Søvndal under pressure as Palestine vote nears

Party colleagues wonder why foreign minister hasn’t clearly conveyed his intentions despite the Palestine issue being a key SF cause by Christian Wenande Four days before the Palestinian Authority is expected to make a bid to raise its status in...

Party colleagues wonder why foreign minister hasn’t clearly conveyed his intentions despite the Palestine issue being a key SF cause

by Christian Wenande

Four days before the Palestinian Authority is expected to make a bid to raise its status in the UN, Denmark’s foreign minister, Villy Søvndal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), is being warned by his party that failing to support the Palestinian cause would be a letdown.

Influential SF party members have indicated that it would be a major disappointment if Søvndal decided to abstain from voting in the UN referendum on Thursday. It is expected that a considerable majority will vote in favour of making Palestine a ‘non-member observer state’ of the world body. Currently it holds only observer status.

MEP Margrete Auken (SF) wondered why Søvndal hasn’t followed France's lead and declared that Denmark will vote in favour. She warned against a repeat of Denmark’s abstention last year, when the Palestinians applied for membership of UNESCO, the UN culture organisation.

“To abstain again would be to fail Palestine, and for SF it would be a massive disappointment if we don’t vote ‘yes’. That has been our clear message for a long time now,” Auken told Politiken newspaper. “I would be very interested to hear his explanation if he doesn’t vote in favour.”

The opinion of European countries is expected to be influential in the vote, and at least 11 EU members are expected to vote in favour. Søvndal, though, has been mute on the Palestine subject for months now. The issue was discussed by the cabinet last week, and the prime minister has said the government is ‘working towards’ a yes vote, but underscored that it was important for Europe to speak with a single voice.

SF EU spokesperson Lisbeth Bech Poulsen was adamant that Denmark vote in favour of the Palestine application.

“Palestine simply needs this upgrade,” Poulsen told Politiken.

Per Stig Møller (Konservative), a former foreign minister, indicated that he was undecided about whether Denmark should vote in favour or abstain.

“It is positive that the Palestinians will be upgraded as the first step towards eventual recognition of a Palestinian state next to Israel. Then again, who is it we are upgrading?” Møller told Politiken. “Is it the moderate Palestinian leadership on the West Bank, who I feel deserves a diplomatic victory for their peaceful stance, or is Hamas in Gaza that we’ll end up recognising? It’s also about timing. We shouldn’t be seen as punishing Israel for what’s just happened in Gaza, though Israel needs a wake-up call in terms of a peaceful solution.”

Søvndal has been vocal in his efforts to see Israel and the Palestinian territories reach a peaceful settlement, following the conflict in Gaza Strip earlier this month.

Dansk Folkeparti, which is solidly against supporting the Palestinian bid, is ready for a compromise.

“If Villy Søvndal can ensure that all of the EU states abstain then we’ll support it and I think he can get a unanimous parliament behind him. And that’s not inconsequential,” Søren Espersen, the party’s foreign policy spokesperson, told Politiken.

The number of countries supporting this year’s Palestinian bid is similar to the number supporting last year’s effort to join UNESCO. At that time, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and Spain voted in favour. Another 11 abstained, including Denmark, while the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden voted against.

Søvndal has declined to comment on the issue.

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