Palestinian President Yasir Arafat is planning to use the debates in the 53rd session of the General Assembly that begin here Monday as a platform from which to reaffirm his intention to declare a Palestinian state next year, according to a Palestinian official at the United Nations.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to address the General Assembly next Thursday — four days ahead of Arafat — Israeli officials expect him to warn that such a move would “destabilize the whole Middle East.”
The speech Arafat is to deliver Sept. 28 is expected to be similar to one he gave two weeks ago in Durban, South Africa, to the meeting of non-aligned nations. In it, he asked for their “increased support and fraternal help in this fateful phase of the militant march of our people. We need it in order to be able to make the historic decision we are about to adopt on May 4, 1999 a success. … That decision is the declaration of the independent state of Palestine in the territories occupied since 1967.”
Marwan Jilani, counsel to the Palestinian observer mission at the UN, said the only thing that could forestall the declaration of an independent state was real progress towards implementing the Oslo peace accords.
“What is on the table is not only the second stage redeployment [of Israeli troops from the West Bank], but all of the other issues in the interim agreement,” he said. “That includes the [establishment of a Palestinian] airport and seaport, safe passage [between Gaza and the autonomous areas of the West Bank], and the return of displaced [Palestinians]. It is the whole package of issues that is going to influence the Palestinian decision [on statehood]."
But Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold, accused the Palestinians of deliberately delaying completion of the redeployment agreement “because he wants to go to the General Assembly and say the Israeli government is not fulfilling its end of the bargain. So it is dragging feet [in talks with U.S. mediator Dennis] Ross and has been reversing itself on things it previously agreed to.”
Gold was apparently referring to reported backtracking by the Palestinians on pledges to crackdown on terrorists operating from bases in the West Bank.
After a week in the Middle East, Ross gave little public sign Tuesday that he was any closer in bringing the two sides closer to an agreement. The Palestinians were insisting that Israel comply with an American proposal to withdraw troops from another 13 percent of the West Bank. Although Israel has reportedly agreed, it was said to have insisted that 3 percent of the land be set aside as a nature preserve. Ross, who is Jewish, is slated to remain in the Middle East until the High Holy Days.
Gold said also that it would be a “fundamental violation of the whole Oslo process and of all the Oslo agreements” for Arafat to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state next May 4.
“The Palestinians are putting forward the notion that the Oslo agreements expire on May 4,” he said. “That is completely unacceptable. International agreements do not expire because diplomatic target dates are not reached. If that were accepted, it would cause total anarchy in international law.”
Jilani said that only after a Palestinian state was declared would the Palestinians ask the United Nations to admit them as a full member state.
“I don’t think there would be a rush [for such a move],” he said. “I think what will happen is that there will be overwhelming support and recognition of the Palestinian state by all of the Arab nations, the Islamic countries and the developing countries.”
He noted that at the end of the summit in Durban, the non-aligned nations expressed their hope that the Palestinians would attain full membership to the UN during the General Assembly. The UN has 185 member nations and the non-aligned bloc is comprised of 113 nations.
To become a member state, the UN Security Council must recommend admission to the General Assembly. The United States has a veto in the Security Council, but Jilani questioned whether it would exercise that veto “faced with an overwhelming recognition by states of the United Nations.”
“From now until May, you will see a Palestinian campaign for recognition by the international community once the state is declared,” said Jilani. “We are lobbying and talking and speaking to our friends and groups here. That is one of our main policy goals for this session. There will be a particular concentration on the European Union countries.”
Jilani said the Palestinians plan also to challenge Israel’s credentials regarding its jurisdiction over the territories. In addition, he said they hoped to gain “financial, moral and political support” for the Palestinian celebration in Bethlehem of the Third Millenium in the year 2000.