News / Middle East

President Obama Faces Palestinian Dilemma at UN

Palestinian students hold flags as they arrive to deliver letters to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon through the head of the UN office in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 20, 2011, ahead of President Mahmoud Abbas' bid for statehood recognition a
Palestinian students hold flags as they arrive to deliver letters to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon through the head of the UN office in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 20, 2011, ahead of President Mahmoud Abbas' bid for statehood recognition a

The Palestinians are demanding admission as a member-state of the United Nations this week, in a diplomatic initiative that could cost them crucial financial support and damage U.S. standing in the Middle East.

With Washington vowing to block the Palestinian bid by exercising its veto power in the U.N. Security Council, politicians and regional experts here are speculating about what the Palestinians are really trying to accomplish. However the confrontation plays out, diplomats worry it could mean yet another setback for the faltering Middle East peace process.

That peace process grew out of talks that began in the decade following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and negotiations have been going on in one form or another ever since. And during those years, Israel has moved more than 500,000 of its citizens onto territory it captured from the Palestinians and their Arab allies in the conflict.

So, from the Palestinian point of view, the decades of peace feelers and formal negotiations have been a failure: They still don’t have a sovereign state of their own and the Israelis have colonized much of what used to be Palestinian lands.

That’s why many Palestinians believe the bid for admission to the United Nations as a full member state is long overdue. And it’s why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will make that bid in a U.N. speech on Friday.

“It’s a message, really, of a lack of confidence in American management of the peace process,” said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership.  “They are unhappy with the way things have gone and that the United States really hasn’t come up with an alternative strategy.”

All of this poses a dilemma for the United States, which supports creation of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, but insists this can only be possible through direct negotiations between the two parties. Only through such talks, U.S. diplomats believe, can the real trappings of a state - recognized borders, internal security, trade agreements, currency controls, etc. - be achieved.   

These convictions and Washington’s historically close friendship with Israel are the main factors behind the U.S. threat to veto the Palestinians’ U.N. membership bid.
But casting such a veto in the U.N. Security Council could be costly.

If Washington does block Palestinian U.N. membership, says Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former U.N. ambassador, it risks “losing the little credibility it has left in the Arab world.”

“American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region,” al-Faisal warned in a column published by The New York Times.

The Obama administration is well aware of the risks and has been lobbying furiously behind the scenes to short-circuit the Palestinian effort even before it comes to a vote in the Security Council.

First, Washington has been trying to convince the Palestinians they already have made their point and should return to the negotiating table with Israel.

A fall-back position would be to persuade the Palestinians to take their bid to the U.N. General Assembly, where the U.S. does not have a veto right. A positive vote there would be virtually certain, but it would give the Palestinians the status of an observer state, not the full rights enjoyed by sovereign member states.

So far, the Palestinians have rejected both options, although Palestinian President Abbas has subtly left open the possibility he might change his mind.

If, as expected, the Palestinians do forge ahead with their membership bid in the Security Council, Washington still hopes to block it without resorting to a veto. It can do that by persuading at least seven of the 15 Security Council members to either oppose the Palestinian bid or abstain in the voting.

With help from some of its European allies, the Obama administration still believes that might be possible and it is lobbying furiously behind the scenes.

The way U.S. diplomats and many members of the U.S. Congress see it, Mr. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority needs to be saved from its own misguided policy on U.N. membership.

For months, both Democratic and Republican Party members in Congress have been warning the Palestinians they stand to lose about $500 million in U.S. economic and security assistance if they force an American veto. This would trigger an economic crisis for the Palestinian Authority, which already is failing to fund basic programs because of limited donations from its Arab allies.

The Palestinian push for recognition at the United Nations also is playing into U.S. domestic politics.

President Obama’s Democratic Party already has lost what was considered a safe seat (from New York City) in Congress, largely because the Republican Party candidate portrayed the president as giving Israel less than total support. And Rick Perry of Texas, the leading Republican contender in the 2012 presidential elections, is blasting Mr. Obama as being “insulting and naive” in his treatment of Israel.

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, tells VOA’s Andre de Nesnera the Palestinian U.N. bid has put Mr. Obama “between a rock and a hard place.”

“President Obama faces a very strategic dilemma and obviously he has made up his mind - that is, he cannot afford the political costs of abstaining or even supporting a Palestinian bid in the United Nations,” Gerges said.

And Gerges, like Saudi Arabia’s Turki al-Faisal, says a U.S. veto, when it comes, will be devastating on the international level.

“What we need to understand is that the Arab world has changed forever,” Gerges said, referring to this year’s popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. “Public opinion has become a critical variable in Arab and Muslim politics.

“I fear that the American veto will basically fuel anti-American sentiments, will basically 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.”

President Obama and his diplomats, as well as Palestinian President Abbas, have a lot to think about between now and Friday.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid