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.
As it prepares to take power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is overhauling its relations with the two main Palestinian factions in an effort to put new pressure on Israel for an independent Palestinian state.
Officials of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist movement, are pressing its militant Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, which controls Gaza, to make new compromises with Fatah, the Western-backed Palestinian leadership that has committed to peace with Israel and runs the West Bank.
The intervention in the Palestinian issue is the clearest indication yet that as it moves into a position of authority, the Brotherhood, the largest vote getter in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, intends to both moderate its positions on foreign policy and reconfigure Egypt’s.
Brotherhood officials say that they are pulling back from their previous embrace of Hamas and its commitment to armed struggle against Israel in order to open new channels of communications with Fatah, which the Brotherhood had previously denounced for collaborating with Israel and accused of selling out the Palestinian cause. Brotherhood leaders argue that if they persuade the Palestinians to work together with a newly assertive Egypt, they will have far more success forcing Israel to bargain in earnest over the terms of statehood.
“Now we have to deal with the Palestinian parties as an umbrella for both of them, and we have to stand at an equal distance from each,” said Reda Fahmy, a Brotherhood leader who oversees its Palestinian relations and is now chairman of the Arab affairs committee in Egypt’s upper house of Parliament. “Any movement of the size of the Muslim Brotherhood, when it is in the opposition it is one thing and then when it comes to power it is something completely different.”
The shift in the Brotherhood’s stance toward neutrality between Hamas and Fatah — acknowledged by officials of both groups — may relieve United States policy makers, who have long worried about the Brotherhood’s relationship with the more militant Hamas. The United States considers the Palestinian group to be a terrorist organization. But the shift in Egypt’s policies may unnerve Israel, because it is a move away from former President Hosni Mubarak’s exclusive support for the Western-backed Fatah movement and its commitment to the peace process. Israeli officials have said they will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
But Mr. Fahmy said the Brotherhood believed that Palestinian unity could break the deadlock in talks with Israel. “A Palestinian negotiator will go the table and know that all the Palestinian people are supporting his project,” Mr. Fahmy said. “This will be a huge change and very important to both sides.” Jailed at times by the Mubarak government for his role in the Brotherhood, Mr. Fahmy spoke this month from an ornate hall of Parliament.
After decades of denunciations and enmity —Brotherhood texts still sometimes refer to the Jewish state as “the Zionist entity” — Brotherhood leaders have said that as members of the governing party they will honor Egypt’s 1979 peace accord with Israel. Some of its leaders say they believe that such coexistence can become a model for Hamas as well, if Israel moves toward accepting a fully independent Palestinian state.
He noted that Hamas had already made statements indicating that it would accept coexistence with Israel along its borders before the 1967 war. “It is true that it is like a person who is forced to drink poison or eat a dead animal, but they still made the statements,” he said, “so we support that, provided that this state within the ‘67 borders is completely sovereign in air and in sea and in land.”