News / Middle East

Palestinian Bid for Statehood Creates Diplomatic Crisis

The UN General Assembly listening to President Obama's speech at United Nations headquarters in New York, September 21, 2011. The body's attention this week is focused on the Palestinian request for full membership.
The UN General Assembly listening to President Obama's speech at United Nations headquarters in New York, September 21, 2011. The body's attention this week is focused on the Palestinian request for full membership.
Mohamed Elshinnawi

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.

There are diplomatic and legal consequences for admitting Palestinians to the U.N. with full-member status or even with non-member status. For instance, Palestinians could drag top Israeli officials to the International Criminal Court. The U.S. could lose whatever is left of its credibility in the Arab world if it vetoes the Palestinian bid. These significant consequences are prompting the U.S., Israel and the Quartet to offer negotiations as a better path to statehood.

They have until Friday, the day Palestinian President Abbas picked for submitting his formal request. This scenario prompted a flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiations in New York this week to avoid a confrontation certain to evoke an angry Arab response. A U.S. veto would be perceived as Washington blocking a move to realize an outcome President Obama called for a year ago: a Palestinian state. Arab public opinion is not buying the Obama administration’s argument that Palestinian statehood must emerge from a negotiated deal with Israel.

Options for U.S.

Shibley Telhami is a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. He argues that the U.S. has a better option.

“What if the U.S. pre-empted a U.N. General Assembly resolution with a Security Council resolution endorsing a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with comparable mutually agreed land swaps? That would push the two sides toward the negotiating table.” The veto option will be condemned in the Arab world regardless of its outcome," said Telhami.

Full interview with Professor Daoud Khairallah:

Daoud Khairallah, a professor of international law at Georgetown University, expects the U.S. to avoid exercising its veto power in the Security Council. “The U.S. will try to convince certain members within the Security Council not to support the Palestinian bid, so with less than the nine-member majority, the council will not adopt a resolution without invoking a U.S. veto,” he said.

Cost of U.S. veto

Failing that, a U.S. veto would result in a wide-spread anti-American sentiment across the Arab world, Khairallah says. “The only thing that has alienated Arabs from the U.S. is their feeling that the U.S. is helping the occupier of their land – an additional veto would further that feeling,” he said.

Ambassador Philip Wilcox, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, agrees. “The U.S. would severely harm its credibility in the Middle East by identifying exclusively with the Israeli position," he said.

"The veto will weaken the U.S. influence at a time of turmoil and change in the region. This is harmful for the national interests of the U.S. and its strategy. Unless the U.S. shows the sympathy and support of both Israel and the Palestinians it cannot perform the role of a mediator and a peace maker,” he added.

Full interview with Ambassador Philip Wilcox:

Former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, wrote in The New York Times that the U.S. can veto a Palestinian state and risk losing Saudi Arabia as an ally. “With most of the Arab world in upheaval,” he wrote, “the special relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.”

Legal consequences, prospects of peace

International law experts say that Palestinian U.N. membership will have serious consequences for Israel even if they achieve only the status of non-member observer.

Some of the legal consequences that Professor Khairallah lists

  • Palestine could become a member of some international organizations and it could have a standing before the International Court of Justice.
  • Palestine could become a member of the Rome Treaty and thus could sue top Israeli leaders at the International Criminal Court.
  • Any form of UN recognition of a Palestinian state using the 1967 borders will alter what Israel considers as disputed territories to being “occupied” lands, which will add valuable weight to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice that considers Israeli settlements illegal.
  • Israel would legally be an occupier that should end its occupation.
  • Recognition gives the Palestinians the right to self-determination and self-defense, even if they use force.

But a former Israeli peace negotiator, Michael Herzog, who is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that seeking to force Israel’s hand through a U.N. resolution could trigger a major Israeli-Palestinian confrontation and irreversible damage to the chances of a negotiated agreement.

“Legal confrontations between Palestinians and Israel will provide a constant distraction from the attempt to restart negotiations needed for the two-state solution,” he said.

What if the Palestinian bid fails?

Herzog fears an Israeli-Palestinian confrontation could inflame the Arab masses. “The newly empowered Arab street is rife with the anti-Israeli sentiments, as shown in the recent storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. This will also motivate two non-Arab actors seeking regional dominance, Turkey and Iran, to take further anti-Israel actions and earning them credit in the Arab world.”

But a complete failure of the Palestinian U.N. bid could trigger an escalation of violence in the region, Professor Khairallah said. “Such failure would fuel Palestinian frustration and would strengthen the position of radical elements in the Palestinian society who support armed resistance.” He added, “Hamas then can claim that the U.S. is not to be trusted as a peace broker and that Palestinians have exhausted all peaceful means and the only way left is armed resistance. That would mean a culture of resistance will be rampant in the Middle East.”

Ambassador Wilcox agrees. “Ultimately, the Palestinian public would feel a deeper sense of despair after 20 years of failed peace negotiations followed by a failure to gain the U.N. support. Resorting to violence would make it even more difficult to reach a negotiated two-state solution,” he said.

There is still a very narrow window to avoid all this U.N. drama and its unintended consequences; if and only if Palestinians are offered an attractive alternative to their U.N. bid. Given the time remaining, that does not seem a likely possibility.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanoni
John Owens
October 08, 2015 7:32 PM
Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs