Posted by Tom Bridge
The United Nations General Assembly has now voted emphatically in favour of granting the Palestinian delegation to the UN, non-member observer status. This is a symbolic victory, not a material one, for the territories seeking to one day be recognised with official statehood by the United Nations
So what happened? What does the vote mean? And what is next for Palestine?
Leading up to the vote, the Palestinian mission to the UN thought that they had secured about 132 votes of the 193 nation-state members of the General Assembly. This in itself would have been more than enough for a ballot victory, with ballots in the UNGA only requiring a majority ‘yes’ vote of 50% of the member countries, plus one.
The Palestinians received 138 votes in favour of them reaching the status of non-member observer state. This means that just over 70% of countries on the floor voted in favour of the motion.
Nine UN members voted against the motion. Most notably, this included the United States of America and Israel, both firm allies on the other side of the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict. The other states joining the USA and Israel in voting against the resolution were Canada, Czech Republic, Panama, Palau, The Marshall Islands, Nauru and Micronesia.
There were also forty-one abstentions which included large powers, including the United Kingdom and Germany. Australia also decided to abstain earlier this week.
Germany had been planning to vote against the motion. The Australian Government through Prime Minister Julia Gillard had also planned to vote ‘no’ to the idea of strengthening Palestinian observer status, but in the end, the caucus decided that Australia should instead abstain.
In the end, because of the nature of the General Assembly, as opposed to the Security Council, the vote was soundly won by the Palestinian Authority.
The next important question is: What does the new non-member observer state vote mean for Palestine in terms of what the position offers?
Well, it is a tokenistic position in terms of territory.
The vote does however grant Palestine an implied recognition of sovereign statehood, the equivalent stature to that of The Vatican as far as the United Nations is concerned.
The new-found recognition also means that the Palestinians are now able to become members of all UN member organisations. This includes the ability to petition the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
The ability to join UN bodies and sign up to conventions and treaties are probably the two most significant aspects of the victory at the United Nations for the now implied state of Palestine.
Perhaps the most important question is: What comes next for Palestine?
In light of the UN vote, answering this question and charting a possible future for the peace process, perhaps becomes even more difficult than it was before the Palestinian victory at the UN General Assembly.
Israel and the United States of America are mightily annoyed. Officials from both countries are saying, as they did prior to Thursday’s vote, that it is a step backwards in terms of territorial negotiations and a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
Israel and the US are particularly annoyed that the decision now opens the door to proceedings of war crimes and broader crimes against humanity being levelled at the Israeli Government at the International Criminal Court.
The process required for charges to be brought by the Palestinians is prohibitive, even though they have flagged the possibility of referring individual Israelis to the ICC. Israel for one, along with the United States, does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court and would obviously not cooperate in handing over suspects.
Perhaps any intentions on the part of the Palestinian Authority to pursue Israel at the ICC should be immediately put off as an act of good faith. Proceedings could be instigated at a later stage, either if settlements in Palestinian territories continue, or the peace process becomes further intractable after a period of time.
Israel and the United States of America are also annoyed at the way in which the Palestinian territories have obtained the status of implicit statehood.
Really, both Israel and the USA should not be particularly concerned about Palestine now enjoying implied statehood. The change guarantees nothing in terms of actual territorial claims. That can only be determined by either a petition to the UN Security Council or by negotiations between Palestinian groups and the Israeli Government.
A direct petition to the Security Council by Palestinian representatives would never succeed. A similar petition last year by Mahmoud Abbas was never introduced because it was going to be blocked.
Official recognition of statehood at the Security Council would require 10 of the 15 member states to vote in favour of a resolution to create an official Palestinian nation-state. The USA, being a key and almost unwavering ally of Israel, even under President Barack Obama, have already indicated on previous occasions that they would use their veto power in the Security Council.
The best way forward is direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine, preferably with the United States of America involved as well as key powers in the Middle East. The key players have alluded to this, although their actions and words, particularly in the wake of the UN decision, seem to indicate little interest in strengthening negotiations over a two-state solution.
Negotiations too, have failed for decades. The recent increased tensions between Israel and Hamas, not just Thursday’s vote, have undoubtedly contributed to, at best, an even more protracted peace process.
The future of Israel-Palestine relations is at best tenuous. However, the present should be accepted for what it is and that is, in reality, a largely painless development.
If it’s not seen as such, then questions should rightly be asked about the actual intentions of Israel and the US, in terms of pursuing an enduring tw0-state solution.
Posted in International Politics
Tags: abstentions, General Assembly, international politics, international relations, Israel, Israel-Palestine conflict, Middle East, no vote, non-member state observer, Palestine, Palestinian Authority, peace process, statehood, symbolism, two-state solution, UN Security Council, UN vote victory, United Nations, United States of America, yes vote