Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have intervened to pressure the Palestinian Authority to drop its bid for upgraded status at the United Nations, further cementing Canada’s transition into one of Israel’s firmest allies.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, rebuffed in an attempt last year to have the 15-member UN Security Council recognize a Palestinian state, on Thursday is planning to ask all countries at the UN to approve Palestinian status as a non-member observer state on Thursday – a bid Israel staunchly opposes.
Eight weeks ago, when he was in New York to accept an award from a private organization, Mr. Harper took a drive across the city as countries assembled for the opening of the new session of the UN General Assembly to have a short, brusque meeting with Mr. Abbas.
In a little room at the United Nations, Mr. Harper skipped most of the pleasantries in a 15-minute meeting, according to sources briefed on the session, and told Mr. Abbas he had come to deliver a message: If you keep doing what you’re doing, he said – referring to the Palestinian bid for upgraded status – “there will be consequences.”
It was just one part of the bare-knuckle approach Canada has taken toward the UN bid, though largely out of public view.
After a week-long war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist organization that controls Gaza, there’s still a vitriolic argument bubbling with Mr. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which rules in the West Bank.
It’s a quarrel straining ties at a key time. Mr. Abbas’s Fatah is the faction that the West prefers, but the quick consensus in the Middle East is that Hamas “resistance” has won ground in public opinion during the week of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and moderate Fatah has been weakened, including in the West Bank.
The UN dispute now threatens to create a deep rift with Washington, Ottawa, and a few others, and might also leave them without a viable Palestinian dance partner.
The United States and Canada have listed Hamas as a terrorist organization. Fatah, founded by Yasser Arafat, has been more or less encouraged: the Palestinian Authority gets aid from Washington and Ottawa and its de facto diplomats are received in both capitals. So far.
A source said the Canadian government has warned the Palestinian Authority’s representatives that their “embassy” in Ottawa – in fact a delegation office, because Palestine isn’t a state – might be closed, and the Palestinian envoy, Said Hamad, sent home.
In addition, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has told several people, including Palestinian representatives, that he’ll travel to New York to personally cast the vote against the UN bid, several sources said.
There are more serious potential aspects to the “consequences” about which Mr. Harper warned: cutting off money. Ottawa pledged $300-million in aid over five years starting in 2008, and that period is about to run out.
Like the U.S., Ottawa has left hanging the suggestion aid could be cut. Mr. Harper’s New York meeting with Mr. Abbas in September was taken as a broad threat.
The Palestinian Authority relies on aid, and would have trouble paying state salaries without it, which might further weaken Fatah.
UN status has become a key fighting point for Israel and its closest western allies. Mr. Abbas launched a bid for full UN membership last year, but that required approval of the 15-member Security Council, and it was stifled with the U.S. threatening a veto. Now he plans to return Nov. 29 with proposal to have the General Assembly – in a vote he is expected to win handily – grant “non-member observer state” status.
The key word is state, for its symbolic value and because it might open doors to UN agencies and the International Criminal Court.
Israel has argued Palestinians are trying to get a state without negotiations, and fear they might start a legal campaign if they gain access to the ICC.
The U.S. is against it, and the Harper government has lobbied vociferously. Others, such as Britain, have also asked them to delay, arguing it is “not helpful” now.
Mr. Abbas has been undeterred. His officials have said they’re willing to negotiate with Israel, but only once they win a “victory” at the UN.
They have told foreign diplomats that Palestinian moderates are frustrated by impasse in the peace process and need an exit strategy.
But some western diplomats say any calls on Mr. Abbas to delay will fail because the 77-year-old leader is looking for a legacy, and credibility, and feels he has little left to lose.
Mr. Harper’s government has worked to derail Mr. Abbas’s plan, along with the U.S., Israel, and a few others.
But the confrontation is still a conundrum, as Ottawa, Washington, and other western nations have no other viable allies in the Palestinian territories.
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