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UN vote: One small step for Palestine, another giant embarrassment for Canada

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Update: This afternoon in the United Nations General Assembly, the vote on Palestine passed by a margin of 138 for, 9 against, and 41 abstentions. The only countries that voted against were: Canada, Israel, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Panama, the Czech Republic and the United States. In his address to the General Assembly, John Baird called the vote "utterly regrettable." This surely means that many in the rest of the world, like a majority of people in Canada, utterly regret that Mr. Baird is this country's foreign minister. 

It's going to be good day for Palestine and a bad day for the Harper government.

Later today, the United Nations General Assembly will vote to recognize Palestinian statehood. 

Harper has dispatched foreign minister John Baird to New York to explain why Canada will vote 'no' to this resolution, together with Israel, the United States and a small handful of other countries. The vote for Palestine promises to be overwhelming, perhaps with upwards of 150 countries voting in favour.

What a shameful, embarrassing moment for Canada on the world stage -- unfortunately this is par-for-the-course under the Harper government. No matter how Baird spins it, this government is increasingly isolated in its extremist pro-Israeli stance. 

Here's how the Israeli newspaper Haaretz predicts today's vote will go down: 

"The UN General Assembly is expected on Thursday to pass a historic resolution recognizing Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.

At least 150 countries are expected to vote in favor of the resolution. Israel will suffer a humiliating political defeat and find itself isolated along with the United States, Canada, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and, at best, Germany and the Czech Republic...

The General Assembly vote, which will be broadcast live around the globe, is expected to be an unprecedented achievement for the PA and Abbas. In contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are said to understand that the Palestinian victory at the United Nations means an Israeli defeat and a personal defeat for each of them."

Make no mistake, this vote is also a personal defeat for Harper, who has positioned Canada as the Israeli government's "best friend," supported unconditionally its criminal attacks and siege against Gaza, and pushed across the board to expand Canadian diplomatic, trade and military cooperation with the Israeli state. 

Today's vote will have a powerful symbolic impact, but it will do nothing to change the horrific "facts on the ground" endured daily by the Palestinian people. Many observers have rightfully raised concerns that the corrupt, discredited leadership of the Palestinian Authority will benefit from today's vote.  Author Randa Abdel-Fattah warns against this vote at the UN being used to accept Palestinian defeat on the core issues: 

"Two-state, one-state, 'peace process,' 'path to peace' -- whatever words one chooses to use, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about one very simple thing: dispossession. It is about a population of newcomers taking the land, homes and possessions of the indigenous Palestinian people and expelling them. That is the essence of the conflict..."

What explains the vehement opposition from Canada, and from the United States and Israeli governments, to this Palestinian initiative at the United Nations? Why all the arm-twisting, threats and bullying (including by Harper himself) behind the scenes that sought to prevent this day from coming?

The best explanation I've read comes from scholar Victor Kattan

"...one of the consequences [of statehood recognition] is that this would formally level the playing field between Israel and Palestine on the diplomatic level. In other words, it would become a relationship between states rather than between a state and a non-state actor. Palestine would be able to formally join the international community and to insist upon a relationship based on sovereign equality. Moreover, Palestine's status will be formally recognized without Palestine having to make any concessions on settlements, the right of return, or Jerusalem, etc. Accordingly, in any future negotiations on these issues Palestine can negotiate with Israel as a state, i.e. as an equal rather than as an occupied people.

One of the consequences of this 'formal equality' is that new avenues will become available to Palestine to pursue legal remedies against Israel in various international forums. As a state, Palestine will be able to ratify international treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), where an application on the status of Palestine, is currently pending."

In other words, Israel and its most zealous supporters are dead set against international law and fear Palestinians having greater access to international forums to seek justice. 

This is why today in New York, it's John Baird (and Netanyahu and Obama) against the world. I choose the world. We should all choose justice for Palestine. 

This vote, of course, is just one small step in that direction. No country has ignored more UN resolutions than Israel. The core issues of the Palestinian people's dispossession remain to be overcome. 

But, today, let's take a moment to savour the tragi-comic isolation of the Harper government on the world stage. Harper and John Baird -- with their shameful 'no' vote -- are on the wrong side of history.

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