Israel, Palestinians prepare to face off at United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 20 (JTA) – The Palestinians are bringing their campaign for statehood to the United Nations. A draft Palestinian resolution, which will be presented to the U.N. General Assembly during its current session, would recognize the Palestinians’ “right to establish an independent state.” The Palestinian representative at the U.N., Nasser al-Kidwa, said he is confident the resolution will succeed. “The challenge is not to pass the resolution. It will pass anyway,” al-Kidwa said in an interview. “The challenge is to maintain support to pave the way for what is to follow.” But Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Dore Gold, maintains that such a resolution “will introduce anarchy into international agreements.” Warning that any declaration of statehood in the absence of a final-status accord would violate already signed agreements, Gold said, “The Oslo agreements do not expire on May 4, 1999.” The question of Palestinian statehood, according to the Oslo accords, is one of the final-status issues that was expected to be resolved in direct Israeli- Palestinian talks no later than that date, which is the end of the interim period splled out in the Oslo accords. But with the peace process deadlocked for more than 18 months, it appears that final-status talks, which also include such highly contentious issues as the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements and Palestinian refugees, will not be concluded in the next eight months. Earlier this month in South Africa, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat appealed to the 113 non-aligned U.N. member-nations for support during “this fateful phase of the militant march of our people” in making a “historic decision.” When Arafat addresses the U.N. General Assembly next week, Israel expects him to repeat that speech, in which he declared that the decision to be made “is the establishment of the state of Palestine in the territories occupied since 1967.” Arafat’s appearance will come just days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the world body, which was scheduled for Thursday. During last year’s U.N. session, the Palestinians stepped up their efforts to bolster their status in the world body. Their efforts culminated in July, when the Palestinians were granted “additional rights and privileges of participation” in the General Assembly by an overwhelming vote. The new status grants the Palestinians the right to participate in the General Assembly’s general debate and the right to co-sponsor draft resolutions and decisions on Palestinian and Middle East issues. But the Palestinians are excluded from the right to vote or to put forward candidates for U.N. committees. Long ostracized at the world body – it has never been Israel’s “home field,” in Gold’s words – Israel enjoyed a brief respite from attacks after the Oslo accords were signed in 1993. But since the peace talks stalled, Israel has once again been put on the defensive here. With debates set to begin next week among the U.N.’s 185 member nations, Israel is preparing for “a very clear international agenda that is emerging,”Gold said. In addition to the Palestinian agenda, the issues of greatest concern to Israel are: * international terrorism; * arms control, in the wake of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan; and * the scheduled visit to the U.N. by Mohammed Khatami, the president of Iran. The Palestinians are also expected to focus attention on what they see as Israel’s illegal settlement activities in Jerusalem, which last session drew criticism in the form of two resolutions passed in an emergency special session of the General Assembly and a presidential letter from the U.N. Security Council. A harsher, Arab-sponsored Security Council resolution was rejected, largely due to pressure from the United States. Many of the Palestinians’ other main objectives will be familiar to the General Assembly. For example, Muslim countries in the past have challenged Israel’s credentials, which all members must present to the U.N. Credentials Committee. This year, in what even Gold admits is a “sophisticated move,” the Palestinians will support acceptance, but on the condition that the credentials “do not cover the occupied territories since 1967, including Jerusalem.” A similar resolution was defeated last year.

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