By Bill Miller
Even after massive pressure was applied by the US and Israel, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority ( PNA) and Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), presented his request for Palestinian statehood to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who then referred it to the UN Security Council.
The UN Security Council's Committee for Admission of New Members is reviewing that request. Since all 15-SC members are on that committee, and they must have a consensus agreement, it is uncertain how long the review will take. The US is lobbying other members to abstain or vote no, because it does not want to be in the precarious situation of vetoing the Palestinian membership, which would reverberate negatively through the Arab World, especially with the Saudis.
If, and when, the committee confirms that Palestine is 'peace loving,' which is a very broad definition, and accepts the UN Charter provisions, the application then goes to the full 15-member Security Council where it must receive at least 9 votes and not be VETOED by one of the five Permanent Members, that is the US, UK, China, Russia or France.
If it passed out of the Security Council, then the resolution must receive two-thirds of the General Assembly's 193 members, which it will do overwhelmingly because over 130 have indicated they will vote 'Aye'.
If the SC delays the approval or defeats it, the Palestinians will fall back to Plan B, which is to request that the UN General Assembly (GA)--through the 'Uniting for Peace Resolution' that allows the GA to circumvent the Security Council-- approve the PNA to be elevated from observer status to observer state, a classification similar to the Vatican. This would allow the Palestinians to join UN agencies, where it could highlight perceived Israeli injustices. In particular, if it ratified the International Criminal Court (ICC) Rome Statute, presented it to UN SG Ban, and was recognized by the ICC, the ICC could conceivably prosecute Israel for illegal actions such as transferring settlers to Palestinian territory, which violates the Geneva Convention.
Other major pitfalls loom for Israel if the PA joined UN agencies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) or the Law of the Sea Treaty. The ICAO, which works with governments and airlines for the safety of international air traffic, gives members full control over their airspace, which would conflict with the Israelis controlling the space over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Palestinians would gain control over their national waters off of Gaza--where Israel now has a naval blockade. Also, the Palestinians could re-claim the offshore natural gas fields that Israel currently controls.
In order to be considered a state, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States requires an entity to have: 1) a permanent population, 2) a defined territory, 3) a government, and 4) the capacity to enter into relations with other states. If the mutually agreed-upon pre-1967 border issue were resolved, the PA would meet the criteria.
Perennial UN critics, such as former UN Ambassador John Bolton, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, are railing about anti-Semitism at the UN, and saying the US should withdraw its payments to the UN. This is the 'shoot yourself in the foot' philosophy.
Now-deceased Senator Jesse Helms, and others who loathed the UN, discovered in the 1990s that the US and the UN desperately need one another. Imagine if the UN were not assisting the US in rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, pulled back from the battle against terrorism, eliminated peacekeeping missions, and the list goes on. The financial and personnel demands on the US to fill the void would be staggering.
Coupled with the tough talk to defund the UN, several members of Congress are threatening to punish the Palestinian Authority by withholding $550 million in aid. The fallout from that action could very well be the Abbas Government would fall, another Intifada of violence would break out and a Hamas-style government could take over. and aid to the Palestinians. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu agrees this approach is counterproductive to the US, Israel and the Palestinians.
Although the situation is tense and the future uncertain, there are several truisms to keep in mind:
-- The UN, although it is being criticized in some areas, is the perfect forum -- even though the two parties will ultimately have to reach an agreement -- to bring conflicting parties together to work out peacefully their disagreements and to jump start a moribund peace process.
-- The UN, even if the US curtails its funding, is not going to disappear. The UN Human Rights Council and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) survived several years before the US got re-involved. Besides, the world needs an organization that brings together the 193 countries to discuss major problems and work together to eliminate many of them.
-- The US is one of the major beneficiaries of UN programs, such as peacekeeping which keeps US troops out of harm's way and is much cheaper than if the US military ran the missions. US businesses and the general public benefit directly from UN agencies that draft the rules to move ships, mail, aircraft and weather information internationally. The New York area earns over $3 billion spent by diplomats, which is a far smaller amount than the US allocation to the UN.
-- Israel should recognize that there is a tsunami of frustration, even among some of its strongest supporters, due to its inflexibility to negotiate and inability to keep its word, as exemplified by the continued building of settlements on Palestinian territory. Inflaming the situation even more, Israel recently announced plans to build 1100 new homes for Jewish settlers in the Gilo illegal settlement, in occupied East Jerusalem. Approximately 300,000 Israelis live in the occupied West Bank.
Supporters of Israel, such as the Financial Times editorial page and Tom Friedman, NY Times writer, believe that the Palestinians have made monumental mistakes; however, many observers opine that the major impediment to peace is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu's hostile reaction to a Palestinian state, coupled with a fragile political coalition of ultra-conservative parties--as well as many of his own Likud Party members--does not bode well for negotiations, consensus, and agreement.
Yitzhak Rabin, a politician, statesman, general and the fifth Prime Minister of Israel and certainly not an appeaser or dove, realized the stark reality that demographics had entrapped Israel. 1.3 million Arabs are Israeli citizens and the Palestinian population is exploding. If the situation did not change, Israel would either be overwhelmed by larger numbers or have to operate an apartheid state, similar to that of South Africa. Neither option was viable to Rabin.
As if the situation were not muddled enough with several Arab countries undergoing social and political upheavals during the 'Arab Spring,' which may prove dangerous to Israel, the PLO Ambassador to the US, Mein Areikat , said that a future Palestine should be free of Jews and other religious groups, thus embracing ethnic cleansing.
Frustration and desperation are the bywords of the past 20 years. In 1991 the Madrid Peace Conference launched direct negotiations between the two parties. The 1993 Oslo Accords were signed on the White House lawn, but have produced no permanent benefits. Mr. Abbas referred to the next phase which he described as the 'Palestinian Spring.' Arguably, Abbas is frustrated, plans to retire soon and has little to lose.
Many Middle East observers wondered why, after a tortuous, unproductive 20-year process that accomplished little, it took the Palestinians so long to go to the UN. Israel, which is under severe threat at times from Palestinian militants, must be secure; however, the Palestinians have a right to no longer live under illegal Israeli occupation. The winds of change are blowing across that land. Now is the time to act before the winds become violent and turn into a gale force.
Bill Miller, former Chair of the UN Association of the USA's Council of Chapter and Division Presidents, is the accredited Washington International journalist covering the UN and is the Producer/Moderator of “Global Connections Television.”