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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid