Palestinian U.N. Bid Fails by 1 Vote. Was That the Plan? by the Forward

Palestinian U.N. Bid Fails by 1 Vote. Was That the Plan?

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The Palestinian effort to have the U.N. Security Council set a deadline for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank failed to win the necessary nine votes for approval this afternoon. Palestinian spokesmen had spoken confidently before the vote of winning nine or even 10 votes. But two nations whose support they said they expected, Nigeria and South Korea, ended up abstaining. In the end eight nations voted for the resolution, two voted no and five abstained.

The outcome ended up confirming what some Palestinian and Israeli spokesmen had said weeks ago: that the resolution would fall short if it came up for a vote in 2014. Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat had warned in a December 15 interview with an Arabic-language Israeli radio station that the resolution didn’t have nine votes.

Jordan, which holds the Arab group’s seat on the Security Council, was said to be pushing for a delay in the vote until next week, when five new members take their seats, including fiercely anti-Israel Malaysia, which will take the Asia-Pacific seat currently held by South Korea. But the Palestinians insisted on holding the vote before the New Year’s holiday.

Jordan submitted the resolution to the Security Council Monday night, over furious objections from Israel and an American hint of a veto.

The resolution called for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement within a year and full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank by the end of 2017. The full text appears after the jump.

France tried in mid-December to put together an alternative draft resolution that eased some of the terms that most alarmed Jerusalem and Washington, in hopes of securing U.S. backing and perhaps getting unanimous council support. Palestinian officials were said to be reluctantly supporting the French effort. Just before Christmas, though, the Palestinians let it be known that they would submit their own draft, and that instead of softening the language they were hardening it even further.

That evidently made it easier for Washington to peel away enough support to yield today’s result: instead of nine supporters the resolution won eight, with two voting against and five abstaining.

The Palestinian tactics mystified Israeli and American diplomats and prompted speculation that the Palestinians were intending to lose the vote. It was thought that they wanted to put on a show of toughness to counter rising anger on the Palestinian street and increasing pressure from Hamas, but they didn’t want to anger Washington by forcing it to cast a veto at a time when it needs Arab support against ISIS.

Intriguingly, during the council discussion following the vote Palestinian U.N. delegate Riyad Mansour delivered a long, detailed, furious denunciation of Israel behavior and repeatedly criticized the council for failing to act on its “responsibility” to intervene. But he ended, incongruously, by thanking by name the five council members whose terms end tomorrow for their service: Rwanda, Australia, South Korea, Luxembourg and Argentina. Three of the five abstained (Rwanda and South Korea) or voted no (Australia) and thus provided the margin for the resolution’s narrow defeat.

Think of it this way: The council’s 15 members include the five permanent members — U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China — and 10 non-permanent members. Five of those 10 joined the council in January 2013 and leave tomorrow while rhe other five (Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Nigeria) joined in January 2014 and serve for another year.

Of the seven no’s and abstentions that blocked the Palestinian resolution, two came from the five permanent members, two from the class of 2014 and three from the class of 2013 that leaves tomorrow. In other words, it was the class of 2013 that provided Washington and Jerusalem their margin of victory. And that was the group that Mansour chose to salute in closing his speech.

And if you’re wondering, no — none of the other speakers saluted the departing class of 2013. Only Mansour.

Here is today’s roll call:

Voting yes: China, France, Russia, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Luxembourg.

No: United States, Australia.

Abstain: United Kingdom, Lithuania, Nigeria, South Korea, Rwanda.

The full text of the Palestinian draft resolution appears after the jump.

In debate following the vote, U.S. ambassador Samantha Power said that America supports the principle of two states for two peoples embodied in the resolution, but that the draft submitted by Jordan addressed the needs of one side only. She said it ignored Israel’s legitimate security needs and “sets the stage for more divison, not compromise. It could very well provoke the sort of confrontation it purports to oppose.” And she complained that the resolution had been presented for a vote without giving council members any opportunity to discuss it.

In a warning to Israel, she said that the United States would continue to oppose actions that undermine peace, “whether those actions come in the form of settlement activity or unbalanced resolutions within this council.”

