Mahmoud Abbas hands over a formal letter for Palestine to be admitted as a state to the UN Secretary-General in New York on September 23, 2011.Photo: AFP
Switzerland, Denmark, Spain and Norway yesterday joined a growing list of European countries that back an upgrade for Palestinians to non-member status at the United Nations, a victory that would be a diplomatic boost to their aspirations for statehood.
With overwhelming support from the developing world, the Palestinians appear certain to earn approval in the 193-member UN General Assembly for a status upgrade to "observer state" today.
Frustrated that their bid for full UN membership last year was thwarted by US opposition in the UN Security Council, Palestinians have launched a watered-down bid for recognition as a non-member state, similar to the status the Vatican enjoys.
The Palestinian proposal would implicitly recognise Palestinian statehood. It could also grant access to bodies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where the Palestinians could file complaints against Israel.
Israel and its main ally the United States oppose the move.
On Tuesday, France gave its support in favour of non-member status.
"The decision to support the resolution is in accordance with Switzerland's policy to seek a negotiated, just, and durable peace between Israel and an independent and viable Palestinian state within secure and internationally recognised borders," the Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Swiss decision followed a visit to Berne by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this month as the country hesitated between voting in favour of the resolution or abstaining.
A positive vote would make it possible to "revitalise the concept of a two-state solution by placing Israel and Palestine on an equal footing in future peace negotiations", the Swiss ministry said.
In Copenhagen, the Danish foreign minister said Denmark would also vote "yes".
"It is a moderate text which clearly highlights the need for peace negotiations and negotiations for a two-state solution that can secure Palestinians a safe and sustainable state side by side with Israel, minister Villy Sovndal said.
Spain and Portugal said that they believed the Palestinian bid to upgrade its rank from a UN General Assembly observer entity to that of a non-member observer state was the best way to move towards peace.
Britain, which has been cool on the idea, was due to announce its decision later in the day.
Israel and the United States condemn the UN bid, saying the only genuine route to statehood for the Palestinians is via a peace agreement made in direct talks with Israel.
Talks however have been stalled for two years, mainly over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have expanded despite being deemed illegal by most of the world.
In Ramallah in the West Bank, senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi said the response was encouraging and sent a message of hope to all Palestinians.
European countries are eager to bolster moderates such as Abbas after an eight-day conflict this month between Israel and Gaza-based Islamists estranged from more moderate West Bank compatriots and opposed to Israel's very existence.
Israel and the United States have mooted withholding aid and tax revenue that the Palestinian government in the West Bank needs to survive. Israel has also viewed options that include bringing down Abbas.