Analysis: ‘Palestinian Fall’ replaces Arab Spring at UN

This fall is the start of a new season, in which question of Palestinian statehood will hold key place on international agenda.

By
September 28, 2011 02:12
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations

PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)

 
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The Palestinian question replaced the Arab Spring in New York last week, as at least 113 world leaders spoke of the issue during the six-days of high-level speeches before the UN General Assembly.

It was coincidence that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s historic moment in which he told the General Assembly that he sought UN membership, on Friday, September 23, coincided with the official beginning of the fall season across America’s East Coast.

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But the thunderous applause and the standing ovation he received was just one of the many intentional signs that this fall is the start of a new season, in which the question of Palestinian statehood will hold a key place on the international agenda.

Leaders from countries such as Djibouti and Comoros, which most Israelis and Palestinians have never heard of, took time to mention the Palestinian bid.

In recent months, Palestinian and Israeli politicians and diplomats have courted countries around the globe hoping to gain support for or against the bid.

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council agreed to turn the Palestinian’s application for statehood to a review committee. It is unclear if it would take days, weeks, or months for the process to be completed. The UN membership request needs the Security Council’s approval.

Although the US, one of five Security Council members with veto power, has promised to veto the measure, the Palestinians are seeking a moral victory at the council to show it stands with them.



The US and the Israelis in turn hope to sway enough countries to vote against the bid, or to at least abstain, so as to show that the international community prefers a negotiated solution to the conflict, and will not allow the Palestinians to shortcut the process by seeking a unilateral solution.

As Abbas left New York, negotiator Nabil Shaath told the media that the Palestinians had the requisite nine votes on the UN Security Council for that body to approve their request.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, also left New York hopeful, but not yet willing to say that Israel and the US had thwarted the Palestinians’ statehood bid.

It also remains unclear if the Palestinians, if they fail to get full membership in the Security Council, would then turn to the General Assembly, and ask that body to upgrade their status from that of an observer to a non-member state. To do so, they need only receive a majority vote in the General Assembly, which is assumed to favor the idea.

Speeches at the UN General Assembly are often dismissed as posturing that can be changed.

But those wanting to gauge the UN temperature on the matter need look no further than the 196 speeches world leaders gave during the high-level debate, that began last Wednesday and wrapped up on Tuesday. There are 193 UN members, but some non-members were allowed to address the General Assembly.

Out of the 196 speeches examined by The Jerusalem Post, 113 mentioned “Palestine.” At least 55 of those leaders said clearly they wanted to see the Palestinians succeed in their bid for UN membership. Although Iran did not clearly state this, it is likely in that group, bringing the number up to 56.

Those 55 nations include Brazil, Argentina, Lebanon, Bolivia, Senegal, South Africa, Ghana, Paraguay, Honduras, Tanzania, Bahrain, Chile, Kuwait, Turkey, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Suriname, Afghanistan, Iraq, El Salvador, Djibouti, Namibia, Guinea, Niger, Comoros, St. Vincent and Grenadines, India, Mauritius, Antigua and Barbuda, Egypt, Maldives, Uruguay, Gambia, Ireland, Laos, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Iceland, Algeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Congo, Mauritania, Russia, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Norway and Ecuador.

Of particular interest in the group, are those countries that currently hold seats on the Security Council, such as Lebanon, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa, which are likely to turn their speeches into votes for statehood.

In its speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Russia said it stood behind the Palestinian bid even though it is a member of the so-called Middle East Quartet, which on Friday urged both Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate through a new 15-month plan, rather than take unilateral measures.

“We support the application of the Palestinians to the UN Security Council and welcome the readiness reiterated by President M. Abbas to hold talks with Israel on the basis of the existing international legal framework,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

At least 22 countries in the General Assembly simply mentioned the issue in speeches where their position was unclear. These include: Cyprus, Peru, Gabon, Congo, Chad, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Eritrea, Mali, Montenegro, Barbados, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Brunei Darussalam, Jamaica, Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Monaco, São Tomé & Principe, Angola, Benin and Denmark.

The United States whose opposition to the Palestinian bid is well known, said that there is no short cut to the peace process and that negotiations were needed to end the conflict with Israel. France, who is also a Security Council member, said that the Palestinians could not obtain UN membership at this time.

An additional 32 nations as well as the EU spoke instead of the importance of a negotiated solution: Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Finland, Slovenia, Mozambique, Latvia, Cote d’Ivoire, Kyrgyzstan, Great Britain, Poland, Australia, the Czech Republic, Micronesia, Lesotho, India, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Samoa, Vanuatu, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium, Botswana, Liberia, Uganda, China, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Canada, Andorra and the Holy See.

Among those, Bosnia, the UK, Germany, China and Portugal are currently Security Council members.

Israel has assumed that France, the UK, Germany and Bosnia would not support the Palestinian bid, or at least abstain from the vote. Portugal and China’s position have been unclear.

But Portugal told the General Assembly that the creation of a Palestinian state must be the outcome of negotiations, although it did voice support for upgrading the Palestinians’ status to that of an observer nation.

Spain and France also spoke of their support for “Palestine” to be an observer nation.

China too said that it supported negotiations as the path to a Palestinian state.

Should all these nations turn their General Assembly speeches into votes against the admittance of the Palestinians to the UN, or at the very least abstain, than the Palestinians could fail in their unilateral bid for statehood.

One Israeli diplomat said that it would come down to the wire, and that if the Palestinians did not have the votes, they might save face by pulling back, but saying that they were doing so as a concession to Israel.

It is unclear whether the process will take days or months to see if the Palestinians secure a clear victory at the UN, or if their bid is but a colorful flare, like the fall leaves that will blaze across the sky before falling, and scattering across the diplomatic pavement.

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