Washington — Israelis warned of a “diplomatic tsunami,” Palestinians promised a game changer that would reshape Middle East peacemaking, and the White House and Congress geared up for an all-out battle inside and beyond the United Nations.
But on November 11, the Palestinians’ initiative to gain statehood recognition from the U.N. Security Council ended finally not with a bang, but with a whimper.
That day, a subcommittee of the U.N. Security Council tasked with debating the Palestinian request for full membership submitted its report with no recommendation. Failing to reach a majority of members supportive of the bid, the subcommittee did not call on the Security Council to vote on accepting Palestine as a member state. Despite this, and despite the certainty they will lose there, Palestinian Authority leaders decided in a November 16 meeting in Ramallah to request a Security Council vote.
The process that began on September 23 with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas waving the statehood request document in front of a cheering audience at the U.N. General Assembly thus ended with a set of low-key Security Council meetings and a mumbled Palestinian promise to “continue knocking on the door of the Security Council,” Palestinian foreign minister Reyad Al-Malki put it on November 16.
“The initiative has failed, for now,” said David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Project on the Middle East Peace Process, “but I don’t think the Israelis should dance the hora.” The Palestinians, he explained, “defined success as defiance more than they defined success as success,” and therefore, internally, Palestinians can still be pleased by their move.
The Palestinians needed nine countries to vote in favor of their request, but managed to secure only eight. A concerted diplomatic drive by the Obama administration secured “no” votes or abstentions from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal. Put together, this was enough to kill the Palestinian bid without America using its veto power on the council — a move it sought urgently to avoid.
As the dust settles, experts diverge in their opinions about the domestic and political impact of the Palestinian effort. All agree that it failed to achieve its fundamental goal: obtaining recognition of Palestine as a full U.N. member. But some see ancillary purposes fulfilled in the process.
One mystery involves the Palestinians’ basic strategy of going first to the 15-member Security Council rather than to the much larger, more pro-Palestinian G.A. The Palestinians knew in advance that they’d face difficulties reaching a majority in the council. And they knew that even if they obtained a majority there, the United States would exercise its veto power on the council to kill the resolution. A possible alternative could have been asking the G.A. to upgrade Palestine’s status, a move that would have been sure to win approval. The G.A.’s approval would not have given Palestine full statehood, but it would have brought other benefits, including the right to bring legal cases against Israel before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Prior approval by the G.A. may have also put additional political pressure on the Security Council.