Neil MacFarquhar
The New York Times
July 26, 2011 - 12:00am

UNITED NATIONS — A preview of the expected showdown over whether to admit a Palestinian state as a full member of the United Nations when world leaders gather here in September played out in the Security Council on Tuesday.

Supporters evoked the Arab Spring, in which millions of people across the Middle East sought freedom from oppression, as a fitting backdrop for an endorsement of the Palestinian people’s release from 44 years of Israeli occupation.

Opponents, essentially Israel and the United States, condemned the idea as an ineffective “shortcut” that would not budge the deadlocked peace negotiations.

The Palestinians have yet to determine whether to seek full membership — such an act faces a threatened American veto in the Security Council — or to petition the General Assembly for enhanced observer status. That would give them the aura of international recognition as a state — a status held only by the Holy See — but would fall short of full membership. (They currently hold observer status akin to that of an organization.)

“The road to admission could be the expressway or could be the local road,” the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told reporters on Tuesday. “Either way we are moving in that direction because the ultimate objective will be admission.”

The Security Council holds a monthly discussion on the Arab-Israeli dispute that typically drones on much like the conflict itself, with each side repeating its own positions and grievances and absolutely no movement, so Tuesday’s discussion of Palestinian membership brought a frisson of novelty into the full day of speeches.

The basic Israeli position, backed by Washington, is that the two sides have to negotiate the main six outstanding issues including borders, the status of Jerusalem and the return of refugees. “Now is the time for the international community to tell the Palestinian leadership what it refuses to tell its own people: there are no shortcuts to statehood,” said Ron Prosor, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

The Palestinians, arguing that ongoing settlement activity by Israel is gradually erasing the prospects for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, say that membership would solidify the effort toward such a resolution.

Mr. Mansour, speaking to reporters, suggested that the Palestinians might try to overcome an American veto by getting hundreds of thousands of ordinary Palestinians to demonstrate in cities and villages in the coming weeks to demand an end to occupation—mirroring demonstrations for basic rights across the Arab world.

Many supporters of Palestinian membership likened the two movements. “If we are to win the hearts and minds of the Arab people and support them in meeting their aspirations,” said Fazli Corman, Turkey’s deputy permanent representative, “we must be able to show them our collective determination toward reaching a just and viable peace in the region.”

European nations appear divided on the issue, with a collective position deemed impossible given that 9 of its 27 members already recognize Palestine as a nation. In the Security Council, Germany seems opposed to membership with France and Britain sounding supportive if noncommittal.

Arab states, while supporting the Palestinian effort, are leaning toward the General Assembly option as a way of avoiding a confrontation with Washington.

The United States is in something of an awkward position because President Obama, in his speech to the General Assembly last September, said that he hoped peace negotiations would result in Palestine joining the United Nations this September. But his attempts to even get the negotiations started have failed

Like other Western envoys, the deputy permanent American representative, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, used her speech Tuesday to encourage Syrians who protest peacefully to demand “their universal rights.” But she threatened to veto any Palestinian attempt to undertake “unilateral campaigns at the United Nations.”

Many states praised the two-year Palestinian effort to create institutions needed to run a state, including a security apparatus, although the United States and Israel said those institutions continued to fall short. Given that effort, though, Robert H. Serry, the United Nations envoy for the peace process, said time was running out for the political developments that are necessary to show that such achievements bear fruit.

“I cannot but describe the situation where Palestinian state building has matured on the West Bank, but the political track has failed to converge, as dramatic,” he said.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017