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What Happened, What Does it Mean and What Next for Palestine?

The United Nations General Assembly has now voted emphatically in favour of granting the Palestinian delegation to the UN, non-member observer status. This is a symbolic victory, not a material one, for the territories seeking to one day be recognised with official statehood by the United Nations

So what happened? What does the vote mean? And what is next for Palestine?

Leading up to the vote, the Palestinian mission to the UN thought that they had secured about 132 votes of the 193 nation-state members of the General Assembly. This in itself would have been more than enough for a ballot victory, with ballots in the UNGA only requiring a majority ‘yes’ vote of 50% of the member countries, plus one.

The Palestinians received 138 votes in favour of them reaching the status of non-member observer state. This means that just over 70% of countries on the floor voted in favour of the motion.

Nine UN members voted against the motion. Most notably, this included the United States of America and Israel, both firm allies on the other side of the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict. The other states joining the USA and Israel in voting against the resolution were Canada, Czech Republic, Panama, Palau, The Marshall Islands, Nauru and Micronesia.

There were also forty-one abstentions which included large powers, including the United Kingdom and Germany. Australia also decided to abstain earlier this week.

Germany had been planning to vote against the motion. The Australian Government through Prime Minister Julia Gillard had also planned to vote ‘no’ to the idea of strengthening Palestinian observer status, but in the end, the caucus decided that Australia should instead abstain.

In the end, because of the nature of the General Assembly, as opposed to the Security Council, the vote was soundly won by the Palestinian Authority.

The next important question is: What does the new non-member observer state vote mean for Palestine in terms of what the position offers?

Well, it is a tokenistic position in terms of territory.

The vote does however grant Palestine an implied recognition of sovereign statehood, the equivalent stature to that of The Vatican as far as the United Nations is concerned.

The new-found recognition also means that the Palestinians are now able to become members of all UN member organisations. This includes the ability to petition the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

The ability to join UN bodies and sign up to conventions and treaties are probably the two most significant aspects of the victory at the United Nations for the now implied state of Palestine.

Perhaps the most important question is: What comes next for Palestine?

In light of the UN vote, answering this question and charting a possible future for the peace process, perhaps becomes even more difficult than it was before the Palestinian victory at the UN General Assembly.

Israel and the United States of America are mightily annoyed. Officials from both countries are saying, as they did prior to Thursday’s vote, that it is a step backwards in terms of territorial negotiations and a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Israel and the US are particularly annoyed that the decision now opens the door to proceedings of war crimes and broader crimes against humanity being levelled at the Israeli Government at the International Criminal Court.

The process required for charges to be brought by the Palestinians is prohibitive, even though they have flagged the possibility of referring individual Israelis to the ICC. Israel for one, along with the United States, does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court and would obviously not cooperate in handing over suspects.

Perhaps any intentions on the part of the Palestinian Authority to pursue Israel at the ICC should be immediately put off as an act of good faith. Proceedings could be instigated at a later stage, either if settlements in Palestinian territories continue, or the peace process becomes further intractable after a period of time.

Israel and the United States of America are also annoyed at the way in which the Palestinian territories have obtained the status of implicit statehood.

Really, both Israel and the USA should not be particularly concerned about Palestine now enjoying implied statehood. The change guarantees nothing in terms of actual territorial claims. That can only be determined by either a petition to the UN Security Council or by negotiations between Palestinian groups and the Israeli Government.

A direct petition to the Security Council by Palestinian representatives would never succeed. A similar petition last year by Mahmoud Abbas was never introduced because it was going to be blocked.

Official recognition of statehood at the Security Council would require 10 of the 15 member states to vote in favour of a resolution to create an official Palestinian nation-state. The USA, being a key and almost unwavering ally of Israel, even under President Barack Obama, have already indicated on previous occasions that they would use their veto power in the Security Council.

The best way forward is direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine, preferably with the United States of America involved as well as key powers in the Middle East. The key players have alluded to this, although their actions and words, particularly in the wake of the UN decision, seem to indicate little interest in strengthening negotiations over a two-state solution.

Negotiations too, have failed for decades. The recent increased tensions between Israel and Hamas, not just Thursday’s vote, have undoubtedly contributed to, at best, an even more protracted peace process.

The future of Israel-Palestine relations is at best tenuous. However, the present should be accepted for what it is and that is, in reality, a largely painless development.

If it’s not seen as such, then questions should rightly be asked about the actual intentions of Israel and the US, in terms of pursuing an enduring tw0-state solution.

Symbolism and Statehood are Two Different Things

The Australian Government was reportedly engaged in an especially robust party-room debate today. The Labor caucus was discussing the position to take on the United General Assembly vote set to take place in the coming days. This motion, if successful, would grant the Palestinian territories non-member observer status in the UN. Currently, the Palestinians have observer status.

