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Why Bulgaria Abstained at the UNGA on the Palestinian Resolution

UNGA approved a Resolution According Non-Member Observer State Status in the United Nations to Palestine. 138 countries voted in favour, 41 abstained, and 9 voted against

UNGA approved a Resolution According Non-Member Observer State Status in the United Nations to Palestine. 138 countries voted in favour, 41 abstained, and 9 voted against

Earlier today Bulgaria was one of the 41 countries to abstain in the vote at the UN General Assembly on the resolution which would change the status of Palestine. I have issued a formal statement earlier today, but as I sleeplessly follow the debates and tweets out of the UNGA meeting, let me share some of my personal and unedited thoughts on the subject. For the record, they do not constitute an official statement on behalf of the Government.

Our decision was taken not because we do not support the goal of Palestinian statehood. On the contrary– Bulgaria has recognized the State of Palestine back in 1988. Our decision was taken because we were not convinced that the Resolution advances the cause of peace through negotiations.

As I said separately to the Arab and Israeli ambassadors today, Bulgaria will be the first country to go to the UN and ask for full membership for Palestine when we see an independent and democratic state emerge out of direct negotiations. A state that includes, under one government, occupied West Bank and Gaza, a state that is democratic and lives in peace and security side by side with the State of Israel. Just as the Jewish people have their own state, so the Palestinian people have a right to a state of their own.

Our analysis of the draft resolution today however points that it does not advance the cause of negotiations and final status agreement. It would drive the two sides further apart and lessen, rather then help, the chances for peace.

I fully appreciate the frustration that the Palestinian people feel at the current lack of progress. Many, if not all, feel that the prospect of independence is slipping like sand through their fingers. In Ramallah and across the West Bank life is not easy. But it is a hundred times better than in Gaza where people struggle for their daily survival and their frustration is exploited by radicals and fanatics at the cost of human lives. Yet in some of the Palestinian camps in neighboring countries life may be even tougher. Caught between a rock and a hard place in Syria and Lebanon, generations grow up without the hope of building a life in the permanence of a state of their own. It is in such places that the frustration and radicalization is closest to the boiling point. The poverty breeding anger in these camps I have seen with my own eyes.

Palestinian leaders have often spoken of this frustration among their own people. Their concern is understandable, yet their inability to close their hand and stop the sand from slipping between their fingers is also inexplicable. The vote today may provide temporary reprise to the feeling of frustration, but the real medicine lies in a leadership that is able to deliver independence and national unity through negotiations, not just a seat at the UN. With or without today’s resolution this would be the real test for the future Palestinian leaders.

Feelings of frustration however run high on the Israeli side too. Many, if not all, feel that after the unilateral disengagement from Gaza the situation has deteriorated– daily rocket attacks reaching initially Sderot have now reached as far as Tel Aviv. Many look at us on the outside, who often preach the virtues of lifting the blockade on Gaza, and wonder– how did so many long-range rockets get into the strip despite the blockade. Some are baffled at our outsiders inability to understand the security aspects of the situation. Actually, its not that difficult if one spends a day in Sderot, as I did a few years ago.

Others in Israel have a different source of frustration– they feel that in previous negotiations their leaders proposed substantial concessions that the Palestinian leadership failed to seize. Be that as it may, tomorrow’s test for the leaders in Israel will be not in how they respond to the UNGA Resolution, but how they pave the way to a negotiated settlement. Not by dragging their feet, not by calculating that the time may not be right (it never will), but by making it right for negotiations.

The recent developments in Southern Israel and Gaza clearly show that every delay in the quest for a peaceful resolution results in many innocent victims, and to further frustration and radicalization. We also saw how Egypt, together with the US and the UN Secretary General were able to provide exemplary leadership in arranging a ceasefire. Yet we all know how fragile that ceasefire is and that a lasting solution will come only through negotiations.

Israel is heading for an election. If its next government has a strong majority in the Knesset there will be no more excuses for not pushing ahead with negotiations. And that is the window of opportunity that the Palestinians should not miss.

I am pretty sure that all countries that abstained today share a similar assessment. I know what our thinking in Bulgaria is. We do not want our friendship to the Palestinian people to be at the expense of our friendship to the people of Israel. Because to be a friend to one cannot mean to be an enemy of the other. We want to send a strong signal to both sides that it is only though negotiations that peace is possible. And that negotiation demands strong leadership on ether side and a common understanding that larger threats are emerging on the map– radicals and regimes that have no interest in either peace, a two state solution, or even the hint of reconciliation. To them the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people are just a comfortable excuse as they nonchalantly speak about wiping whole countries off the map.

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