Ahead of the United Nations vote that is set to recognize a Palestinian state, Germany has announced it will abstain. The move reveals Berlin’s complicated foreign policy loyalties on the issue — and once again reveals Europe’s inability to reach consensus on a key foreign policy issue.
The United Nations General Assembly is widely expected to recognize a Palestinian state on Thursday, but torn between political loyalties, Germany won’t be among the 193 member countries casting their votes on the controversial issue.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle confirmed on Thursday that Germany would abstain on the issue, citing fears that the enhanced status could damage the peace process with Israel.
“In our view, there are doubts about whether the step the Palestinians seek today serves the peace process at this point in time,” Westerwelle said. “We fear that it is more likely to lead to a hardening of the situation.” While Germany supports an independent Palestinian state, this is better achieved through direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, he added.
The Palestinians’ bid is set to enhance their status to “non-member state” — the same position that the Vatican holds — which would grant them recognition as a state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, areas taken by Israel in 1967. It would also grant them access to the International Criminal Court, where it is thought they might try to bring war crimes charges against Israel.
Both Israel and the United States are strongly opposed to the bid, preferring bilateral negotiations instead, and both could withhold funding to the Palestinians in response. But the Palestinians are confident that they will easily garner the simple majority necessary to pass the measure, having already been recognized as a state by more than two-thirds of UN member states, with many of their sympathizers in the developing world.
If history is any guide, President Obama will cast his eye abroad over the next four years, hoping to put an imprint on the world that matches the sweeping domestic programs of his first term. From Iran and Russia to China and the Middle East, there are plenty of opportunities, but also perils, for a leader seeking a statesman’s legacy.
Many of the issues Mr. Obama will have no choice but to address. For months, decisions on a number of festering problem areas have been deferred by administration officials until after the election. And yet as Richard M. Nixon did in opening ties to China or Ronald Reagan in embracing arms control, Mr. Obama could see the foreign policy arena as a place to achieve something more lasting in a second term than crisis management and more satisfying than the gridlock that has bedeviled his domestic initiatives.
Atop Mr. Obama’s list, administration officials and foreign-policy experts agree, is a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program. The United States is likely to engage the Iranian government in direct negotiations in the next few months, officials said, in what would be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to head off a military strike on its nuclear facilities.
Officials insist they have not set a date for talks nor do they know if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blessed them. But with Iran’s centrifuges spinning and Israel threatening its own strike, the clock is ticking, and it may put pressure on the Iranians to make a deal, particularly between now and Iran’s presidential elections next June.