Security Council Meeting on Middle East Situation

Palestinians to turn to UN amid frustration with peace process

Gershon Baskin thinks that the Palestinians have concluded that negotiations with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu are a waste of time, and are meant to waste time while it continues to do what it does, which is to continue the occupation by building more settlements.

The Palestinians, frustrated in their pursuit of an independent state through negotiations with an Israeli government they say has no interest in making peace, plan to take their case directly to the international community at the UN later this month.

Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president, has said in recent days that he is seeking an ‘unconventional solution’ to the conflict with Israel. Palestinian officials say they will seek international support for a resolution at the UN setting a deadline for Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian lands seized in the Six Day war in 1967.

‘The most important thing for us is to get the Palestinian issue back to the international arena – to internationalise the process,’ said Ashraf Khatib, a spokesman for the negotiations department of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the umbrella group representing Palestinian political factions.

The comments came after Israel on Sunday announced plans to appropriate nearly 1,000 hectares of land near Bethlehem in the West Bank. It will build a new Jewish city adjoining Gush Etzion, one of its largest “settlement blocs”, in a move described by an Israeli peace advocacy group as the biggest appropriation of Palestinian land in 30 years.

The Palestinian diplomatic push is likely to face objections from both Israel and the US, a member of the UN Security Council and the sponsor of the most recent round of peace talks, which collapsed in April after Mr Abbas formed a reconciliation government with the militant group Hamas.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, and Majid Faraj, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service, will discuss the plan in meetings on Wednesday with John Kerry, US secretary of state, and other US officials in Washington.

The talks are meant to focus on the aftermath of Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip – where the Palestinian Authority is to play a leading role in reconstruction – and the future of Mr Abbas’ unity government with the militant group, which Israel and the US classify as a terrorist organisation.

In pushing their agenda with the UN, which granted Palestine non-member observer state status in 2012, after a previous war in Gaza, the PA may be hoping to tap international sympathy stirred during Operation Protective Edge, which killed more than 2,100 people and prompted widespread condemnation of Israel.

If the Palestinians’ campaign fails to gain traction in the Security Council, they plan to join a raft of international treaties for which they submitted membership applications as peace talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faltered earlier this year.

These include the International Criminal Court, opening the way for future attempts to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes in the lands it occupies. However, such prosecutions would in practice be time-consuming, and ICC membership could also open the way for possible future prosecutions of the Palestinians themselves for Hamas’ firing of rockets into Israeli cities.

The UN push reflects Palestinian exasperation with a negotiation process they – and some outside observers – say has been thwarted by Israeli government actions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the continued expansion of settlements.

‘The Palestinians have concluded that negotiations with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu are a waste of time, and are meant to waste time while it continues to do what it does, which is to continue the occupation by building more settlements,’ said Gershon Baskin, chairman of IPCRI, an Israeli-Palestinian think-tank.

Gvaot, the site of the land to be appropriated, will enlarge the link between Gush Etzion – effectively a suburb of Jerusalem for settlers – and Israel’s largest city, while eating further into land where the Palestinians want to build their state.

The site is near where men affiliated with Hamas kidnapped and killed three Jewish boys in the lead-up to the war, and a senior official indicated the move was retaliation for this. Naftali Bennett, economy minister and head of the pro-settler Jewish Home party in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, said on Monday that the decision to build on the land was “the Zionist answer to Arab terror”.

On Monday Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, deplored the settlement announcement, saying: ‘This is a particularly ill-judged decision that comes at a time when the priority must be to build the ceasefire in Gaza. On Sunday the US said the move was “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians”.

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