After looking like the ALP caucus might vote ‘no’ to the motion, it soon emerged that the party-room, in the end, voted in favour of the Australian delegation abstaining from this highly non-controversial vote.

Not surprisingly, the United States of America and of course Israel, have indicated they will be voting against the motion in the UN General Assembly.

Unlike in the Security Council though, the US and Israelis voting against the measure will not matter. There is no veto power in the General Assembly and 132 of the 193 member countries have pledged recognition of Palestine as a state. Despite this, official recognition of statehood has been blocked in the United Nations Security Council.

During the ALP caucus discussions this morning, members of the left faction reportedly indicated that granting observer status would provide some assistance in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

This is an interesting concept. The position argues that by granting non-member state observer state status, the longstanding conflict would suddenly lurch closer to some form of mutually agreeable conclusion.

Clearly it will not. Hostilities on the part of Palestinian terror groups will not stop, at least until a broad solution involving Palestinian statehood is reached.

Terrorist acts on the part of some Palestinian factions would quite likely continue, even in the event of a negotiated peace between authorities on both sides of the conflict. They would however be more isolated and not necessarily linked with representative political organisations.

However, such heinous crimes would still not be tolerable, no matter how infrequent. The point must be made too, that both sides are and have been in the wrong on this issue, albeit in different ways.

The reluctance on the part of the Israelis and the USA to recognise Palestine as an official state would also continue, virtually leaving the situation at the status quo. Non-member state observer status will be a symbolic act.

Granting non-member state observer status is however one that the Israeli government should not be scared of. But they are and they will probably be annoyed. They need to realise, however, that there is a clear difference between a vote for non-member state observer status and a peaceful two-state solution. The latter should be negotiated outside the United Nations.

It is curious that Australia will abstain from the vote. Abstention, to some, gives the appearance that Australia is basically hedging their bets.

Abstaining from the vote will likely be seen by the representatives of the Palestinian territories as a vote against their motion, since the Australian Government does not feel a compulsion to vote for what is ostensibly a sensible concept.

This week’s vote is not about statehood and probably will not provide much of a catalyst toward the Palestinian territories becoming a recognised state.

So why such a fuss?

Attention UNHCR: Not Just Australia That Needs to Do More on Refugees

This morning the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put out a statement calling on Australia particularly, as well as the international community to assist more in providing humanitarian assistance options to help stop asylum seekers taking “dangerous and exploitative boat journeys”.

The UNHCR, tasked with overseeing the provisions of the United Nations Convention on Refugees made these comments in response to the terrible tragedy overnight where an asylum seeker vessel capsized en route to Australia, with 3 confirmed dead, 110 rescued and approximately 9o people still missing.

This most recent tragedy again emphasises the need, like the refugee agency points out, for countries like Australia to do more and in some cases, at least something to cut down on the need for these desperate people to make the seriously dangerous journey in craft often not much more seaworthy than a large esky.

It is important to recognise that the refugee situation begins long before people reach Australia and while we can and should do more, we cannot be expected to take all of the burden, particularly after refugees who seek asylum by boat have made their journey often through and past other nations before arriving in Australia.

But this is only part of the story and but a part of the solution needed in an attempt to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives trying to find a better, safer life in places like Australia.

The High Commission for Refugees is itself part of the problem with processing though admittedly difficult, in many cases actually being very slow and leading to many refugees being stuck in limbo, whether that be in refugee camps dotted around the world in conflict zones or stuck in limbo in other ways.

The UNHCR do need more resources and time deployed in major conflict zones and countries facing humanitarian crises, but this is only the first step, however it is an undeniable aspect of the refugee situation that cannot be ignored.

It is also true the asylum seeker/refugee conundrum of refugees in camps within and near countries in turmoil is not just down to the slow action of the UNHCR in processing refugee claims.

Countries around the world that have signed the Refugee Convention are obviously too dragging the chain with absorbing the number of refugees currently awaiting relocation and asylum seekers that wish to seek protection in another country. This could be down to many reasons and the cost burdens particularly after the effects of the Global Financial Crisis and the continuing Euro crisis are factors that cannot be denied in the current debate over refugee relocation as far as some nations go.

This does not excuse the chain dragging prior to the financial events that have negatively impacted on economies around the world. There are obviously issues that have meant that prior to the financial events that have devastated countries around the world that as a result countries have not taken up the massive amounts of refugees around the world.

The scale of the refugee problem is massive and borders on the unsolvable at the very least at a political level with, as of 2010 a total of 43.3 million people worldwide who were either identified as refugees, internally displaced people (IDP’s), asylum seekers, returnees or stateless people.

No one government, no series of governments, no agencies, organisations, no one person or people will be able to guarantee that in the future nobody will get onto boats in desperation and head to various countries in the world. That is the sad reality. The potentially deadly situation can only be minimised.

