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

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora