News / Middle East

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.

Listen to US President Obama's remarks on Israel-Palestinians:

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.

Palestinian Statehood Bid Breakdown

    The Process

  • Palestinians say they are seeking U.N. recognition after years of negotiations with Israel failed to deliver an independent state.
  • It is not clear if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will seek U.N. Security Council approval of U.N. member status for an independent Palestine, or instead seek "non-member status" within the world body.
  • The mechanism for recognizing statehood at the United Nations is specific.
  • First, a resolution declaring a State of Palestine as a full U.N. member is introduced. Then the resolution is sent to the Security Council, which studies it and takes a vote on sending the measure to the full General Assembly. It takes two thirds of the U.N.'s membership to approve voting-state status.
  • Achieving non-member status requires only a simple majority vote in the 193-member General Assembly. Palestinians currently hold observer status at the world body.
  • Non-voting U.N. membership would provide Palestinians with a status upgrade that would allow them to petition U.N. committees and entities such as the International Court of Justice.

    Why the Palestinian bid?

  • President Abbas backed out of U.S.-led peace talks last year in protest against Israel's decision to end a freeze in settlement building on land the Palestinians want for a future state. Palestinians say because the peace process has failed, they will unilaterally seek to establish a state. Abbas said the Palestinians are the only people in the world who remain under occupation.

    Why the Israelis oppose the move?

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Palestinians' plan to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations is "futile," and that only direct negotiations can lead to a peace agreement.
  • Netanyahu has accused the Palestinians of "consistently evading" negotiations. He called on the Palestinian Authority "to abandon unilateral steps" and said it would then "find Israel to be a genuine partner" for peace.
  • Israel leaders say that by bypassing talks and going to the U.N., the Palestinians are violating previous agreements, and that could result in Israeli sanctions.

    Why the U.S. promises to veto?

  • The Obama administration opposes the Palestinian move and says it will not help to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table. President Obama has called the proposal a "distraction" to attaining Mideast peace that he says can only be addressed through negotiations.
  • The U.S., one of five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, says it will veto a Palestinian membership bid in the Council if it comes to a vote.


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.


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.”

Pal Refugees

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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