Another Diplomatic Fight Looming for Palestinian UN Bid?

The Palestinian application for full membership to the United Nations has apparently stalled for now, but new member nations joining the UN Security Council in January could alter the current vote balance on the matter. As part of the UN’s rotational system, five nations come on and five come off the powerful Council every year. Despite that, the Israelis still believe it won’t be easy for the Palestinians to get the nine yes votes needed to approve their UN bid and force an American veto.

A diplomatic source at the UN Security Council told The Mideast Update by phone on Thursday that as of now there are “no indications” that any of the current Council members will submit the Palestinian matter for a vote this month. Unless that changes, the UN membership request will roll over to the new year and to the new Council members.

In January, five new nations— Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo—will join the 10 countries remaining on the Security Council. They will replace five of the current Council member-nations: Lebanon, Gabon, Nigeria, Brazil and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Diplomatic Battle

Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesman Mark Regev told The Mideast Update by phone on Thursday that Israel is prepared for another diplomatic fight over the bid and “we’re speaking to all the relevant players.”

He said the failure of the Palestinian request to get nine yes votes in the Council so far was a “major diplomatic setback,” as they had planned to force a United States veto and claim a “moral victory.” The US believes granting the Palestinians UN statehood recognition without a deal with Israel would exacerbate tensions and harm the peace process.

Efforts by The Mideast Update seeking comment from the Palestinian UN mission were unsuccessful.

It is unclear exactly how the new UN group will view the Palestinian request. Technically three of the five new Security Council members are Muslim states, although Azerbaijan does have the distinction of being a Muslim state that has full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Three states from the outgoing five were also predominantly Muslim, but one of those, Bosnia, is working towards membership in the European Union. Nigeria, another predominantly Muslim nation, has a very large Christian population.

Incoming-member Guatemala has not yet officially recognized Palestinian statehood as multiple other Latin American nations have done in the last year, and while Israel does not have an embassy in the African nation of Togo, they do have diplomatic relations with them. Israel and Togo also signed a declaration of cooperation in 2009 during a visit to Israel by Togo Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo.

The Israel Project organization sent a delegation this past October to meet with the Togolese leader, noting in a release on their website that the African nation “enjoys longstanding warm relations with Israel.”

“Obviously there’s a new Security Council [in January] and that changes the situation, but we don’t believe even in the new Security Council it’s going to be easy [for the Palestinians] to get nine positive votes,” said Regev. “And the reason is clear: People do not support this unilateral bid. People understand that the only way to solve problems is through direct negotiation, that the path to peace and Palestinian statehood is through direct negotiations…

“I think there’s a growing call from the international community to the Palestinian leadership to reverse course, to put a hold on their UN strategy and return to the negotiating table.”

Regev said they were “very thankful” for countries like the US who have opposed the Palestinian bid. “They’re not only supporting Israel, they’re supporting peace in the Middle East, because the only way to achieve peace is through negotiations.”

He called the idea that peace can be unilaterally imposed from the outside a “mirage” and asked the Palestinian people about the results of UN endorsements over the years. “You can get almost anything you want from the United Nations—but what has 30 years of UN resolutions actually given you? A pile of paper. Changes on the ground have only been achieved at the negotiating table.”

Regev urged the Palestinians to “end this UN bid; it’s a dead end” and “return to negotiations.”

The Palestinian UN application came up during Wednesday’s meetings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and officials from the EU. The WAFA Palestinian news agency reported Abbas said in a joint press conference with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy that “I hope that in the future we will raise the Palestinian flag at the UN as a Palestinian state with the support of the EU.”

A press statement from Rompuy said that Abbas “informed me on the current developments in the Palestinian request for membership in the United Nations,” but the statement did not comment further on the bid.

“We touched upon the developments in the Middle East Peace Process,” said Rompuy. “I emphasized how the EU remains committed to the two-state solution. I underlined that the best way to achieve this is through direct negotiations between the parties. The EU is actively pursuing this through the Middle East Quartet.”

Quartet Efforts Continue

Representatives from the Quartet—consisting of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia—met again separately with the Israelis and the Palestinians in Jerusalem on Wednesday to continue efforts aimed at restarting peace talks between the sides.

A statement released by the US State Department on the Quartet meeting said they “stressed the important objective of a direct exchange between the parties, without preconditions or delay, beginning with a preparatory meeting and leading to the presentation of proposals on territory and security.”

Regev told The Mideast Update that Israeli proposed that their chief negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, meet directly with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat within the framework of the Quartet visit. He said the Palestinians “rejected that proposal.”

Peace talks were suspended by the Palestinians more than a year ago, following the end of Israel’s unprecedented 10-month partial settlement construction freeze. Israel had enacted the freeze to jumpstart the talks in 2009, which eventually did restart in 2010, although Abbas did not resume direct talks with Israel until the freeze was nearing its end.

As conditions to returning to talks, the Palestinians have repeatedly called for a re-freezing of settlement construction and for Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the framework for borders—which would grant the Palestinians the equivalent of all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mutually-agreed-upon-land swaps are generally expected to be a part of any arrangement.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, December 15, 2011)