SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma said last night his country would support Palestine's quest for statehood at the UN this week.
Addressing the General Debate of the 66th United Nations General Assembly in New York, Zuma said the Palestinians had to be given an opportunity “because they have been blocked all the time”.
“South Africa continues to support international efforts to assist the people of Palestine and Israel to find lasting peace. The decades-old struggle by the Palestinian people for a sovereign State of their own has now reached a turning point,” Zuma said.
“The Palestinian Authority, backed by the League of Arab States, has stated its intention to seek UN membership for the State of Palestine. South Africa fully supports this position.”
Zuma said statehood for Palestine would be a “decisive step towards achieving lasting peace, economic cooperation and prosperity for the millions of people in the Middle East,” and urged that the Palestinians’ quest be viewed favourably.
Palestine’s push, which could be put to a vote of the 15-nation UN Security Council on Friday, has faced strong opposition from Israel and the United States of America.
US President Barack Obama warned on Wednesday that his country could use its veto power if the matter came before the Security Council, drawing praise from Israel.
Obama, furiously scrambling to head off a UN showdown, warned world leaders that trying to create a Palestinian nation by simple decree instead of through hard negotiations was bound to fail as a shortcut to peace with Israel.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations,” Obama told delegates. “If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”
Europeans worked to defuse the dispute, too, France urging new talks within a month.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy supported an observer state status for Palestine – the same as enjoyed by the Vatican -- but not full UN membership for now. That idea would head off a Security Council vote and veto that he said would risk “engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East.”
Undeterred, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pressed toward a formal bid for UN recognition that could bring the issue to a head on Friday.