What’s Next for the Palestinian UN Bid

The Palestinian bid for United Nations membership and effective statehood recognition is now one week old, but is a final vote in the UN Security Council coming soon? Where does the vote count stand? And what happens if the United States issues a veto? Here’s a step-by-step analysis of where the Palestinian UN membership application is now and where it’s heading:

The Bid Now: It is currently sitting in the Committee on the Admission of New Members, which began its meetings today. The committee process is used for all UN membership applications. According to a UN official who spoke with The Mideast Update by phone, the committee will study and negotiate regarding the application and finally present a recommendation to the Security Council as a whole.

Who Is on the Committee: Representatives from all 15 Security Council member nations. That means representatives from the US, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Lebanon and Nigeria are among those reviewing the Palestinian application.

How Long the Committee Process Will Take: As far as the UN official knew, there is no time limit on how long the membership committee can take to review the application.

When the Vote Takes Place: After the committee finishes their review, the Security Council members will all vote on the Palestinian application. To get acceptance and move on to the final approval vote at the UN General Assembly, the membership bid has to receive nine yes votes from the 15-member Security Council. Members can vote yes, no or abstain. In other words, if at least seven members either vote no or abstain, this Palestinian bid will be turned down.

The US Veto: The United States is one of five nations on the Council—along with the UK, France, Russia and China—who all have veto power. Even if all fourteen other members vote yes, a single veto from one of these five permanent members will result in the failure of any vote in the Security Council. The US has in the past said they will veto a Palestinian UN membership resolution if necessary, as they consider it detrimental to the peace process.

Why the Security Council: The UN Security Council is the only body with the legal authority to recommend new UN members. Any membership bid must first pass in the Council before moving to the UN General Assembly for a final approval vote. If the Council approves a bid, the bid then needs a two-thirds majority of those present and voting in the General Assembly to achieve membership.

In the Palestinian case, it is generally expected that they would get a positive vote there, considering the many Arab states and those not aligned with the West who traditionally vote for the Palestinians. Therefore, the Security Council is effectively the last hurdle for the Palestinians to obtain UN membership and effective statehood recognition. That makes the Council critical for the US, Israel and others who are concerned about the consequences of the Palestinian bid.

Who Supports the Palestinian Bid in the Council: The WAFA Palestinian news agency reported that Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki told Voice of Palestine radio there are eight nations who are expected to vote yes on the Palestinian vote in the Security Council. That means the Palestinians need just one more yes to force a US veto. However, less than two weeks ago an anonymous Israeli official told The Mideast Update he thought it was not clear that the Palestinians had the votes they needed and they were “under a lot of pressure” at the time. So things remain unclear.

Potential Swing Votes: According to WAFA’s report, al-Malki said that the European state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the South American nation of Columbia are two nations the Palestinians could target to seek the final yes vote. If one votes yes, and the other votes hold, the resolution will force a US veto.

Other Palestinian Options: The General Assembly cannot confer full UN membership without an approval first from the Security Council. If the Security Council turns down their application, as expected, the Palestinians can still seek a less significant UN status upgrade through the UN General Assembly—where there is no veto threat. However, that also carries with it less legal authority and is more a tool that could be used in a diplomatic and legal offensive against Israel. Such tactics would likely prove more successful if Europe votes with the Palestinians in the General Assembly—but it won’t get them full member nation status at the UN.

Why the Security Council Vote Matters: The bid is likely to fail in the Security Council either way due to the US veto, but if the vote fails without forcing a US veto, the Palestinians will lack diplomatic momentum that could prove crucial to any follow-up efforts—at the General Assembly and in diplomatic, boycott and legal campaigns aimed at Israel.

As one anonymous Israeli official told The Mideast Update, “If they can’t even get a majority on the Council, they’re exposed that there’s not actually international support for what they’re saying.” Avoiding the US veto is also better for American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.

How It Got Here: The Palestinians formally applied for UN membership on September 23, submitting the bid to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Thereafter the UN chief presented it to the Security Council, where the bid currently resides.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 30, 2011)