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had lashed out at the Palestinian effort during a Monday meeting with Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence, telling reporters it was part of an “attack from Iran and Islamic radicals” on “Israel and western civilization.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters Monday afternoon that the draft resolution isn’t “constructive,” that it sets “arbitrary deadlines,” “fails to account for Israel’s legitimate security needs” and is “likely to curtail useful negotiations.”

Israeli and Western diplomats had expressed mystification at the Palestinians’ insistence on rushing the resolution before the council during 2014, when it stood a good chance of failing, rather than waiting a week for Malaysia to take its seat. That would have given the resolution nine votes, enough for passage. Washington was expected to block passing by casting a veto, but the nine votes would have given the Palestinian cause a moral and propaganda victory.

Washington was eager to avoid having to cast a veto, which would likely stir ill-will among Arab allies whose cooperation is needed in the fight against ISIS.

There was some speculation, in fact, that the Palestinians wanted to submit the resolution in order to present a tough public posture in the face of growing Hamas pressure, but wanted it to fail in order to avoid tensions with Washington and to leave the door open to renewed negotiations in the event that a more moderate Israeli government is elected in March. Today’s events do nothing to negate that speculation.

In early December the Palestinians floated an initial draft of their resolution, with its deadlines of one year for statehood and three years for “complete withdrawal” of “Israeli security forces” to the agreed borders.

At that point France entered the picture, proposing a more moderate version that it hoped could win unanimous council support, Washington included. Reports at the time indicated that the Palestinians were willing to give the French proposal a chance.

On December 15, chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told an Arabic-language Israeli radio station that their resolution didn’t have the nine votes necessary to pass the council. He said they were hoping to line up support from France and Luxembourg and to convince Washington not to veto.

Last week, however, it became clear that the Palestinians were going ahead with their own resolution, and that instead of softening its terms they had actually hardened them.

On Sunday night, December 28, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas phoned Secretary of State John Kerry and told him the resolution would be submitted to the council this week and would include certain new terms.

France was pushing to give the talks three years instead of one and to organize them under an international umbrella. The idea of international sponsorship for peace negotiations has gained considerable support in recent months among Israeli centrists and security professionals. Many see it as a way to put moderate Arab powers behind the concessions that the Palestinian leadership appears incapable of making on its own.

Some of the changes in the new Palestinian resolution are in tone: As reported by the Israeli news site Ynet, the final version calls for withdrawal of Israeli “occupation forces” instead of “security forces.”

It also adds at least two demands that weren’t present in the earlier version, Ynet reported: release of Palestinian prisoners and a complete freeze on Israeli settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem.

The hardening of the resolution was expected to reduce the likelihood of France and Luxembourg voting for it. But Palestinian sources were saying today that they had secured French and Luxembourg support despite the new language. Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told today’s press briefing that the new version “incorporates some of the French changes.” He added that the Palestinian move was “the last chance to save the two-state solution.”

Hamas on Monday called the U.N. measure a “disaster” for the Palestinians because it accepts the principle of Palestinian and Israeli states living side by side, each with a capital in Jerusalem, and thus abandons the fight for a Palestinian state in all of historic Palestine.

Members of the Security Council:

Of the 15 council members, five are permanent members with veto power: the U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China (the five major powers that won World War II).

The other 10 are elected by the U.N.’s regional groups: Africa, East Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, Asia-Pacific and WEOG (Western Europe and Others, which includes U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and Israel). They serve two-year terms, with five new members rotating in every year. In practice, one of the two Asia-Pacific members is always a member of the Arab group.

Five current members joined in January 2014 and will serve until the end of 2015: Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria.

Five joined in January 2013 and end on Wednesday: Rwanda (to be replaced by Angola), South Korea (by Malaysia), Australia (by New Zealand), Luxembourg (by Spain) and Argentina (by Venezuela).

Here is the full text of the resolution, as published by the Times of Israel:

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg is editor emeritus of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

Palestinian U.N. Bid Fails by 1 Vote. Was That the Plan?

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