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Wed Dec 07 20:16:03 SAST 2016

Long-suffering Palestine bypassed by Arab Spring

The Editor, The Times Newspaper | 2011-09-23 00:25:09.0
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Quartet Representative Tony Blair (R) attend a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the donor support group for the Palestine, at the United Nations in New York September 18, 2011.
Image by: ALLISON JOYCE / REUTERS

The Times Editorial: Two issues are dominating proceedings at the UN General Assembly right now - one a source of profound hope for democrats everywhere, the other an enduring flashpoint that continues to divide world leaders.

The former is, of course, the Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy uprisings that has ripped through the Arab world and North Africa, toppling one despot after another.

As French President Nicolas Sarkozy put it in his speech to the UN on Wednesday: "From Tunis to Cairo, from Tripoli to Damascus, from Benghazi to Sanaa, populations too long crushed by oppression rose up and claimed the right to be free at last."

The people of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and, indeed, Saudi Arabia, are not yet free, but the regimes that govern them will, in time, either carry out much-needed reforms or be pushed aside.

The rising tide of democracy in the Middle East has no doubt given impetus to the bid for statehood and full UN membership by the Palestinian Authority - despite frantic efforts by Sarkozy, US President Barack Obama and other world leaders to persuade it to apply for upgraded status instead.

President Jacob Zuma has backed the Palestinian bid, saying South Africa ''fully supports'' President Mahmoud Abbas's position as ''a decisive step towards achieving lasting peace, economic co-operation and prosperity for the millions of people in the Middle East''.

Obama said the US supported the negotiated establishment of a Palestinian state but would oppose a unilateral bid for UN membership because it would not bring peace.

His point, that ultimately it was the Israelis and Palestinians, and not the UN, that must reach agreement on bitterly divisive issues such as borders, security and Jerusalem, was no doubt well-received in Israel.

But for millions of Palestinians frustrated by a protracted peace process that has gone nowhere, it will be further evidence of US bias.

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