U.S. VETO COULD DERAIL PALESTINE AS NEW U.N. MEMBER STATE
By Thalif Deen
(UN photo April 1959)
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1, 2011 (IPS)- If the General Assembly is called upon to recognise Palestine as a new sovereign nation state, the resolution is expected to garner the required two-thirds majority among the 192 members in the world body, come September. But a single veto in the 15-member Security Council - most likely by the United States - will derail Palestine's membership in the United Nations, even if the Palestinians are able to muster the required nine votes in the Council. The administration of President Barack Obama has not only hinted about a possible veto but is also lobbying European countries, urging them not to vote for the resolution when it comes up before the General Assembly in September.
Medea Benjamin, a political activist and co-founder of the women's anti-war group Code Pink, told IPS, "Given that the position of the Obama administration is that there should be a sovereign Palestinian state, it makes no sense to try to block a resolution on statehood, if it comes up at the United Nations this fall."
She said it will show the absurd reality that U.S. policy not only runs counter to the sentiment of the majority of the world, but also runs counter to its own policy.
"We saw this same phenomena when the U.S. vetoed the U.N. resolution condemning Israel for the continued building of settlements - a veto that ran counter to the stated U.S. policy calling on Israel to stop building settlements," she pointed out.
The Obama administration should not lobby the Europeans to vote against this resolution, she said. On the contrary, the U.S. should support it, said Benjamin, a leader of an international peace movement and co-founder of the San Francisco-based Global Exchange which advocates fair trade.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times last month, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, said: "We will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations."
As of now, France and Britain, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have hinted they will vote for the resolution.
China and Russia, the other two permanent members, are also expected to exercise a positive vote.
Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report, told IPS while there is as yet no clear indication that European states have thrown their support behind the Palestinian initiative to seek U.N. recognition for Palestinian statehood in September, a serious discussion about this has started, and there have been growing signs that key EU states, such as France, might endorse it.
"This would constitute a body blow to continued U.S. hegemony of conflict management, and Washington appears determined to thwart, if not the Palestinian initiative, then at least the support for it of influential allies, particularly Europe," he said.
Obama's recent comments on the Middle East were therefore addressed not so much to the parties themselves as to Europe, noted Rabbani.
Obama's statement that the United States now endorses the 1967 boundaries as a basis for a negotiated resolution of the conflict - albeit with a slew of qualifications that make this an essentially meaningless statement - is intended to persuade Europe that Washington retains the qualifications to remain the sole proprietor of this dossier, he said.
"Will it work? Obama did no more than issue a statement that he thereafter almost instantaneously emptied of substance," he said.
More importantly, argued Rabbani, "Obama did not provide any details about either how - or even if - Washington intends to realise this objective, nor on how the U.S. intends to address reality on the ground in the absence of concrete American movement towards this objective.
"So the Europeans - hardly morons and self-interested actors to their very marrow - are unlikely to be impressed," he added.
Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general who headed the Department of Public Information, told IPS that most likely a resolution will get a majority in the General Assembly regardless of U.S. or European vote.
The real question will be the extent of that majority, he added.
For example, a two-thirds majority would make the difference, and if handled strategically by the Palestinian representatives, could outweigh a possible veto by the United States, Britain or France.
"Of course, a crucial key is the position of the Security Council that recommends new members to the General Assembly. Timing the submission and approach in presentation are crucial," said Sanbar, who has served under five different U.N. secretaries-general during his longstanding career at the world body.
Rabbani told IPS that Obama's failure - or rather refusal - to compel Israel to comply with a measure as benign as a partial and temporary suspension of further settlement expansion in order to ensure the continuation of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and thus the breakdown of diplomacy, appears to have had a big impact on Europe, not least Washington's closest allies like London and Berlin.
"Europeans increasingly feel they are spending billions of Euros not to solve this festering sore on their doorstep, but rather to sustain the conflict by financing an occupation that Washington doesn't have the will to terminate," he said.
The failure of the Fayyad Plan, proposed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for the creation of a de facto Palestinian state within two years, particularly in the context of the Arab Spring, was for many the last straw.
That Abbas, the Palestinian leader for whom negotiations has been an article of faith, now appears to be exploring alternatives such as Palestinian reconciliation and U.N. recognition on account of Obama's steadfast refusal to help him sell yet more negotiations as a credible path was seen in Europe as a further wake-up call, said Rabbani.
European states are not going to launch a Middle East initiative independent of Washington. At the end of the day, resolving the Arab- Israeli conflict is for them not worth the conflict with Washington this would entail, given more important interests they would not want to jeopardise, he declared.
Sanbar said that some who are nervous may even be "seeking links with Israel" as a way of gaining clearer U.S. support. "And how credible is the Palestinian Authority with its own people?"
A crucial element is their unified presentation through an updated inclusive free national framework, said Sanbar.
Rabbani said that slowly but surely, the region is transcending the priorities and constraints imposed upon it by U.S. policy, and this is no less true of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mere talk of seeking U.N. recognition - whatever one may think of it - demonstrates quite clearly that even dependent clients like the PLO are moving on, and no longer basing their every little move on whether or not it pleases the occupant of the White House, he said.