It is a near certainty that the United Nations General Assembly will consider a resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood in September 2011. The vote would be largely symbolic – the General Assembly cannot grant statehood. U.N. membership is not assured without prior consent from the permanent Security Council members. Outside the ivory tower of the U.N., such recognition is only achieved through unilateral acknowledgement by independent, sovereign states.
For its bid to be successful, Palestine would need to secure a two-thirds majority from the 192 member General Assembly. It will likely exceed the 128 votes required to achieve that goal. At present, 112 states have recognized Palestinian statehood and Riyad Mansour, Ramallah’s envoy to the U.N., has hinted that number may be inching past 120, with U.N. consideration looming. However, recognition would also require approval from the Security Council. The latter is a non-starter – the United States has already indicated its readiness to veto is a foregone conclusion. Furthermore, the U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution threatening to end its aid to Palestine if the occupied territories do not halt the push for recognition.
Despite the fact that this distinctively token vote meets the measure of forlorn hope, its consequences will be very real.
Although the formal peace process has clearly stalled, the mere discussion of Palestinian state has come at Israel’s expense. Passage of the measure would demonstrate the Jewish state’s growing isolation from the international community. Conversely, rejection of the resolution would undoubtedly escalate simmering tensions.
Dissatisfaction and unrest among Palestinians would be acute.
Concurrently, a US decision to exercise veto power at the Security Council would have disastrous consequence for American interests in the Arab world.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Palestinians want to exceed the vote minimum in the General Assembly, thereby engaging American in a high-stakes game of diplomatic brinksmanship. However, this collision is likely to end in conflict rather than conciliation, and the Palestinians know it. On the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, talk is building of hundreds of thousands taking the streets in the ramp-up to the U.N. vote, supported by millions of fellow Arabs, in a powerful demonstration of cultural solidarity and frustration with Israel’s perceived intransigence.
This should come as little surprise. Palestinian attitudes and expectations for the September vote remain upbeat, if tempered by the political reality of United States’ ultimate determination of the resolution’s achievement. According to a June 16-18 poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Statistical Research (PCPSR), 57% of Palestinians believe they will obtain recognition of their state from two-thirds of the members should their case reach the U.N.’s General Assembly, despite a whopping 76% majority who believe the U.S. will use its veto power at the Security Council level. The fact that a majority of Palestinians remain sanguine about international acknowledgment, despite an overwhelming belief that the United States will attempt to squash their efforts, demonstrates that practical expectations have not subsumed the blind optimism spirited on by the surging Arab Spring.
However, there are legitimate concerns that a U.S. rejection Palestine’s membership bid – lacking a suitable alternative – would provoke a violent response. Mahmoud Abbas is a weak ruler, and widely mistrusted by many Palestinians. His Palestinian Authority could potentially lose control of any broad-based Palestinian street movement.
Recently, concerns of a third intifada merging with region-wide demonstrations have mounted. Israel was brusquely introduced to the protest movement on May 15th as tens of thousands of Palestinians amassed on its borders to protest the creation of the Jewish state 63 years prior. They arrived in observance of the ‘nakba,’ or catastrophe, in reference to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, after the formation of the state of Israel was formalized by international diplomacy, and solidified by the 1948 war.
All told, ten Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured as protests reignited Arab-Israeli tensions over Palestine’s push for international recognition at the United Nations this fall.
Obviously, Israel is sensitive to thoughts of intifada. However, the shape and stature of Palestinian resistance will continue to grow as neighboring Arab states “shake off” years of repression and inequity.
Israel has demonstrated strong misgivings about rumblings of democracy in the region, preferring the “devil it knows.” However, efforts to stop pro-Palestinian projects will demand a new level of repression if the Jewish state wants to take the fight from the militarized borders of Eretz Israel to the halls of the United Nations.
It is unlikely that formal U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state would compel Israel to concede tenure of the West Band and Gaza. However, if recent events and expectations on the Palestinian side of the Separation Wall are any indication, Israel will ultimately pay the price, regardless of the outcome.