The Palestinian Authority will push ahead with its bid to get United Nations statehood recognition though it won’t press for an immediate vote as support in the Security Council appeared to be below the needed threshold.
The Palestinians have said at least eight of the council’s members -- Russia, China, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Lebanon and India -- will back them. The U.S. veto pledge notwithstanding, that still leaves the Palestinians one vote short of the nine needed for membership.
The U.S. and Israel have leaned on council members favoring the statehood initiative to abstain from voting, leaving the Palestinians fighting to retain support. Allowing the UN’s administrative process to delay the consideration in the 15-member body will permit the Palestinians to save face and buy diplomats time to look for an alternative that restarts peace talks.
“We will give some time to the Security Council to consider first our full membership request before heading to the General Assembly,” Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told reporters yesterday. “If we fail, we will keep knocking on the door. We do not have a time limit.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will address the UN General Assembly tomorrow and formally submit his letter of application for statehood recognition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who will then pass it on to Lebanon, which presides this month over the Security Council. It’s the only Arab country in the decision-making body and supports the bid.
“We are going forward with our application for a full state,” Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior member of Abbas’ Fatah party who is on the special committee that prepared the UN bid, told Bloomberg Television.
About 500 people waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans in support of statehood today, parading past the grave of Palestine Liberation Organization founder Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
“We will not surrender,” said 26-year-old Niveen Abuez. “We will continue our path to achieve our basic rights.”
Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, said that Abbas has “worked hard to manage expectations and I think people will give him another two months, maybe longer.”
“They weren’t really expecting him to come back home tomorrow with a state,” he said.
In what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to as “extremely intense” diplomacy, Israel and the U.S. made headway in eroding support for the membership initiative even among countries the Palestinians had been counting on.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met in New York with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and convinced him to stay neutral in a possible vote on Palestinian statehood, according to a statement released by his office.
Nigeria is among the nine nations on the Security Council that have recognized a Palestinian state. The others are Brazil, Russia, China, India, Lebanon, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Gabon.
Some countries have seldom received so much attention. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the smallest country on the council. Its UN envoy is a 36-year-old Croat, who says he’s been contacted by Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S.
Once a membership application has been lodged, the Security Council can delay the process. For South Sudan, it took three days to make the African country the UN’s 193rd member while Jordan had to wait five years. In the case of the Palestinians, an admissions committee representing all 15 council members might be set up to deliberate on the matter for days, weeks or even months.
U.S. President Barack Obama underlined yesterday that his position had not budged when he told the gathering of world leaders that “peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN.” There was little in his words to encourage Palestinians or sway Abbas to change course.
“It didn’t really take us forward to anywhere,” said Shtayyeh in a telephone interview. “The negotiations themselves are in a crisis. We took this initiative to change the status quo.”
Another option open to the Palestinians would be to pursue an upgraded status at the General Assembly, from “entity” to “non-member state,” such as the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, based in the Vatican. That could enable them to sign international treaties and have cases heard in the International Criminal Court.
Such a course could win the endorsement of some Europeans in the council, such as France and Britain, which are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, yet want to see greater recognition accompanied with a return to the negotiating table.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, addressing the General Assembly yesterday, supported the “intermediate step” of observer-state status. He also proposed a one-year timetable for resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to lead to a full peace accord. Talks should begin within a month without preconditions, he said.
Peace negotiations collapsed last year following Netanyahu’s decision not to extend a 10-month partial freeze on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Abbas has said he won’t resume talks while building continues. Netanyahu, who hasn’t offered to resume the freeze in settlement building, has repeatedly said that Abbas should restart direct talks.