Palestinians win more European support for statehood

More European states joined France on Wednesday in backing a Palestinian bid for limited statehood, but Britain held back, saying it wanted an assurance that the Palestinians would not pursue Israel through the International Criminal Court.

Germany said it was opposing the diplomatic upgrade for the Palestinians at the United Nations, joining Israel and the United States which say the only genuine route to statehood is via a peace agreement made in direct talks with Israel.

Semi-statehood could allow Palestinian territories to access the court and other international bodies. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is leading the campaign and several European governments are eager to give him their support after an eight-day conflict this month between Israel and Islamists in the Gaza Strip, who are pledged to Israel's destruction and oppose his efforts towards negotiated peace.

With overwhelming support from the developing world including India, the Palestinians appear certain to earn approval in the 193-member UN General Assembly for a status upgrade to “observer state” on Thursday.

Switzerland, Denmark and Austria said they would vote for the upgrade. France gave its approval on Tuesday. Britain said it would not oppose the move but needed more assurances to give its support. “The first is that the Palestinian Authority should indicate a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without preconditions,” Foreign Seretary William Hague told parliament.

“The second assurance relates to membership of other specialised UN agencies and action in the International Criminal Court,” he added.

The Swiss approval followed a visit to Berne by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this month as the country hesitated between voting in favour of the resolution or abstaining. Abbas had reiterated his commitment to relaunch the peace process immediately following the UN vote, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said.

Talks have been stalled for two years, mainly over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have expanded despite being deemed illegal by most of the world.

Germany said it would oppose the Palestinian bid. “Our goal in all this is to prevent further negative effects on the already difficult Middle East peace process,” German foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said. He reiterated Germany’s support for a two-state solution as the final result of a “just and negotiated settlement”.

In Ramallah in the West Bank, senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi said the positive responses from other European states were encouraging. “This constitutes a historical turning point and opportunity for the world to rectify a grave historical injustice that the Palestinians have undergone since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948,” Hanan said.

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