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Sir Jeremy Greenstock On Palestine Statehood: 'We Have To Recognise Their Desperation'

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US envoys, flanked by Tony Blair and Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, headed over on a diplomatic mission to head off the Palestinian leadership's bid for full UN membership last week.

However, the mission proved unsuccessful, and the Palestinians are pushing ahead to the General Assembly for a vote on the 23rd September.

It seems likely that Britain will vote in favour of the Palestinian bid, though so far only nine out of 27 European Union countries have formally recognised a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

The Huffington Post UK asks Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Chairman of the United Nations Association, what the likely repercussions will be.

What is the thinking behind the Palestinian move for UN recognition?

The Palestinians are trying to indicate that the end of the road has indeed been reached, if the Israelis are not prepared to negotiate on the basis of a full stop to settlement building, for instance, which under international law is illegal.

They are very unlikely to get their application through the Security Council, which is necessary for full member statehood, but they can go to the General Assembly, where they are very likely to get two-thirds support or more in a vote. Although that won’t change much on the ground, it begins to change their unequal status for the negotiations to come with Israel.

Is President Obama correct to assert that it would be ‘counterproductive’ for the Palestinians to push for statehood recognition at the UN?

I wonder if what Obama is saying is calculated in Palestinian interests. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President, is attempting to do something new here because the Palestinian people are basically fed up with the zero that their politicians have brought them over the last 18 years.

Is there realistically much point in the Palestinians going ahead, when the Americans and the EU have sent over envoys to try to stop them?

The Palestinians are very reluctant to have this written off because the Americans want to start the negotiations on the old process. They see themselves as let down by the Americans, by the Europeans, even by their own Arab brethren, when they are so clearly the subject of occupation.

The most significant downside of their persisting is a further distancing from Israel - but Palestinians do not see themselves gaining anything from talking to Israel over the past couple of decades. There is a certain desperation in that position. More people need to understand that desperation, or it may turn into more violent channels. Israelis themselves need to take a decision in their own national interest to have a two state solution.

Is it only a peripheral concern for Israel that there is growing popular and diplomatic hostility from Turkey and Egypt?

It’s not totally peripheral. The Palestinians can see that the awakening of popular Arab opinion on the street is likely to go in their direction because the Arab people - as opposed to a number of Arab governments - are very conscious of the injustice they perceive the Palestinians as having suffered. If the Palestinians wait for the Arab Spring to mature, they may find themselves getting more support.

Will it detrimentally affect relations with the Arab world if the UN vote goes against the Palestinian bid?

It will create a greater gap between the mainstream of Arab popular opinion and the Western world. Personally, I feel that the Palestinians aren’t ready for full UN membership. They are disunited as a country and as a territory; they haven’t held elections since 2006 and their government is not showing full control of its own affairs because of the occupation. It may be that, objectively, they aren’t yet ready for it, but we have to recognise their desperation.

However, the General Assembly would be a fair and quite symbolic halfway house for this stage. I don’t think anybody should be opposing that.

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