The first part of any reduction to the refugee  problem is that the remaining 50 odd nation states not signatory to the convention should be persuaded to sign on the dotted line, though some of these nations are where the asylum seeker situation begins and others are middle destinations where asylum seekers and genuine refugees can languish for years before making the journey to places like Australia.

Obviously another response to the issue is for nations around the world that are signatories to the convention, but not to the protocol to sign that and enshrine it in their respective domestic law and then make appropriate arrangements in accordance with those provisions too.

Obviously too, many nations could and should increase their intake of refugees and seek to undertake with the UNHCR to help with the massive processing task which stymies the refugee process from the outset and leaves many in desperation within their own countries or in other nations in their region.

These last two points need to include, in particular Malaysia and Indonesia signing and adopting the Refugee Convention provisions and the protocol into their own law because these two nations are often the final stopping point and often the destinations from which asylum seeker vessels embark on the perilous journey towards Australia.

Other countries in our region that are signatories to the Refugee Convention and its protocol must also increase their share of the processing of asylum seekers and refugees and we must continue to work harder under the Bali Process as a region to deal with the movement of people who have found themselves in dire circumstances.

Another ingredient in the global recipe to cut down on the deaths of asylum seekers is for nations to truly tackle people smuggling. But this alas is made all the more complicated by the immense coastlines of the nations from where refugees come to Australia. It is also made difficult because of levels of police corruption  and complicity in the criminal act which have been found to exist in the region when it comes to the asylum seeker trade plied by these individuals and groups.

The final part of the puzzle is that Australia must increase our intake of refugees, at least by a similar extent to the increase we would have taken in under the so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’. This simply has to be seen as a reality if we really view people drowning at sea as a problem and we should.

The problem is not just an Australian one and becomes a bigger situation for Australia to deal with once refugees and asylum seekers reach our region and that needs to be recognised by other nations and the UNHCR before implying Australia above others particularly in our region needs to bear responsibility for stopping people getting on boats and coming here. Other nations in our region simply go close to ignoring the asylum seeker plight and the people smuggling that comes with it altogether.

Sadly, the scale of the task that is dealing with refugees in a fast, efficient and orderly way is astronomical and the process time consuming with the sheer numbers already seemingly well beyond reach of being able to deal with. However, we have to as a nation, a region and as an international community all try to minimise the risks of asylum seekers dying at sea.

The Left and Banning Live Exports

For much of the last few months, since that awful footage featured on Four Corners, there has been a growing movement to ban all live animal exports from Australia to nations around the world. Calls from the left to altogether ban live exports are predicated on a hypocrisy when it comes to cultural and religious rights which those of the left are usually the first to support.As a result of the Four Corners program, there was a temporary ban on live exports to Indonesia, where the footage was taken from. The temporary ban was imposed by the Gillard Labor Government, without thinking of the monetary consequences for our struggling farmers, in response to some truly horrific scenes which were documented in Indonesia.

After some time, the Government rightly bowed to pressure and re-instated live exports and promised to look into strengthening oversight and management from the Australian cattle industry, beginning from the moment cattle leave the feedlots and continuing right through until the animals are slaughtered in overseas abattoirs.

The one thing which the Government were widely asked to do was to mandate the stunning of animals before slaughter. This would have been ideal given that the animals would die in a more comfortable way and therefore give comfort to some of those interested in animal welfare. However, politically, across nations to mandate the practice would clearly have been difficult.

However, this wide array of change in the live cattle export industry has not been enough for what seems a growing chorus of people.

A growing percentage of the population seem to advocate that Australia completely ban all live exports to anywhere in the world, disregarding the fact that the right to slaughter animals in a particular way is a cultural and religious freedom.

Now, the last time I checked, cultural rights were affirmed by the United Nations and 99.9% of the time, supported by those of the left, except in such circumstances as this where people like me step up to the plate to point out this fact.

Have the left forgotten what I learnt in my undergraduate human rights major: that human rights are indivisible and inalienable?

Effectively, if we as Australians were to say, yes, lets ban all live exports, we as a nation would be saying that we do not believe people from other cultures have the right to enjoy their own freedoms, because we saw some awful footage which could be remedied in any case.

What is the problem with, at the very least doing all we can to ensure that animals are slaughtered humanely? Was it not enough that exports were suspended immediately, causing harm to farmers and possibly our trade potential in the area?

Animals have been slaughtered for food for a very long time and indeed Muslim culture has done so for a long period of time too and we are only just finding fault with some poor methods in recent years. There is nothing wrong with working with other cultures, teaching them how to slaughter animals more humanely and providing them with the tools to do so. What is not right is left hypocrisy on the issue, denying what is usually held to be a fundamental cultural right. Nobody denies animals should be treated with respect before, leading up to and during slaughter, but to deny a culture the right to exercise their beliefs when the process can and has been made better makes no sense.

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