Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov departed on Monday for New York, where he will lead the Russian delegation at the UN General Assembly. The session promises to be historic, with the Palestinians planning to make a unilateral bid for statehood.
With the Palestinians increasingly disillusioned with the stalled negotiation process, which ground to a halt amid continued Jewish settlement construction in the contested West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to make a plea for Palestinian statehood before the UN General Assembly this week.
“We are ready to see whether there are any alternative proposals requiring serious consideration,” said Riyad al-Maliki chief of foreign affairs for the PNA. “If none are made, then the head of PNA will file the application at 12:30 p.m. local time on September 23.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted that the Palestinians’ bid for UN membership would fail because it bypasses negotiations with Israel.
“The truth is, Israel wants peace, and the truth is, the Palestinians are doing all they can to torpedo direct peace talks,” Netanyahu told his weekly Cabinet meeting. “They must understand that despite the current attempt to bypass negotiations again by going to the UN, that peace is achieved only through direct negotiations.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, has said that Russia would support official UN recognition of the Palestinians, who are demanding that both sides return to the pre-1967 borders.
”But I must say that we are not pushing them into it,” Churkin stressed. ”We are saying that, ‘Whatever you decide to do, we will support you’.”
Russia, which is part of the Quartet on the Middle East, together with the UN, United States and the European Union, already has a fully functional Palestinian embassy in the capital Moscow.
Yet the final word on the Palestinian issue will probably come down to Israel’s preponderant ally, the United States, where Israel has always enjoyed overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. This time around, however, things will prove more difficult as the issue is attracting huge attention around the world.
Obama, who spoke optimistically of a “two state solution in one year” during his UN speech last year, may counter Abbas’s unilateral move on the grand chessboard, pushing the vote to the UN Security Council. There, the US will certainly veto the measure, even though this will mean the further deterioration of America’s credibility in the Arab World. Under normal conditions, this would not be such a risky proposition. But these are not normal times.
Since December 18, 2010, much of the Arab world has experienced some sort of civil disturbance: from outright revolution (Egypt and Tunisia) to full-blown civil war (Libya) to minor civil disturbances (Saudi Arabia and Yemen). In light of this extremely combustible atmosphere, where Israel finds itself smack in the center of, it is difficult to predict what sort of result will come from a move to statehood on the part of the Palestinians. Whether they succeed or fail in their bid, however, is not really the issue since neither outcome promises anything beneficial for the region.
One thing is for sure, given recent events, both sides will be on high alert. On 15 May 2011, for example, various groups of people attempted to breach Israel’s borders from the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Lebanon and Syria. At least a dozen people were killed.
Meanwhile, Russia will be considering many other issues in addition to the Palestinian push for statehood.
“In his speech at the political debate of the UN General Assembly, Lavrov will spell out Russian foreign political priorities and approaches to the provision of global and European security, multilateral disarmament, settlement of regional conflicts, including those in the Middle East and North Africa, and the UN reform,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich announced earlier.
“Apart from bilateral meetings, including the one with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on the session sidelines, Sergei Lavrov will attend a number of ministerial meetings, those of the G8, the Middle East quartet and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council,” he said.
There will also be meetings with the foreign ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the BRICS Group and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Sergei Lavrov will hold traditional meetings with the foreign ministers of the European Union and the trios of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf,” Lukashevich said.
On the session sidelines, “there will be mini-summits on Libya, Somalia and humanitarian assistance to countries in the Horn of Africa, as well as a ministerial meeting on Afghanistan,” he added.
On a final note, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is set to become on Wednesday the first woman ever to open the round of speeches marking the beginning of the United Nations General Assembly.