US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visits Ramallah, hears about Palestinian statehood plans

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Ramallah today, during a trip in an exceptionally tense period to the region.

According to a report in Haaretz, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Gates that Israel should end the occupation of the West Bank by September.

Almost two years ago, Fayyad announced plans to have the institutions of Palestinian statehood ready by September 2011.

In recent months, with the negotiations towards a two-state solution at a stalemate, Palestinian officials in Ramallah have spoken about going to the United Nations to begin preparations to request admission to UN membership of a new state of Palestine.

The Haaretz report, published here, “Fayyad stressed to Gates the importance of meeting the September deadline set in what he called the ‘Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State’ program, a statement issued by the premier’s office said. According to this two year program, by the end of August the Palestinians would have completed building their state institutions and enforced security on the ground, to allow them to establish their independent state. Fayyad told Gates that Israeli restrictions are obstructing Palestinian efforts to build their state institutions. He also said that Israel’s settlement expansion and military incursions into Palestinian Authority-run cities in the West Bank caused problems”.

Israeli officials are saying that a unilateral Palestinian move would be catastrophic, because it would bring a strong Israeli reaction — but, since they are now convinced of the urgent necessity for any solution to be a two-state model, it’s hard to understand their aversion to the Palestinian leadership’s planned moves — except as a compulsive need to maintain control.

The Jerusalem Post published an article today, here, stating that “Israel failed to realize until recently that the Palestinian bid to win United Nations General Assembly endorsement for statehood in September might not be merely declarative, but could have profound practical consequences under the provisions of a little-known UNGA resolution, Gabriela Shalev, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, has told The Jerusalem Post. UNGA Resolution 377, also known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, was passed during the Korean War in 1950, at the initiative of the US, because the Soviet Union was vetoing UN Security Council action to protect South Korea. It permits the General Assembly to recommend a range of ‘collective measures’ to supportive states, including sanctions and even the use of force, in cases where the permanent members of the Security Council cannot reach unanimity and where ‘there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression’. The existence of UNGA Resolution 377, and the precedents for its use, said Shalev, mean that ‘those who believe that the UN General Assembly’s deliberations are of a solely declarative importance are mistaken’. If the Palestinians can gain General Assembly recognition for statehood under a ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution, she warned, ‘it would be a real obstacle… not just a public relations setback. This would seek to impose on us some kind of Palestinian state’. Shalev said that Israel only ‘just found out about this’ – thanks, she said, to research done by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi’s The Israel Project. Palestinian officials have said repeatedly that they intend to seek UN recognition for ‘Palestine’ by September. It is widely assumed that a resolution to that effect would not receive the binding approval of the 15- member Security Council – where it might not gain the nine ‘yes’ votes it would need, and where, even if it did, the US would likely use its veto. In the General Assembly, by contrast, a resolution recommending a state of Palestine would easily receive two-thirds support, diplomatic sources say. But the assumption in Israel until recently was that while such a vote might further dent Israel’s international standing, it would have no practical consequences. By invoking the non-binding ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution, however, the GA could then recommend that ‘collective measures’ be taken by individual states in support of the statehood resolution. Richard Schifter, a former US assistant secretary of state, noted a 1981 precedent in which the General Assembly utilized Resolution 377 to advance the struggle for Namibian independence. That resolution called upon member states ‘to render increased and sustained support and material, financial, military and other assistance to the South West Africa People’s Organization to enable it to intensify its struggle for the liberation of Namibia’. And it urged member states to immediately cease ‘all dealings with South Africa in order totally to isolate it politically, economically, militarily and culturally’.” This can be read in full here.

Earlier on Friday, before Gates went to Ramallah, he met Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in Caesariya, where the Netanyahu family home is, Netanyahu told journalists that “We stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop” to firing of rockets, mortars and missiles from Gaza that land on the adjacent Israeli periphery.

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