Palestinian statehood hangs in the balance

Donaldson Tan and Muheed Jeeran

The United Nations HQ at New York City

The UN Security Council convenes to discuss Palestine's future

Today, the Security Council will review the Palestinian Authority’s bid for full membership of the United Nations. When the Palestinian Authority first signalled its intention, some permanent members (e.g. the USA) attempted to persuade the Palestinian Authority to wait for the right time. However, it appears that the Palestinian Authority has already decided to take a gamble on its chances.

Global pressure was certainly mounting on the Security Council. The Palestinians secured a symbolic victory at UNESCO. On 31 October 2011, UNESCO member states voted by a margin of 107 to 14 in favour of Palestine being accepted as a full member of the organization. This triggered a long-standing congressional ban on US funding to UN bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.

Subsequently, France turned its back on the Palestinian people despite its initial support for Palestine’s UNESCO membership. This was a major blow to Palestine’s confidence in asserting its statehood on the international stage. Certainly, the Palestinian Authority will not give up so easily. The Palestinian Authority needs to win at least 9 votes to earn the Security Council’s recommendation to become a full UN member state.

France joins the ranks of its fellow European Union member states who are also members of the UN Security Council in either abstaining or voting against Palestine’s membership bid. The United Kingdom and Portugal will be abstaining while Germany has signalled its intention to vote against it. On top of that, the United States is expected to be voting against Palestine’s membership bid. Clearly, three out of five permanent member states are against Palestine’s membership bid, unless the United States could be persuaded to withdraw its objection.

According to a draft report by the Admissions Committee on Palestine’s membership bid, there are deep divisions among the fifteen member states of the Security Council. While the Security Council is expected to endorse the report, it remains uncertain if the Security Council will actually vote on Palestine’s membership bid. There are doubts if Palestine has fulfilled the qualifying criteria of a full member state. For example, Hamas’ significant influence in Palestinian politics puts the Palestinian Authority at odds with the UN Charter’s requirement that full members have to be “peace-loving” states.

There are some who speculate the purpose of going through the vote at the Security Council is to set up the stage for the Palestinians’ next ploy: to upgrade its status from permanent observer to non-member observer state. One such person is Ron Prosor, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations. This upgraded observer status would give the Palestinian Authority access to key international organizations.