France Says It Will Vote in Favor of Palestinians’ U.N. Bid
By Scott Sayare and Christine Hauser
PARIS — France will vote in favor of the Palestinians’ request to heighten their profile at the United Nations, the French foreign minister told Parliament on Tuesday, embracing a move that Israel and the United States oppose.
The support of France, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is the most significant boost to date for the Palestinians’ hopes to be granted nonmember observer status and thus greater international recognition. Russia and China, two other permanent members, have also thrown their support behind the Palestinian bid.
The French support appeared calculated to strengthen the position of the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose party governs the West Bank, after clashes with Israel in the Gaza Strip this month that left Hamas, the Islamic militant organization that oversees Gaza, ascendant.
It is also a blow to Israel, whose diplomats have been working feverishly to try to ensure what they call a “moral majority” in the United Nations vote, meaning that even if a majority of nations vote in favor of the Palestinian bid, the major world powers will not.
Speaking before the lower house of Parliament, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “Next Thursday or Friday, when the question is asked, France will reply, ‘Yes.’ ”
Muhammad Shtayyeh, the Palestinian special envoy for the United Nations bid, issued a statement from New York saying: “We are very thankful to France, and we call upon other European governments to announce their support for Palestinian freedom. This is long overdue.”
The two other permanent members of the Security Council are the United States and Britain. In a statement last week, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said the Palestinian bid jeopardized the Mideast peace process. “While there is any chance of achieving a return to talks in the coming months,” he said, “we continue to advise President Abbas against attempts to win Palestinian observer state status at the United Nations through a vote in the U.N. General Assembly. We judge that this would make it harder to secure a return to negotiations, and could have very serious consequences for the Palestinian Authority.”
However, The Guardian reported Tuesday, citing unnamed government sources, that Britain “is prepared to back a key vote recognizing Palestinian statehood at the United Nations if Mahmoud Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes and to resume peace talks.”
Ilana Stein, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Israel was “not surprised” by the French declaration, adding, “Of course, we remain in our opinion that this is a very harmful initiative by the Palestinians; our opinion has not changed.”
Last year, the Palestinians submitted an application to the Security Council to become a full member state of the United Nations, but the United States made it clear that it would veto the request.
The draft resolution “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders,” according to a version that circulated earlier this month. It also expresses “the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process” and states that the permanent borders of a Palestinian state are “to be determined in final status negotiations.”
The Palestinians believe that broader recognition of their presence in the United Nations is a crucial step to a two-state solution with Israel, given the absence of any other progress. While the Palestinians are fractured, any vote supporting greater Palestinian status at the United Nations could help Mr. Abbas, a moderate. The Israelis are concerned that the Palestinians could use enhanced status to try to join other international bodies, like the International Criminal Court, where they could pursue legal claims against Israel.
Israeli officials also say the Palestinians are trying to bypass negotiations. “This is in stark contrast to their commitment to resolve issues through negotiations,” said Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman.
Just over a year ago, France voted in favor of full Palestinian membership in Unesco, despite a mandated cutoff of American money to the organization. On Tuesday, Mr. Fabius called France’s position a point of “coherence,” saying, “The constant position of France has been to recognize the Palestinian state.”
President François Hollande, who has met with the leaders of both sides, has said France would support anything that would promote direct talks on a peace settlement. For that reason, before the latest Gaza clashes, France was reluctant to vote for Palestinian recognition, in part because the United States and Israel were so vehemently opposed to it as a sideshow.
But eight days of clashes, which left 160 Palestinians and 6 Israelis dead, also strengthened Hamas and further weakened Mr. Abbas, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and French officials clearly decided to reinforce him. The P.L.O., which does not include Hamas, remains the sole legal negotiating authority for the Palestinians, and if there is to be a peace settlement, it is Mr. Abbas and the P.L.O. who must pursue it.
“The moment when this question will be proposed is a very delicate moment,” said Mr. Fabius, referring to the timing of the vote, soon after the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip. “At once because the cease-fire is extremely fragile, because there are Israeli elections, because there is a change in the composition of the American administration.”
Though recognition at the United Nations would be viewed by many as an implicit recognition of statehood, the “concrete expression of a Palestinian state” can come only through negotiations “without conditions” between Palestinians and Israel, Mr. Fabius added.
Husam Zumlot of the Fatah Foreign Relations Commission, which has been very active in lobbying in Europe in recent months, said, “We hope other European countries will follow.” He added that he believed that more than half of the countries of the European Union would vote in favor of the Palestinians.Switzerland and Portugal have said they will vote for the measure, but Germany is among the countries that have opposed the bid, The Associated Press reported. Australia has said it will abstain, the Australian news media reported.