Global Trends by
Monday, 19 September 2011
Palestinian quest for a state goes to the UN
High drama is expected
at the United Nations this week as the Palestinians take their quest
for statehood to the UN Security Council and the General Assembly.
It also signifies their loss of hope in the route of negotiations with
This week the Palestinians
will take a big new step in their struggle to having the world recognize
that they have their own state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak at the United Nations
in New York and request recognition from UN members that Palestine is a state. He
has at least two options on how to make this request.
Option 1 is to ask the Security Council to grant Palestine full membership of the United Nations.
The drawback is that the United States is almost certain to veto this request,
in defence of Israel’s
Option 2 is for the General Assembly to adopt a decision to upgrade
the position of Palestine
to the status of a non-member observer state. Indirectly, this would
mean Palestine is acknowledged as a state. It would
be entitled to participate in many of the UN’s agencies and Conventions.
Last Friday, Abbas announced he had decided on Option 1, thereby openly
challenging the US
to take a stand. If the US exercises
its veto, it would be exposed as an opponent, and its popularity in
the Arab region will deteriorate further.
Abbas could then still take Option 2, and request for a vote in the
General Assembly to obtain the enhanced observer status, one which would
nevertheless recognize Palestine
as a state. A large majority is expected to vote for the Palestinians.
The Palestinian move at the UN is going ahead despite pleas from the
United States and threats from Israel. The two
countries warned that doing so would set back Israel-Palestinian negotiations
for many years.
But it is precisely because the many past years of negotiations have
gone nowhere and obtained nothing but frustration after frustration
for the Palestinians that they have decided to move the process to the
It is a sign of the Palestinians’ total loss of confidence in Israel as a negotiating partner, and in the US leadership that it can stand up to Israel and be
an honest broker for a just solution.
The Palestinian Authority
leaders have already bent backwards in seeking a deal with Israel, but in return seen no progress
in ending the occupation but instead a continued increase in Israeli
settlements in the occupied territories.
The US President
Barrack Obama had first given hope that he would be tougher on Israel. He demanded
the end of new settlement construction, and a deal on the basis of the
borders prior to the 1967 Arab-Israel war.
However, facing hostile reaction from both Israeli President Benjamin
Netanyahu and the pro-Israeli lobbies in the US including in Congress, Obama has
stopped active involvement in the peace efforts. Instead, Netanyahu
appears to have gained the upper hand over Obama, getting ovations during
his speech at the US Congress some months ago.
With negotiations coming to an end, and the disappearance of all hopes
for any future progress in that route, the Palestinian Authority decided
to seek broad support of the world through the UN route.
The moment seems ripe, as the international mood has swung significantly
and perhaps decisively in the Palestinians’ favour.
has lost the great support of its two traditional allies in the region.
The Arab Spring swept Egyptian President Mubarak from power, and the
interim government is more in tune with popular sentiments.
Those sentiments were evident last week, when an Egyptian crowd stormed
the Israeli embassy in Cairo,
forcing the Ambassador and staff to flee from the country.
Turkey, the other ally, has dramatically turned around following the
2008 Israeli blitz on Gaza a couple of years ago, and the 2010 Israeli
attack on a Turkish ship trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza,
which killed 9 Turkish citizens.
relations with Israel
and expelled the Israeli Ambassador. The Turkish premier Recap Tayyip
Erdogan gave a rousing speech to Arab Foreign Ministers in Cairo
last week, declaring that supporting the Palestinian request for statehood
was an obligation and that the Palestinian flag must fly high at the
Many prominent citizens within Europe and even the US have also spoken up. Former Finnish
President and Nobel laurette Martti Ahtisaari and the European Commission’s
former foreign policy chief Javier Solana published an article on ten
reasons why European countries should vote in favour of the Palestinians
in the UN.
And former US President Jimmy Carter has also written on how Obama’s
call for settlements freeze and a peace deal based on pre-1967 borders
were rejected by Israel, and why the subsequent withdrawal of the US
from the peace process and US policy were interpreted by Palestinians
and other Arabs as “acquiescing on the occupation and biased against
According to Carter,
the UN vote in favour of Palestinian statehood should be followed by
a new attempt by Europe, the US and the UN to mediate in renewed talks between
and Palestinians. The alternative to this new effort will be “an expansion
of hopelessness, animosity and probable violence.”
An IPS article by the veteran observer of the UN scene, Thalif Dean,
gives a broad analysis of the Palestinian move.
It quotes Mouin Rabbani of the Institute for Palestine Studies as saying
that two decades of negotiations have achieved nothing except further
consolidation of Israeli control over the occupied territories, in large
part because of consistent US
support for Israeli impunity.
“The era in which the US
and other Western powers profess support for the principle of Palestinian
statehood while thoroughly undermining it in practice must come to an
end,” says Rabbani. “Supporting a Palestinian state provided none is
established simply won’t do anymore.
“It is therefore high time for an alternative and more effective approach
to resolve this conflict. Given the failure of bilateral diplomacy,
returning the question of Palestine to the multilateral forum of the UN
is an essential first step in an alternative and more effective.”
Next week, as the Palestinian issue moves centre stage to the UN, Palestinians
plan to hold peaceful marches and rallies in the occupied territories
to show support. It remains to be seen how the drama unfolds at the
UN, and what happens after.
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