The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a vote Thursday recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state on the 65th anniversary of the U.N. resolution partitioning Palestine, which led to the establishment of Israel. Out of the 193-member assembly, 138 members voted in favor and 41 abstained. Nine members, including the United States, Israel, and Canada, voted against the upgrade in Palestinian status, which has highlighted a division in European Union and NATO states over U.S. policy in the Middle East. The United States and Israel have criticized the vote saying it has jeopardized the peace process. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the move "unfortunate and counter-productive" and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote it off as "meaningless." While the vote did little to forward a two-state solution, the stated goal of the Israelis and Palestinians, it did bolster the Palestinian Authority and will equip the Palestinians will legal tools for recourse against Israel, including access to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Fierce clashes have erupted between Syrian forces and opposition fighters near the Damascus airport. The road to the airport has been closed, international flights have been canceled, and internet service and most telephone systems have been down for the second day. Clashes were reported in the districts of Aqraba and Babilla, on the road to the Damascus airport, and opposition fighters said at least one mortar round was fired at the airport. Opposition spokesman Musaab Abu Qitada said they wanted to "liberate the airport" claiming they have information that the regime has been receiving weapons via civilian flights. Syrian State TV reported that the road to the airport has been "secured" but there are conflicting reports as to whether it has been reopened. Meanwhile, the government and opposition are exchanging blame over the source of the unprecedented communications outage. The cutoff has raised concerns that the Syrian government is planning a major strike to counter significant recent gains made by the Syrian opposition. Western and Middle Eastern intelligence officials have reported that the Syrian opposition has recently attained up to 40 shoulder-fired missile systems. Meanwhile, the United States is expected to officially recognize the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the sole representative of the Syrian people at a conference in Morocco on December 12.
- Egypt's Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly passed a draft constitution Friday which is expected to go to referendum. Many opposing groups are calling for major rallies in protest.
- A series of bombings targeting Shiites killed at least 48 people across Iraq, with the fiercest attack in Hillah south of Baghdad, in the third day of a surge in violence.
- Clashes broke out Thursday in the Tunisian town of Siliana between police and protesters angry at the lack of improvement in living standards since the revolution and calling for the governor's resignation.
Arguments and Analysis
Vote for Peace (Hanan Ashrawi, The Lahore Nation)
It might seem stating the obvious that Palestinians and Israelis find solutions only through negotiation, until you look at the record. It is a story in which one side makes proposals for nothing in return; one side makes agreements that the other side breaks; and one side keeps commitments that the other side ignores.
Take a recent decision by Israel to approve 100 new homes for its Jewish citizens in the illegal settlement of Gilo, when the Israeli army was bombarding and shelling Gaza. This (along with numerous other settlement decisions by Israel) constitutes a clear breach of signed agreements and of international humanitarian law.
Today, we return to the UN General Assembly, the world's largest multinational arena, where each of the 193 states has a vote of equal value and none has a veto. Supporting our bid for enhanced status at the UN is a vote for the universal values of human rights embodied in the UN charter. Opposing it would make the Palestinian people the glaring exception to universal human rights, denying us the right to self-determination. Ironically, it would constitute a collective punitive measure against us for pursuing our freedom peacefully on the basis of international law and in adherence to what should be a global rule of law.
The U.N. And After: Can Europe Step Up? (Daniel Levy, Open Zion)
"Ironically, this vote is taking place in the same week that Israel's ruling Likud party selected a list of candidates for January's Knesset elections overwhelmingly hostile to any two-state outcome. The Israeli government will mainly dismiss this vote as being not very important while the PLO still has no discernible strategy for building progress on the back of this vote (although a post-vote focus on internal reconciliation and visit of PLO Chair Abbas to Gaza would mark an obviously sensible first step). The vote is unlikely to mark a real turning point on Israel-Palestine and it would be a mistake to overdramatize its ramifications. Nevertheless, it is a development that will be scrutinized in terms of what it means for the different actors moving forward. Here are some suggested takeaways from a European perspective:"
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey