Palestine should benefit from upgraded UN status: Arab League

Agencies, Sunday 23 Dec 2012

The Arab League's deputy chief calls on Arab member states to use UN recognition of Palestine as a doorway to supporting 'legal and political' measures against Israel's settlement expansion plans

Christian worshipers pray in the Grotto at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, ahead of Christmas, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 (Photo: AP)

Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli said Sunday that the organisation has to work on stopping Israeli settlement building plans and rights violations against the Palestinians through taking advantage of the UN General Assembly's vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member state on 29 November. 

Ben Helli urged the Arab League's member states to adopt "legal and political" measures against Tel Aviv via UN Security Council-based channels during a press conference held to announce the results of a meeting attended by Arab diplomatic representatives.

"The Arab League will back any Palestinian legal attempt to condemn Israeli actions at an international court during the post-UN recognition phase. But we need an extent of Arab-Western cooperation to ensure that Washington will not block such steps," he added.  

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said earlier this month that Palestine could use its newly granted access at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue Israel if it pushes ahead with plans to build thousands of new settlement units in East Jerusalem.

"If Israel continues with this (settlement plan), we will respond using all methods, obviously peaceful, and including the court," he said at a press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.

With their newly acquired status, the Palestinians now have access to a range of UN agencies, as well as to the ICC, but Abbas repeatedly said he had no plans to immediately petition the court, "except in the case of Israeli aggression."

Three weeks ago, Israel said it was planning to build thousands of settler homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, sparking a major diplomatic backlash, with experts saying it could do severe harm to the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

The plan involves building 2,610 homes in East Jerusalem and tenders for 1,048 units in the West Bank. The UN and UN Security Council powers on Wednesday condemned Israel's settlement construction plans as a threat to flagging peace efforts.

Palestinian senior negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friday that Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi and a group of Arab foreign ministers will visit the West Bank 29 December.

"Nabil Al-Arabi and between eight and 10 foreign ministers will be our guests on the 29th," he said during a late Thursday meeting with reporters in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, west of Bethlehem.

Erekat also said he expected the first payment of the fiscal "safety net" of $100 million promised by the League in the event of Israeli financial sanctions following the 29 November UN bid to upgrade to observer-state status.

Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank went on strike Wednesday and Thursday in protest at not being paid.

Earlier this month, Israel announced it would not transfer tax and customs funds it collects for the Palestinians but would instead use it to pay off a debt to the Israeli electricity company, after the successful Palestinian UN bid which they said was contrary to agreements between the sides.

The transfers are governed by the 1994 Paris Protocols.

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