x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Palestinians weigh up option of seeking UN membership

Recent recognition from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay brought to 104 the number of countries that recognise a Palestinian state based upon borders after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war,

NEW YORK // An application for UN membership and a request for the recognition of a sovereign state is one of several options on the table for the Palestinian leadership that will be decided upon during an Arab League meeting next week, a Palestinian envoy to the UN said yesterday.

Palestinian officials hope to eventually win support from the 192-member UN General Assembly, said the envoy, who asked to remain anonymous.

"We would try to have everyone on board because the question of Palestine is legally very clear under international law," the envoy said.

Recent recognition from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay brought to 104 the number of countries that recognise a Palestinian state based upon borders after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the envoy said.

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has for months discussed approaching the UN for membership, but Israel and the US say the move would be counterproductive and that only negotiations could end the decades-old dispute.

The latest US-led efforts to broker a peace deal collapsed this week after Washington said its moves to persuade Israel to impose a new freeze on building settlements in the West Bank had failed.

Washington's last-ditch attempt to gift Israel 20 F-35 stealth fighters and block anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council failed to persuade Israel's governing coalition to extend the freeze.

Palestinian officials could now turn to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and ask for membership. He would then pass the application to the 15-nation Security Council for a vote.

The application would need nine supportive votes and avoid getting any negative votes from the council's five permanent members, the US, Russia, China, Britain and France, who can each veto any action from the top UN body.

Security Council approval would push the application to the General Assembly, where it would need a two thirds majority to pass and, if successful, yield a 193rd UN member and put recognition of a Palestinian state on the world stage.

The veto-wielding Russia and China are typically against legitimating new states, but the biggest hurdle facing Palestinian diplomats is a potential US veto in the Security Council, with analysts divided on how Washington would vote.

Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN expert with the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank, said it would be "politically difficult" for the Obama administration to abandon long-standing US support for Israel at the UN, despite irritation at its continued settlement-building.

But Robert Danin, a regional expert for the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said mounting international support for Palestinians could push the US administration to abstain and allow the Security Council to accept a new UN member.

"The Obama administration has a predisposition not to veto resolutions and, without the guarantee that the US previously offered, the Israelis cannot count on US support," he said. "There is a big open question as to whether the US will veto a resolution for Israel or not."

While the chances of Palestinian UN membership were unclear, a second level of uncertainty existed over whether global recognition would advance Palestinian interests towards the goal of a unified and independent country.

Successful votes in Manhattan would not increase Mr Abbas's control over an embryonic Palestinian state, with Gaza still run by Hamas and Israeli troops controlling much of the West Bank and the planned capital of East Jerusalem.

Mr Danin said: "This is a very bad idea for Palestinians to pursue. Hamas occupies Gaza. Israel occupies half of the West Bank. They don't have a foothold in Jerusalem. So what do they gain - postage stamps? It would be a largely symbolic act and Israel would still control the game on the ground.

"One of the Palestinians' greatest assets is their status as stateless people. Their issue currently dominates and possibly plays a disproportionate role in international politics. They would potentially lose that."

Michael Singh, an analyst for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said a unilateral Palestinian act would weaken its long-term prospects. "Any talks with Israel following such a move would take place in a confrontational atmosphere, which diminishes the chances of a negotiated solution," he said.

Mr Laurenti, however, said UN membership would boost the Palestinian cause.

"Statehood isn't an end-game, but it would substantially raise the ante in terms of any international opposition to the Israeli settlement enterprise," he said.

"The Palestinians have long wanted the symbolism of state recognition, and that would certainly improve their bargaining leverage."

jreinl@thenational.ae