Monday, November 14, 2011

Palestinian Statehood Bid Deadlocked

by Joseph Klein

The Palestinian bid to become the 194th member state of the United Nations has come one step closer to collapse – at least for now. There has been no formal Security Council vote as of yet. However, the United Nations Security Council’s Committee on the Admission of New Members, consisting of representatives from all fifteen Security Council member states, adopted a report on November 11th indicating that they were unable to reach a consensus concerning what recommendation to make to the Security Council on the Palestinian application for full membership in the United Nations.

“We will be studying this report and the whole exercise thoroughly … and we will make a determination very quickly as to the next step forward in the U.N. system,” Palestinian UN representative Riyad Mansour told reporters. Only “one powerful country” is blocking Palestine’s UN membership, he claimed. However, it appears that the Palestinians have been unable to round up the nine supporters in the Security Council that would vote their way and force the United States to use its veto to block their membership application from moving forward.

As described in the report, the committee was deadlocked:

The view was expressed that the Committee should recommend to the Council that Palestine be admitted to membership in the United Nations. A different view was expressed that the membership application could not be supported at this time and an abstention was envisaged in the event of a vote. Yet another view expressed was that the applicant did not meet the requirements for membership and a favourable recommendation to the General Assembly would not be supported.

The committee report will be taken up the Security Council itself at some undetermined future date, most likely after the conclusion of the Arab League’s November 16th meeting in Cairo with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Depending on what is decided at the Arab League meeting, Lebanon, the Palestinians’ leading advocate on the Security Council, may try to force a vote on a draft resolution recommending Palestine’s admission. If so, it would need nine votes to pass and no veto. The U.S. will be one of the members casting a negative vote. Germany and Colombia may also vote no, or simply abstain. France and the United Kingdom will probably abstain, along with Portugal and the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This leaves eight current Security Council members most likely willing to support the Palestinians’ application – Russia, China, Lebanon, Brazil, Nigeria, Gabon, South Africa, and India.

Thus, currently it appears that the Palestinians are at least one vote shy of the nine supportive votes they need to pass the resolution and thereby force the U.S. into a diplomatic corner by having to veto the resolution. Without the nine positive votes to pass the resolution, a U.S. ‘no’ vote is not considered a veto overturning a resolution that would otherwise have passed.

In view of their being one vote short, the Palestinians may prefer to wait until next year to press for a formal vote. Five non-permanent seats will have changed hands, which may present a better chance of securing nine votes in their favor.

In the meantime, the Palestinians can be expected to apply directly to the General Assembly for an upgrade of their status to a non-member observer state, building upon their recent admission as a member state of UNESCO.

Palestinian UN representative Mansour emphasized the symbolic importance of the UNESCO vote, saying “now it is a fact that we do exist in the U.N. system as a state.” They are certain to obtain the majority they need in the General Assembly for an upgrade to a non-member observer state status on par with the Vatican. The United States has no veto power in the Assembly to block it.

While an upgrade to an observer state status by the General Assembly will not entitle the Palestinians to all of the privileges of full UN-wide membership, it will represent recognition by the world’s most inclusive international body of their statehood aspirations and will allow the Palestinians to press claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

The report adopted by the Security Council Committee on the Admission of New Members summarized the members’ different perspectives, without specific attribution, on whether Palestine meets the requirements for admission as the 194th member state of the United Nations. These requirements are contained in Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations. With the help of legal experts, the committee members considered whether the existing Palestinian governing entity met the criteria for statehood, was peace-loving, and was willing and able to carry out the obligations contained in the Charter.

By all objective measures, the Palestinians fail on all counts. But the UN is anything but objective when it comes to the Palestinian issue.

For example, regarding the criterion of statehood, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States is generally considered as the best source for defining the international law standard. It is referenced in the admissions committee report.

The Montevideo Convention declares that in order for an entity to be considered a state under international law it should possess a permanent population, a defined territory, effective government control and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Given the prevailing support in the United Nations for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the independent state of Palestine, there was little discussion in the report about the lack of secure and recognized boundaries agreed upon with Israel pursuant to negotiations, as called for by Security Council Resolution 242. This failure to meet the defined territory statehood requirement should be enough to disqualify the Palestinian UN application since it does not meet the first threshold of statehood. Instead, according to the report, the committee members “stressed that the lack of precisely settled borders was not an obstacle to statehood.”

Some committee members did express doubts regarding the Palestine Authority’s control over all current Palestinian territory and governance of the entire Palestinian population, in light of the fact that Hamas is the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip and is in control of forty percent of the population of Palestine. However, other committee members were reported to be of the view that “the Israeli occupation was preventing the Palestinian government from exercising full control over all of its territory.” In other words, this point of view held that Hamas’s bloody coup in Gaza, throwing out the members of Abbas’s government and Fatah Party, was somehow all Israel’s fault. By laying the blame on Israel, the Palestinians get a free pass for their own inability to demonstrate the capacity for self-government under a single authority.

With regard to the UN Charter’s requirement that an applicant be “peace-loving,” the view was expressed, according to the report, “that Palestine fulfilled this criterion in light of its commitment to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” However, this was disputed by some committee members who pointed to Hamas’s refusal to refrain from the threat or the use of force in the conduct of its international relations.

The Palestinians’ supporters dismiss the relevance of Hamas’s actions because they were not those of the Palestinians’ recognized governmental authority – the Palestinian Authority or PLO. This circular reasoning ignores that attempts are underway to bring Hamas into a unity government without requiring it to first renounce all acts of terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The majority of UN members fall hook, line and sinker for the Palestinians’ victimhood narrative, casting Israel as the villainous oppressor. The truth is precisely the opposite. The Palestinians want a state of their own with the inalienable right of self-determination to decide its character, but continue to reject the Israelis’ own inalienable right of self-determination to live securely in the manner they choose to live – as a Jewish state.

Fortunately, support for Israel among the U.S. electorate remains strong. They see right through the Palestinians’ falsehoods. Support for Israel has risen to 60 percent, the highest level since 2009, according to a new poll published last week, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in conjunction with Public Opinion Strategies. This increase in support comes on the heels of the stalled Palestinian efforts to avoid negotiations with Israel and unilaterally declare statehood via the United Nations.

Respondents characterize Israel as “one of our strongest allies” (68 percent) and a “democracy” (66 percent), while rejecting the notion that Israel is “extremist” (61 percent) or “responsible for the violence” (65 percent). By contrast, Palestinians are considered “extremist” (56 percent) and an “obstacle to peace” (56 percent). Moreover, the Palestinians are not considered to be “victims” (55 percent).

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) support the idea of a two-state for two peoples solution, “with Israel as a homeland of the Jewish people and Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people.”

As long as the Palestinian leadership persists in rejecting such a two-state for two peoples solution, the United Nations will not be able to save the Palestinians from themselves.

Joseph Klein


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