By Ali Younes
From the Palestinian perspective, the absence of any meaningful effort to restart the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that will eventually lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders is the driving force behind the current efforts to submit an application to the UN to recognize Palestine as a state. In essence, the failure of the efforts to restart the peace talks has to do with the sever imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. The current Israeli government does not see any urgency in rushing to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians considering that it has the ultimate political and military control over the Palestinians territories. The Palestinian weakness and their inability to change the dynamics of their relations with the Israelis, much less trying to have a balance of power with them, is also making reaching a convincing settlement with the Israelis highly unlikely.
Adding to that, the United States under Barack Obama is unable or unwilling to pressure the Israeli government enough, at this point at least, to make concessions toward achieving a peace settlement. The current conditions as they stand today, therefore, are not ripe to achieve a peaceful settlement.
In order to change the current conditions, and to strengthen their negotiation position vis-à-vis the Israelis and the Americans, the Palestinians are resorting to the UN because they believe that the current Israeli Prime Minister is not interested in a peace settlement, so long as the previous conditions persist. Palestinians also realize that president Obama has tried and failed to pressure Netanyahu to freeze the settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories in order to give peace negotiations a chance. Going to the UN to gain recognition of their state is not an end in itself, but rather only part of the Palestinians overarching strategy to improve their position at the negotiation table with Israel. Even if we suppose that the Palestinians have achieved international and legal recognition at the UN come September, they still will have to negotiate with the Israelis to reclaim their territories and establish their state.
Their strategy started by few years ago by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who embarked on building and cleaning up the state institutions and apparatus as a prerequisite to gain diplomatic recognition. Fayyad’s work is a critical component of the Palestinians strategy because under international law, and in order for state to be recognized as a sovereign and independent by the international community it has to have permanent population, which the Palestinian do, recognized national borders, even if they are occupied, and sound financial institutions. These elements have been achieved under Fayyad with remarkable success as evident when the EU recently certified the Palestinian financial and economic institutions as fit to be state institutions.
In addition, the PA diplomatic strategy, in preparing for an eventual UN vote, focused on gaining diplomatic recognition from the vast majority of the Latin American countries with remarkable success. Almost of all of the Latin American countries have recognized the Palestinian state on 1967 borders, with exception of Columbia which said that it will recognize a Palestinian state only after a peace settlement is reached. Mexico also did not follow other Latin American states but maintains its support for a two state solution. The latest Palestinian diplomatic effort thus resulted in increasing the number of states that recognize Palestine as a state to 114.
The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement is also a critical element of the PA strategy because without such an agreement which will supposedly unify the Palestinian government in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel can claim that the Palestinians have not one government but two, therefore complicating the Palestinian diplomatic efforts.
The Palestinian strategy at the UN will start by submitting an application to the UN Security Council (UNSC) sometime in the next few weeks. The Security Council, then, will conduct a procedural vote to whether approve the application and refer it to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) for a full vote by member states or the application will be vetoed down by one of the permanent 5 members’ states.
The United States government has officially informed the Palestinian Authority (PA) that it will deploy its veto against their application at the UNSC. This position by the US government did not, however, surprise the Palestinians, who will then activate their ultimate plan to go directly to the UNGA thus bypassing the SC. The Palestinian grand strategy here is to override the US veto power at the Security Council, by using the UN resolution 337 which is known as the “Uniting for Peace Resolution.”
The Uniting for Peace resolution was a strategy used by the United States to end the Soviet Union blocking of the UNSC from taking actions to protect South Korea from attacks by North Korea. The United States government convinced members of the UN at the time to empower the GA to act on behalf of the deadlocked SC in order to maintain international peace and security. The US-conceived plan worked and enabled it to protect South Korea from the North through that strategy. The UN 337 resolution stated that:
*Reaffirming* the importance of the exercise by the Security Council of its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and the duty of the permanent members to seek unanimity and to exercise restraint in the use of the veto,” …
“*Recognizing* in particular that such failure does not deprive the General Assembly of its rights or relieve it of its responsibilities under the Charter in regard to the maintenance of international peace and security,” …
“*Resolves* that if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
The key mechanisms of the resolution as far as the Palestinians are concerned is that it could be used in the same fashion used by the US more than 60 years go. The key wording of the resolution which the Palestinians will take full advantage of is that it empowers the UNGA to replace the SC for failing to exercise its responsibility resulting from deadlock of its members to “maintain peace and security.”
Palestinians need two third of the members states in the GA to vote in their favor or 126 votes. This is easily attainable since there are 114 states that recognize Palestine as a state, and the Palestinian leadership asserts that they already could count on 150 votes in the GA. The number of states who vote for Palestinian resolution or against is important because both Israel and the Palestinian can use it to claim more legitimacy to its position.
This is also where the real diplomatic battle between Israel and the Palestinians will take place particularly at the SC where the US has promised to use its veto power to block the SC from referring the matter to the GA. The battle at the SC will be over the votes of its 15 members where the Palestinians strategists are hoping to have a 14-1 vote in their favor which will then isolate the United States as the only country to vote against their proposed state in the UNSC. A 14-1 will complicate the US as well as the Israeli efforts to lobby other countries to vote against the Palestinians at the GA.
At the SC the Palestinians can only guarantee 6 countries that will vote for them, India, Lebanon, South Africa and Brazil, as well as China and Russia of the P5 group. News reports said that France has indicated that it might vote for the resolution, where as British leaders said that they will have to wait for that moment to see where things are going and then make a decision. Germany and the other EU country Portugal who are current members of the SC, are a tossup and their vote, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last month, will depend on the Israeli public diplomacy and Netanyahu’s ability to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel of his intentions about peace talks with the Palestinians. Bosnia also might tag along and vote alongside them.
Columbia, which is the only other Latin American country sits on the SC this year, is currently ruled by a right-leaning government with strong ties to the US Republican leaders in Congress will not recognize the Palestinian state come September. President Juan Manuel Santos pledged his country’s support to Israel to visiting delegation o the World Jewish Congress Harretz reported last April. The remaining two African countries on the SC are Nigeria which can go either way, while Gabon’s vote will most likely depend on how France will vote.
For the Palestinians it will make a difference if they go to the GA under the “Uniting for Peace resolution” umbrella with the majority of the SC has voted in their favor giving them a huge moral and diplomatic support against the Israelis. But either way, the Palestinian strategy is designed to make the GA meeting in September as the actual battleground while the vote at the Security Council will function as its prelude. But with the threat of US veto is looming, the Palestinians might shift their tactic and bypass the Security Council all together and go directly to the UNGA.
Out of 192 member states at the UN, Palestinians need to get the two third votes which amounts to 126 states that should vote in their favor. Currently, there are 114 states that recognize Palestine as a state. Palestinians are hoping that they would reach the number 150 of states that will recognize them. Once the UNGA recognize Palestine as a state, it does not mean however that Palestine will be automatically recognized by all of the members’ states. Israel for example is only recognized by 154 countries after Bolivia and Venezuela severed their relations after Israel launched its Cast Lead military operation against Gaza. Taiwan is another example of a state, however with limited recognition at the UN and with only 23 countries that recognize it. Once Palestine is a recognized state, Palestinians hope that their position vis-à-vis Israel has improved and they can apply to various memberships of UN organs and other international institutions such as joining the Rome Statute agreement. With this in mind, Palestinians will be arming themselves with both diplomatic and legal teeth in their attempt to take full control of the borders of their newly found state.
– Ali Younes is a writer and Middle East analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: [email protected]