Despite Initial Euphoria, Palestine Remains Grounded at U.N.

  • by Thalif Deen (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

But three months later, there are no indications of any visible movement in either of the two U.N. bodies because the Palestinians have remained resoundingly silent - probably under U.S. pressure.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and an insider on Middle Eastern politics, told IPS the Palestinian Authority 'had not done even a minimum effort to seriously lobby Security Council members - as any party would do in such cases - before or after Abbas's very impressive and welcome U.N. speech.'

Having deserted the United Nations as the main framework for peace negotiations, and focused elsewhere since 1992, the Palestinian Authority does not seem to have fully returned to the United Nations, he added.

'Pending that ponderous stalemate, the Palestinian people, victims under occupation, continue to pay the price,' said Sanbar, who served the United Nations under five different secretaries-general in various capacities, including head of the Department of Public Information.

Currently, more than 125 countries, outside the precincts of the United Nations, recognise Palestine as a nation state.

In September, Abbas formally submitted an application to Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon seeking full U.N. membership - and in defiance of unrelenting U.S. pressure against such a move.

But the Security Council membership committee, comprising of all 15 members, has remained sharply divided, with no consensus on Palestine's membership.

If a resolution is put to a vote, the United States is expected to exercise its veto to reject the application. But the administration of President Barack Obama has not been put to this test.

The alternative would be for the Palestinians to go before the General Assembly for 'elevated status', which includes special privileges on par with the Vatican.

But the president of the General Assembly, Ambassador Nassir Abdelaziz al-Nasser of Qatar, told reporters last week he had heard that Abbas was trying to reorganise his government and resolve some domestic issues before bringing the issue before the Assembly.

'If they ask me, I would encourage them to come to the General Assembly,' he said, adding that it was finally a Palestinian decision.

The president said that Palestine only required a simple majority to achieve 'elevated status' - and its chances were 'very good'.

On Oct. 31, the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) admitted Palestine as a full member. Hours later, Washington announced that it was cutting all aid to the agency under legislation that bans U.S. contributions to the U.N. or any of its specialised agencies that grants Palestine membership as a state.

Naseer Aruri, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in the United States, told IPS that during the past five months, the story of the Palestinian pursuit of full membership at the United Nations has been a dominant theme in the regional and international media.

At present, however, the discussion seems to have withered away, whether the discourse focused on the deadlock over Palestine's full membership at the United Nations, or its 'elevated status' at the General Assembly, he added.

'Not only will this void not be laid exclusively at the doors of the United Nations or even the United States and Israel alone, but serious observers are already asking why Palestine has not made any moves to call for a vote in the Security Council or submit a draft resolution through Lebanon, where the American veto will undoubtedly be waiting,' Aruri said.

Addressing reporters early December, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, said the Palestinians should decide on two things for the Council to act.

Firstly, they have to indicate a date as to when there should be a vote on U.N. membership.

And secondly, there is a need for a draft resolution to be introduced in the Council.

'But neither of these two things have happened for the Security Council to act quickly,' he added.

Aruri told IPS, 'We can safely assume that neither Russia, the current president of the U.N. Security Council, nor Qatar, which currently presides over the U.N. General Assembly, will disappoint any Palestinian delegation prepared to elevate the Palestinian status in the U.N. General Assembly.'

'Granted, Russia is not anxious to prevent any testing of the U.S. veto in the Security Council at this time,' he added.

The mere act of 'daring' the United States to use its veto once more on behalf of Israel would be sufficient to put Obama in a difficult position, said Aruri.

'The fact is that much of the Palestinian euphoria prevalent during the late summer has vanished as the Palestinians began to calculate the diplomatic and economic cost of defying the United States,' he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the United States is neither willing nor able to pressure Israel during a U.S. presidential election year in 2012 to move towards a settlement with the Palestinians.

Virtually all of Obama's initial expectations from Israel have been dropped during 2010/2011, said Aruri.

Obama's daring proclamation that the so-called peace process was a strategic national interest was invoked only once throughout his presidency.

'Israel's lobby in Washington has clearly set the pace as Obama has caved in in ways that go beyond the surrender of most of his predecessors: Ford, Reagan, Bush the father and Bush the son.'

Such a diplomatic landscape has proven quite thorny for Abbas, who has been deeply reluctant to navigate muddy waters, hence the apparent deadlock, which is more of a surrender than a real stand- off, Aruri said.

Sanbar quoted Abbas as saying that Obama had taken him up a tree, climbed down with a ladder, and then asked Abbas to jump.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service