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Possible US Veto Against Palestinian Statehood Bid at UN Debated


Palestinians applaud unveiling of a symbolic chair supporting the Palestinian statehood bid, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 20, 2011.

Palestinians applaud unveiling of a symbolic chair supporting the Palestinian statehood bid, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 20, 2011.

The United States says it will veto in the United Nations Security Council any attempt by the Palestinians for full U.N. membership.

The United States believes any attempt at Palestinian statehood should not be decided by the U.N. Security Council, but by direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That is why Washington has threatened to use its veto power as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

President Barack Obama made that point during a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately it is the Israelis and the Palestinians - not us - who must reach agreement on issues that divide them,” he said.

Ramifications

Analysts are debating what effect a U.S. veto might have on Washington’s standing in the Arab world.

John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, does not believe a U.S. veto would lower Washington’s standing. “No, I don’t think so," he said. "I think the Arab world fully understands where the U.S. is. They may not like it, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the U.S. did cast a veto in the Security Council.”

But most analysts disagree with Ambassador Bolton, saying a U.S. veto will have a negative effect.

Carne Ross, former British diplomat at the United Nations [now Director of the ‘Independent Diplomat,’ a non-profit advisory group] says the United States is in a difficult situation.

“This is bad for the U.S. This is a very awkward moment for the U.S. They would rather this weren’t happening," said Ross. "But they’ve left it too late and it’s pretty clear now that the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] are going to take a resolution to the Security Council."

"But undoubtedly, an American veto against Palestinian statehood at the U.N., against U.N. membership for Palestine, to be precise, will lower America’s standing. It will reconfirm, for many people, that at the end of the day, the U.S. is not prepared to push Israel to an equitable solution in this dispute. So undoubtedly, I think the U.S. standing in the Arab world will be lowered by this,” he added.

Double-standard

Daniel Levy, Mideast expert with the New America Foundation and former Israeli negotiator, says there is a perception that Washington employs a double-standard in the region.

“The problem for America is that if America is seen to support freedoms and rights and democracy and self-determination elsewhere, but draws an exception when it comes to the Palestinians - and if America votes along those lines at the U.N., then this is going to exacerbate all those trends of American lost credibility, difficulty in building alliances, loss of soft power that we are witness to already - but this will exacerbate those trends,” he said.

Fawaz Gerges, from the London School of Economics, believes a U.S. veto would have tremendous implications for American foreign policy.

“What we need to understand is that the Arab world has changed forever. Public opinion has become a critical variable in Arab and Muslim politics," said Gerges. "There are awakenings all over the region - from Tunisia to Egypt, from Libya to Yemen, from Yemen to Syria, from Syria to Bahrain. And the reality is, I fear, that the American veto will fuel anti-American sentiments, will mobilize segments of Arab and Muslim public opinion against the United States, will complicate President Obama’s outreach efforts to Arab and Muslim public opinion and also his embrace of the Arab revolutions.”

Political interests

Gerges and other experts say in the final analysis, the expected American U.N. veto has a lot to do with domestic U.S. politics.

“Even though President Barack Obama’s heart is in the right place, his political interests lie somewhere else," he said. "He cannot afford to antagonize the Congress now. He cannot afford to antagonize Israel’s friends in the United States because that would mean voters in the next presidential election - that means a migraine for President Barack Obama which he cannot afford. He has so much on his agenda and that’s why the president has made up his mind that he cannot afford politically the high costs of either abstaining in the Security Council or even from the General Assembly.”

Gerges says President Obama finds himself between a rock and a hard place: the rock is that he’ll likely veto the Palestinian bid for full U.N. membership and fuel anti-American sentiment and the hard place is that not vetoing the Palestinian bid will be politically costly for the president.

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