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Middle East

Opinion: A new chance for the Mideast

The United Nations General Assembly has recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state, a status shared with the Vatican. It is a wise move that will boost peace and stability in the region, says DW's Kersten Knipp.

The outcome was unambiguous: 138 of 193 UN member states supported the request to upgrade the Palestinians' status. 138 of 193 countries is – well, what is it? A triumph for the Palestinians who have embarrassed their opponents on the international stage? Or a defeat for Israel, to be undone at all costs? That is how people on both sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, describe the outcome of the vote.

The question remains whether such remarks are helpful. The decision could be described in very different terms; namely, as a tremendous chance to finally bring stability and peace to the region. In particular, this is a challenge to Israel. Many Israelis are wary about the Palestinians' desire for peace - reservations often enough fueled by newspaper editorials. The Palestinian bid for recognition intended nothing but Israel's destruction, Israeli historian Shlomo Slonim wrote in the Jerusalem Post daily. "Abbas' goal, it seems clear, is not to create a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side with Israel, but to replace Israel." The diplomatic route is, for him, simply a case of war by other means, Slonim said.

Palestinians take on responsibility

It is difficult for some to understand such objections. Along with the new status, the Palestinian Authority is taking on responsibility. Even more than before, it is subject to international structures and forced to adhere to diplomatic rules. The old adage that a march through the institutions changes the marcher more than the institutions is surely true here, too.

With regard to its settlement policies, Israel needs not worry. If, thanks to their new status, the Palestinians should take the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, that will give Israel the opportunity to get impressive confirmation for its concept of the settlements' legality. Should it become clear that the settlements violate international law, there is nothing to be said against the case being tried in The Hague. Justice is only justice if it applies to everyone.

Difficult decision for Germany

Germany agonized over its decision - and abstained, showing that it did not want to embrace the Israeli position of adamant opposition to the bid. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle declared that the German government doubted the Palestinian bid would serve the peace process at this point. But he added it does correspond to the German attitude in the conflict that, in the end, there should be two states, side-by-side.

Berlin is well aware of how the German decision will be received in Ramallah and large parts of the Arab world. Just a week ago, Israelis and Palestinians ended brief but bloody fighting that killed more than 100 people. Now at the UN, the global epicenter of diplomacy, nearly 200 states voted on the status of the Palestinian territories and thus, to a certain degree, on the future nature of the conflict. It is being institutionalized and internationalized, quite along the lines of political procedures over the past decades. If Germany had not abstained but voted against the bid, the country would have met with little sympathy in the Arab world.

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