Update: Palestine at the UN: What Will and What Will Not Happen

Somehow the Palestinian bid at the United Nations for a game changer has fallen flat so far. But amid the changes in the Arab world, it has focused attention on the issue again and again.
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This post is an updated version of one published November 9.

The Palestinians are not expected to get the required nine votes in the UN Security Council they need for membership in the world body, regardless of whether the United States casts a veto or abstains, according to diplomats polled by this reporter.

And there will not be a vote in the 15-nation Council on Friday, although there could be one later this month. November 11 is the day the Security Council will deliver its report on whether Palestine fulfills the qualifications of a state.

Amid all the smoke and mirror language, the report will say that a decision is inconclusive and that a membership committee, consisting of all Council members, was "unable to make" unanimous recommendations, according to a copy of the text. No other action is expected.

Lebanon may produce a resolution for Palestine's full membership in the United Nations but that needs a 24-hour notice before a vote. For adoption, a resolution requires a minimum of nine votes in favor and no veto from the five permanent members, like the United States.

But there is a dispute among Palestinian leaders as to whether to go ahead with the Council vote. They are expected to make a decision after an Arab League meeting next Wednesday.

The main question is not legal but political -- whether inclusion in the United Nations as a member state will contribute or not contribute to the peace process.

A secondary question is whether the United States will cast a macho "no" vote (and be the target of demonstrations in the Middle East) after it is clear the resolution has failed. Most believe it will rather than abstain as France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Colombia and Bosnia are expected to do. Those in favor of the application are eight nations: Russia, China, Brazil, India, South Africa, Lebanon and probably Nigeria and Gabon.

The position of the Europeans has been clear since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on September 23 at the U.N. General Assembly he would seek full membership, an expression of frustration at the failure of peace talks and Israel's announcement of more settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Bosnia was the last holdout but now has sided with the EU members after its presidency could not agree on a position. (see this reporter's prediction)

What is the strategy?Insisting on a vote in the Security Council makes a vote for an upgrade in status in the General Assembly look like a consolation prize. Palestine currently has observer status with no voting rights. It would have no trouble getting the Assembly to vote in favor of a non-member observer state, like the Vatican. This is an indirect recognition of statehood and allows the Palestinians to join more U.N. agencies and even the International Criminal Court. Although a positive vote is a foregone conclusion, the United States and Israel have been needlessly campaigning against it.

But Palestinian leaders have indicated they would not go to the General Assembly immediately, if at all, and would continue to try for full membership in the Security Council. But this time, the blame cannot be put on the United States alone. The defeat in the Council would be on the shoulders of seven nations. Waiting until next year, when five new members join the Council, would not change the situation.

So why are the Palestinians insisting on a Security Council vote? Probably because President Abbas had announced it. Otherwise it makes little sense, which is why some prominent Palestinians are arguing for a General Assembly vote first, diplomats said.

No one is talking The Quartet of Middle East advisers (the United States, Russia, the European Community and the United Nations) have been trying to restart peace talks and while there is movement, no one is betting on a success.

And according to Gershon Baskin of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, no one is really talking to anyone:

"With the exception of continued security cooperation at the field level, and perhaps some continued talk between those who have responsibility for day-to-day issues concerning commerce, Palestinian and Israeli officials have been instructed by their superiors not to meet."

Saying that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done little to promote a peace process, he contends Abbas and his prime minister, Salaam Fayyad, are the most "determined Palestinian leaders against the use the violence" so it is futile for Israel (and the United States Congress) to punish them:

"Likewise it is also clear that the strategy of not returning to the table is equally futile and wrong. Even if the chances of reaching a comprehensive negotiated agreement at this time with this Israeli government seem close to nil, there is no longer a legitimate reason to reject talking."

Somehow the Palestinian bid at the United Nations for a game changer has fallen flat so far. But amid the changes in the Arab world, it has focused attention on the issue again and again.

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