2011 has proven to be a year filled with groundbreaking events – most notably in the Middle East. As you read this, riots continue across the likes of Syria and Yemen, a civil war continues in Libya and Egypt prepares itself for democratic elections in September. The international political arena has focused much of its attention on how to react to the ‘Arab Spring’ and will be faced with yet another Middle Eastern issue come September – a vote at the United Nations on the issue of a Palestinian state. At September’s UN General Assembly, a motion will be tabled and a vote will take place determining the sovereign status of Palestine and official membership to the United Nations.
First of all, why September? The answer lies primarily in two areas. September 2011 will mark the end of a two-year project by Palestinian President Salam Fayyad of building up a solid infrastructure within the West Bank and Gaza. This plan was titled, ‘Palestine – Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State’ and focused upon building up the economy within the Palestinian territories in hope of proving to the world that the Palestinian people are ready for statehood. Fayyad was recently rewarded for his efforts by the I.M.F after they released a report deeming Palestinian financial institutions “ready for statehood”. September 2011 also marks a full year since President Barack Obama declared in his Cairo speech that he aimed to bring peace in the Middle East within a year. Therefore, it is clear that September 2011 has been penciled in to both Israeli and Palestinian diaries as an important date for some time now.
In addition, political analysts have raised questions over the past months as to what the outcome of September will mean for the current situation. If Palestinians are successful with their bid and are granted entry to the United Nations as a sovereign state, will the needs of the Palestinian people be satisfied? Will it provide the momentum that the current peace negotiations so desperately need? Or, will it merely avoid the obvious problems that already exist and add to the already complicated and mind-boggling issue that is the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Despite all these questions, the matter of whether the Palestinian bid for statehood will actually be a success needs to be addressed. Many countries, mainly across South America, already recognise Palestine as a state based upon pre 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the official capital. The Palestinian Authority can take confidence from this and can rest assured that these countries will vote in favour of the motion when it is tabled at the UN in September. In addition, many African and Asian countries may vote for a sovereign Palestine in hope of injecting some momentum into the current peace negotiations. However, when it comes to EU member states – namely Britain, France and Germany – it is more difficult to predict how they will choose to vote. They have stayed neutral up to this point, despite both France and Britain recently upgrading the Palestinian embassy in their respective countries to ‘mission’ status, it fails to be seen how they will vote come September. Their decision is extremely important and may well act as an influence to other EU member states. Despite several EU states keeping a tight lip as to how they will vote in September, other EU member states, and distinctly more liberal states, such as Denmark and Sweden have expressed support for the Palestinians on this particular issue and will be sure to support their bid for statehood. Unsurprisingly, America has expressed concern and will vote against any such motion should it come before the Security Council. With only one veto needed to spoil any motion taken to the Security Council, the hopes of Salaam Fayyad, Mahmoud Abbas or any other member of the Palestinian Authority of gaining sovereign status, permanent borders and international recognition would quickly be dashed.
This therefore leads us onto why certain countries will, or will not, vote to recognise a Palestinian state with state lines running along pre 1967 borders. Those who will vote for the issue will be doing it for a variety of reasons. Some countries, especially the more liberal European states, argue that the 1967 borders are what Palestine, as a state, should be based upon. Therefore, September acts as an opportunity to provide those Palestinians currently living within that area with their own state. Others may be supporting the motion for more sadistic reasons – merely because they dislike Israel as a state and will jump at any means possible to harm it. There is also an argument to suggest that passing such a motion will provide a positive step towards peace and solve the issue of borders, therefore leaving one less issue to be discussed should peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians restart. The motives for each individual state will never be clear and will differ between each.
On the other hand, those who vote against it will most likely feel that by providing the Palestinians with a state via the UN directly and not through direct peace negotiations with the Israelis will merely avoid some of the major issues of this conflict and only complicate the issue even more. This has been the argument of the Obama administration and many others involved in American politics. Despite this point of view having some truth, many American politicians will choose this type of rhetoric not out of choice, but rather to ensure the support of the extremely influential American lobbying group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Outside of the United States, some have argued that the Palestinian political body is not fit to be officially recognised due to the nature of its makeup. The Palestinian political assembly is soon to comprise of both Fatah and Hamas officials after recent unity talks proved a success. However, Hamas continue to be defined as a terrorist group by many states and have refused to alter their official charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel. Therefore, many countries may think twice before looking to recognise a state with such political representation within its domestic assembly. Israel will undoubtedly vote against the motion for a number of reasons; namely the Palestinian Authority would be able to ask the International Criminal Court to charge Israel for war crimes and illegal settlement building should their status be upgraded at the United Nations. In addition, there is a feeling among many in Israel that a third Intifada may potentially break out should September prove a success for the Palestinians. All in all, the outcome of the Palestinian statehood bid could be disastrous for the State of Israel.
Therefore, it is clear that the UN resolution that will appear before the United Nations come September is not as simple as one may think. As always with the Israel-Palestine conflict, there are many more issues than meet the eye.
Image 1 – USAID_IMAGES
Image 2 – Fotos Gov/Ba