This month, the Palestinian Authority plans to go to the United Nations and petition for statehood, against the wishes of the Israelis and the United States. It’s not entirely clear what form this statehood petition will take. The Palestinians could ask for full UN membership, which would go through the UN Security Council, or they could seek “Observer Status,” basically a first step toward eventual statehood, which would be subject to a vote at the General Assembly. The big difference here is that five Security Council states have veto power, and the US has already vowed to use it with respect to the Palestinian statehood push. So Mahmoud Abbas, who is leading the effort, may avoid the Security Council:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had informed the EU of his decision not to turn to the UN security Council for Palestinian statehood, Haaretz daily reported on Monday.
The Israeli daily added, “Abbas realizes that US will exercise veto power at Security Council, has instead decided to turn to UN General Assembly to seek support of European Union member states in the vote.” The daily quoted three senior European diplomats involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations saying “Abbas had informed the EU of his decision not to turn to the UN Security Council on September 20 to request that Palestine be accepted as a full member of the organization.” Abbas, who realizes that the United States will exercise its veto power at the Security Council, has instead decided to turn to the UN General Assembly, whose resolutions are less binding, in order to seek the support of the European Union member states in the vote.
Mark Leon Goldberg writes that the US wants to block even the Observer Status vote, although it appears that the Palestinians have more than enough votes to pull that off (including potentially the entire EU as a bloc), and there’s no veto power available to stop it. Goldberg writes that this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
One reason I do see being bandied about for why the USA should still do its utmost to stop even a GA vote granting Palestine “Observer Status” is that should Palestine be admitted as an observer state to the UN, it may have an easier time convincing the International Criminal Court that it ought to investigate Israeli crimes in Palestine.
Some context: For the past few years the ICC has categorically rejected Palestine’s entreaties that it investigate alleged Israeli crimes because Palestine is not a state, and therefore not permitted to grant the ICC jurisdiction to operate in its territory. The thinking goes that if Palestine becomes an observer state to the UN, it may have stronger legal footing on which to argue its case that it has the authority to ask the ICC for an investigation.
The thing is, even if the ICC decides that Palestine meets the requirements under its Charter (which is still far from certain) the court itself has very strict rules of procedure governing the admissibility of cases. The court’s guiding philosophy is something called “complimentary” which basically means that local judicial authorities get first crack at prosecuting crimes. If national authorities are unwilling or unable to investigate, it’s only then that the ICC would step in.
I don’t think the US is taking seriously how damaging an effort to stop even a small step toward Palestinian statehood would be. This is a new Middle East, post-Arab uprising, and pan-Arab nationalism plays a greater role. In addition, the usual US client states feel more internal pressure and cannot blindly follow US dictates. A case in point: former Saudi intelligence director Turki al-Faisal essentially threatening the US to go along with the statehood effort:
The United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world. If it does not, American influence will decline further, Israeli security will be undermined and Iran will be empowered, increasing the chances of another war in the region.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has. With most of the Arab world in upheaval, the “special relationship” between Saudi Arabia and the United States would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.
This is someone who believes in Middle East peace talks based on the 1967 borders. But he isn’t naive enough to think that Palestine should not use the only leverage they have, or that the Arab world has shifted since the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
Finally, J Street is losing a lot of goodwill by demouncing the statehood effort, throwing in with the likes of AIPAC and stale US editorial boards. It’s probably fundraiser-driven, but it argues more for the end of J Street’s existence than anything, given the lack of meaningful differences between them and their predecessors on this point.