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Europeans bolster Palestinian bid at the UN (+video)

Support from the Europeans for Palestinian non-member 'state' status may derive partly from concern that Palestinians would view missiles, not diplomacy, as the way to sway Israel.

By Staff writer / November 29, 2012

A Palestinian gestures during a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron, supporting the resolution that would change the Palestinian Authority's United Nations observer status from "entity" to "non-member state" November 29, 2012.

Ammar Awad/REUTERS

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Ramallah, West Bank

A week after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared all but forgotten in the wake of the Gaza conflict, his bid to gain a global mandate for statehood at the United Nations today has gained momentum.

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GAZA CITY - (AFP) - Thousands of Palestinians gathered across the West Bank and Gaza on Thursday to demonstrate their support for a fresh attempt by president Mahmud Abbas to secure upgraded UN status in New York. In Gaza City, around a thousand people marched towards the UN headquarters in support of the bid, waving flags of various Palestinian factions, including Abbas's Fatah party. Duration: 00:44

At least 150 of the United Nations’s 193 members, including France, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, and possibly even Britain, are expected to vote in favor of upgrading the Palestine Liberation Organization’s status to a non-member “state,” instead of a mere “observer.” And Germany, which many expected to be a sure "no" vote, announced today that it would abstain. 

The upgrade, while largely symbolic, could give the PLO firmer footing on the international stage to push for a sovereign state alongside Israel

The last-minute tide of international support, particularly from European countries, may have derived in part from concern that Palestinians would walk away from last week’s Gaza conflict with the impression that missiles, not diplomacy, are the way to get Israeli concessions. As part of the Nov. 21 cease-fire agreement, Israel agreed in principle to opening the crossings into Gaza, potentially easing the restrictions on goods and freedom of movement that Israel imposed when Hamas won elections in 2006.

“The cease-fire definitely strengthened Hamas. It looks as if the Hamas managed to get concessions on the siege and this was through missiles … while [Abbas] is sitting aside quietly,” says veteran Israeli diplomat Alon Liel, now retired. “So it’s definitely the wish of Europeans to show that through diplomacy you can also gain achievements, not only through missiles.”

This line of reasoning also provided a “wonderful excuse” for European countries, which have traditionally backed Palestinian statehood but have faced strong pressure from Israel to vote against the UN bid, he adds.

Now they can say, “What can we do? Your war over there in Gaza isolated … [Abbas] to the extent that now we have to come to his help,” says Mr. Liel, noting that a number of European countries would have voted in favor of the bid even without such cover.

Symbolic date

Today’s vote comes on the 65th anniversary of the UN vote to partition historic Palestine into two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Israel accepted the offer and declared independence six months later, but Arab leaders in Palestine and the region rejected it and fighting broke out between Zionists and Arabs, which lasted until 1949. The 1949 armistice lines, also referred to as the Green Line or the 1967 borders, prevailed up until the 1967 war between Israel and its neighbors.

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