Palestinians seek Irish support for UN vote


PALESTINIANS HAVE “high expectations” regarding Ireland’s decision on whether to support a bid to seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September, a senior Fatah official has said on a visit to Dublin.

Nabil Shaath, a former Palestinian Authority foreign minister, arrived in Ireland on Sunday for a four-day visit aimed at lobbying the Government, Opposition parties and civil society groups over the push for statehood.

Last month Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the Government would consider the matter “very carefully”, taking into account “Ireland’s long-standing support for the achievement of a Palestinian state, the exact terms and nature of what may be proposed, the positions of EU partners and other friends, the progress on the wider peace process, and our assessment of the practical impact of any such decision.”

Shaath said he welcomed such statements as “favourable, in general positive, but not conclusive yet”.

“Ireland has been one of the most positive countries in relation to Palestinian rights and the Palestinian cause,” he said. “Therefore the expectations in Palestine about Ireland are much higher.” UN membership requires a recommendation from the security council and approval by two-thirds of the general assembly. Given that the US has indicated it will veto any bid for Palestinian statehood at the security council, the Palestinians plan to ask the general assembly to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state.

“We may have to start as an observer state, but that is still a state,” said Shaath. “It would allow us membership of all the UN-related organisations including the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. This would allow us a lot of freedom of action to put pressure on Israel to move towards serious negotiations, leading to an end to occupation and the achievement of a negotiated peace.”

Palestinian Authority officials have been lobbying individual countries to recognise a Palestinian state. Shaath said almost 120 countries had already done so.

“This is part of a whole plan of non-violent struggle. We are moving to obtain more recognitions, to keep those who already recognise us motivated to vote for us, and to try to persuade other countries to stay neutral and not create obstacles for us.”

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad raised eyebrows recently by saying recognition of a Palestinian state would largely be a symbolic victory and would not change the reality of Israeli occupation. He also warned against raising the expectations of ordinary Palestinians.

“[Salam Fayyad] is a Lone Ranger in this thing,” said Shaath. “I’m very sorry that he did that, not sorry because what he said is untrue – there is some truth in it – but it was totally inappropriate for the prime minister to voice his scepticism at this moment, when [Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas] and almost everybody else including Hamas is behind our quest for recognition.”

Shaath said no one was under any illusions about what a declaration of statehood might lead to, but he insisted the symbolism was important. “Nobody believes that if we get recognition, we will get the Israelis out. We have not promised that it will end the occupation. [Recognition] is useful, it is a process. It is not a one-shot affair.”

Shaath argued that raising expectations was important as a preventative measure against potential radical elements. “If we are going to let our people feel that non-violent means will not take them anywhere, this makes them a prime target for any incitement to go back to violence, and that would be very costly for both Palestinians and Israelis.”