NEW YORK – It’s a watershed moment that has won support on many fronts, but drawn condemnation from Israel and the United States.
The Palestinian flag was raised outside the headquarters of the United Nations in New York for the first time Wednesday. Under cloudy skies, the politically sensitive flag raising ceremony took place at 1:16 p.m. at the U.N.’s Rose Garden.
The historic moment came after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly that the Palestinian Authority was no longer bound by the Oslo Peace Accords.
At the ceremony, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the occasion a “day of pride for the Palestinian people around the world” and a “day of hope.”
“Now is the time to restore confidence by both Israelis and Palestinians for a peaceful settlement and, at last, the realization of two states for two peoples,” he said.
During his General Assembly speech, however, Abbas accused Israel of not committing to the Oslo Accords and, in response said, “They leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them.”
Abbas declared what he called “Palestine” as a “state under occupation.”
“We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power, because the status quo cannot continue,” Abbas said.
The Oslo Accords are a series of peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians signed in the 1990s.
The consequences of Abbas’ declaration remain unclear, and its practical effects on the relations between Israelis and Palestinians are uncertain, including its effects on security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The question of a Palestinian state has languished in the international community recently, especially at the General Assembly, where President Obama didn’t mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his speech. Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee Saeb Erekat was “disappointed” that Obama failed to address the conflict.
The flag-raising ceremony puts the spotlight on the Palestinians and highlights their ongoing efforts to obtain statehood, but it needs to be more than a symbolic act for it to be meaningful, Palestinians say.
“We feel happy when we see our flag, but we don’t want to see only a flag,” said Anwar Basti, a restaurant owner in the Old City of Jerusalem. “We want to see people support this flag. I can put up a million flags, but if the flag doesn’t support somebody strong, it’s only color.”
“You need the change here, not in the United Nations,” said Mohammed Ali, a souvenir shop owner in the Old City.
Mustafa Barghouti, Palestine Liberation Organization Council member, said Abbas had in effect canceled the Oslo Accords and any subsequent agreements.
“This is a very important point — the most important point,” Barghouti said. “His declaration that the existing agreements are not applying to Palestinians anymore. Let the Israelis come and be the occupying power.”
As a result, all forms of security coordination between Palestinians and Israelis have been canceled, Barghouti said. Palestinians will begin using nonviolent resistance while calling for sanctions against Israel, he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Abbas’ speech was “deceitful and encourages incitement and lawlessness in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu’s office stressed that “Israel is strictly maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and is committed to continuing to do so in accordance with the agreements.” Netanyahu’s statement also called on the Palestinian Authority to join Israel in direct negotiations without preconditions.
Earlier Wednesday, the U.N. secretary general congratulated Abbas, who addressed the General Assembly before the 1 p.m. ceremony, and stressed that “a political horizon must be restored without further delay for a resumption of peace negotiations towards a two-state solution,” according to a statement.
The two leaders also discussed recent clashes in occupied West Bank, especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the need for both the Palestinians and Israelis to defuse tensions, the statement said.
Traditionally, only official member states had the right to have their flag up in front of the U.N. tower; the Palestinian Authority has nonmember observer status.
But the General Assembly earlier this month voted overwhelmingly to allow the Palestinians and the Vatican, another nonmember observer, to add theirs to the collection.
The Palestinians see this as another step toward solidifying their presence in the international arena.
Israel, one of the eight countries that voted against the measure, has dismissed the Palestinian flag-raising as a photo op. The Vatican’s flag went up Friday without ceremony.
Clashes between Arab youths and Israeli police have broken out in recent weeks at one of the holiest sites in the world for both Muslims and Jews. The confrontations at the al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem began hours before the start of the Jewish New Year.
The General Assembly adopted a resolution September 10 allowing what it officially recognizes as the “State of Palestine” to raise its national flags outside of U.N. headquarters and U.N. offices.
In a 119-8 vote, with 45 abstentions, the General Assembly approved a move allowing the two nonmember observer states to raise their flags following the flags of member states.
Vatican to officially refers to ‘State of Palestine’ in new treaty
The Palestinian Authority gained nonmember observer state status at the United Nations in November 2012.
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Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told the General Assembly before the vote that the United States is committed to achieving the peace between Palestinians and Israelis but “raising the Palestinian flag outside the U.N. Headquarters is not an alternative to negotiations and will not bring the parties closer to peace.”
The United States voted against the resolution. – CNN