UN Recognition as Hamas Parades in Gaza City

US and European officials are hoping to avoid a diplomatic crisis as Palestine presents a resolution to the UN later this week.
December 15, 2014, 4:32pm
Image via Reuters

A pledge by Palestinian leaders to renew their quixotic bid for UN recognition and an end to Israeli-occupation has sent US officials scrambling to avert a diplomatic crisis after months of mounting tensions in the region.

The resolution proposal, which was first floated in October, has already been delayed at least twice due to Iran nuclear talks and the US mid-term election but according to an announcement late on Sunday the document will now be formally presented to the UN later this week.

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A draft of the bid was already circulated to the 15 UN Security Council members last month by Palestine's staunch ally Jordan. The proposed resolution stipulates a November 2016 deadline for the end of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories along the UN-agreed 1967 lines.

Predictably, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already pre-emptively rebuffed the statehood bid. "We will not allow this… let there be no doubt this will be rejected," he said in response to the draft document.

A bloody seven-week summer war in Gaza that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and a spate of so-called "lone-wolf" terror attacks by Palestinians against Israelis has reinvigorated tensions in the decades old conflict.

Speaking to press on Sunday the right-wing leader, who is campaigning for a fourth-term as prime minster after his coalition government collapsed earlier this month, claimed that Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories would "lead Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and the heart of Jerusalem."

'I assume an anti-Israeli proposal will draw a US veto. That's how it's always been, and that's what we hope will happen.'

Certainly Hamas — the de-facto leaders of Gaza and a group branded as terrorists by the US and the EU — has been keen to demonstrate that the brutal summer war and frayed relations with the Palestinian leadership in West Bank have not weakened their grip on the marooned strip.

Celebrations held to mark the 27th anniversary of the group's creation attracted thousands to the streets of Gaza City. Among the day's highlights was a military parade that included balaclava clad fighters with cartridge belts slug across their shoulders, rockets mounted on lorries, and navy commandos in scuba gear with assault rifles strapped to their backs.

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"We will not lay down our weapons until we use them to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque [also a holy site for Jews called Temple Mount]," Abu Obeida, the spokesman for the Hamas military-wing, told the crowd.

All eyes are now on the US — Israel's long-term ally and a member of the Security Council with veto power — which has traditionally blocked progress in the UN on the issue of Palestinian recognition.

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"I assume an anti-Israeli proposal will draw a US veto. That's how it's always been, and that's what we hope will happen," Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters on Sunday.

In October, Britain became the 136th state to unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood after 274 to 12 MPs voted in favor of the non-binding move.

However, despite growing western support for recognition of Palestine this has not always translated into coordinated pressure on Israel at the international level.

France, for example, has reportedly tabled an amended version of the draft that would set a two-year period for a permanent agreement to be reached, rather than requiring Israel's wholesale withdrawal from the territory — a strategy that has met with little success in the past as deadlines were extended and ignored.

A hastily-arranged meeting between US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Palestine's chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and a delegation from the Arab League is being held behind closed doors in London on Tuesday as the US move into damage control mode.

Kerry, who said that the US is "trying to figure out a way to diffuse tensions and reduce the potential for more conflict," was also due to hold an emergency meeting with Netanyahu in Rome today, followed swiftly afterwards by an appointment with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany in Paris.

The temperature of the US and European response could determine whether the Palestinian leadership decides to hold off on the proposal once more. The new UN Security Council, due to take its seat on January 1, 2015, includes Malaysia and Venezuela. The new formulation, where 20 percent of members are countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, will likely prove friendlier to the Palestinian cause — prompting speculation of yet another delay.

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Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem