John V. Whitbeck
Arab News (Opinion)
September 22, 2011 - 12:00am

Let us think out loud as Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas plans to give UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a letter tomorrow seeking full membership for his state:

The normal, orthodox road map to UN membership comprises two steps: (1) a recommendation to the General Assembly by the Security Council (requiring nine affirmative votes and NO negative vote — “veto” — by one of the five permanent members) followed by (2) approval by the General Assembly (requiring a two-thirds majority of those voting — i.e., ignoring abstentions and no-shows).

Nine of the current 15 Security Council members have already extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine — Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Gabon, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa, while France, Portugal and the United Kingdom are holding their cards close to their chests but are still generally viewed as potential affirmative votes. Only Colombia, the only South American state which has not yet recognized the State of Palestine, Germany and the United States are hopeless cases.

In these circumstances, one might assume that nine affirmative votes were assured. However, it is now widely reported in the media that the United States is moving heaven and earth to try to prevent nine affirmative votes for the admission of Palestine being cast in the Security Council — apparently in the expectation that, if a US negative vote were not technically a “veto” (because there were not nine affirmative votes), the entire Arab and Muslim worlds (and many others elsewhere) would not be as outraged against the United States as they would certainly be by an American “veto.”

Presumably, the perceived “low-hanging fruit” are Bosnia & Herzegovina, Gabon and Nigeria. All have significant Muslim populations — in Nigeria's case, a Muslim majority and membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in Bosnia & Herzegovina's case observer status at the OIC and in Gabon's case a Muslim president. None are obvious candidates to betray their recognitions and principles under threats of punishment or the inducements of bribes, but the threats or inducements could be massive and persuasive, and the “sovereignty” of Bosnia & Herzegovina (where the ultimate decision-making authority is still an international civil servant, not a Bosnian citizen) is dubious.

The United States has methods other than explosive “shock and awe” to destroy countries. Yemen has never recovered from its acute misfortune, 20 years ago, to occupy a Security Council seat when the US sought UN approval to attack Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait and from its recklessly courageous decision to vote “no” in accordance with its own genuine opinion (and that of almost half of the member states of the Arab League) rather than in accordance with a prudent calculation of its own best interests in light of the easily anticipated wrath of the United States.

Two conclusions: If the United States were to succeed in intimidating France, Portugal and the United Kingdom and suborning Bosnia & Herzegovina, Gabon or Nigeria so as to prevent nine affirmative votes in the Security Council,

(1) the outrage against the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds would be just as intense as if the American negative vote had been technically a “veto”, and the chances of an “elegant exit” from Iraq and/or Afghanistan would be nil (the Vietnam precedent for an undignified exit becoming highly likely); and

(2) Palestine should “throw in the towel” on the two-state solution (to adopt the phrase used by Saeb Erakat in his Sept.7 interview in the Los Angeles Times) and thereafter pursue, by strictly nonviolent means, a democratic one-state solution in all of former Mandate Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race or religion and with equal rights for all.

President Mahmoud Abbas has also repeatedly suggested that, after submitting Palestine's application for full UN membership on Friday, he would be open to considering other options and might not press for an immediate or early Security Council vote. (In this regard, one may hope that this month's rotating Security Council president, Lebanon, would be sympathetic to Palestinian procedural preferences, whatever those might be.)

What might be another option which would be preferable to forcing a Security Council vote which, if the United States were to block Palestine's membership application (either by a technical “veto” or by successful intimidations or bribes of other Security Council members), would definitively disqualify the United States from maintaining its monopoly stranglehold on any “peace process”?

I can imagine only one: If the European Union could offer and guarantee both the affirmative votes of all 27 EU member states in favor of a direct application to the General Assembly to upgrade Palestine's UN status from “observer entity” to “observer state” (which would require only a simple majority of those states voting — a sure thing since 126 of the 193 UN member states already recognize the State of Palestine) AND an American abstention in the vote on such an upgrade, without any commitment, beyond a very limited time period during which negotiations would be pursued in accordance with clear parameters consistent with international law, not to apply subsequently for full UN membership and without any commitment not to bring suits against Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, that could be an arrangement which would justify not insisting now on a Security Council vote on UN membership for the State of Palestine.

If such an accommodation to avoid embarrassing the United States and highlighting the divisions within the European Union is not available, it is my personal opinion that that the Palestinian leadership should remain firm, stand tall and proud and insist upon a Security Council vote on the State of Palestine's UN membership application — and let the cards fall where they may.


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