Sunday, November 25, 2012


The State of Palestine at the United Nations

In the coming days the United Nations General Assembly (GA) will vote on Palestine’s bid to become an observer state. This will circumvent a guaranteed US veto at the Security Council, which is the body that decides on full-fledged membership at the UN. While the US has already indicated that it would vote against a Palestinian state at the General Assembly it will be joined by only a minority of the 193 members. The latest tally I have seen (which may not be up to date) shows that only 27 countries plan to vote against, while 115 (more than half) plan to vote in favor. 51 are still undecided and are being lobbied heavily by both sides.

So, it looks like the international community will finally do what is right, both morally and politically. A yes vote will be a small token of justice for the Palestinian people and for their legitimate national aspirations. A victory for the Palestinian bid will also increase the chances, however marginally, of making progress towards a peaceful settlement on the basis of two independent states in historical Palestine. It’s been almost two decades since the Oslo Agreement kicked off the so-called peace process, which turned out to be more about process than about peace. And even the process itself  has eventually come to a halt, as Netanyahu’s Likud and other right wing parties in Israel succeeded in convincing the Israeli public that they can manage reasonably well a perpetual state of conflict with the Palestinians at an acceptable cost,. It is a dangerous illusion (for Israel and for the world), bolstered most  recently by Iron Dome hit statistics and low casualty figures from Gaza rockets. Unfortunately, this will  drive most Israelis to vote for Likud and like-minded parties again in next January’s elections. So for now, one should be satisfied with a positive vote at the UN without expecting a major turnaround in the dim prospects for a peace settlement.

A final cationary note. While the Palestinians have a solid majority on their side at the GA (at least 115 out of 193), a last minute monkey wrench being sprung by Israel and its supporters should not be ruled out. Here is why. Under its Rules of Procedures, GA decisions normally require a simple majority. However, important decisions require a two thirds majority. According to Rule 83 the items considered important cover, among other things, questions of international peace and security and admission of states to full UN membership. However, Rule 85 states that the GA can decide, with a simple majority, to expand the items that should require a two thirds majority. While on the face of it this should not be a problem since the Palestinians already have a majority, the possibility that some countries who, though in favor of Palestinian membership, may at the same time support a request by Israel or the US to elevate the issue to the “important” category requiring a two thirds majority.

The Palestinians who are still lobbying the undecided countries are well advised to request supportive countries to also commit not to vote in favor of raising the majority requirement to two thirds, i.e. to 129 of the 193 members, which may not be guaranteed. They need to be told that if they do it will be almost as bad as voting  against.

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