As the U.N. General Assembly prepares to meet in New York this week, one issue is eclipsing all others: the unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood. Officials from the so-called "Quartet" of Mideast mediators (the U.S., E.U., Russia, and U.N.) are currently holding frenzied talks to persuade the Palestinians to abandon their campaign in favor of renewed peace talks with Israel. One European official, for example, tells The Wall Street Journal today that the E.U. might promise to support Palestinian statehood next year at the U.N. if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agrees to give negotiations with Israel one more shot. The general consensus, however, is that the Palestinians won't emerge from this controversial statehood bid with an actual Palestinian state. So what's the diplomatic tempest all about?
The Plan: This Friday, Abbas will address the General Assembly and request U.N. membership for a Palestinian state consisting of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem through the 15-member U.N. Security Council, the only U.N. body that can grant "full member" status to a state.
The Likely Result: The statehood bid will almost certainly fail in the Security Council for one of two reasons: 1) the Palestinians can't muster nine votes in favor of statehood or 2) the U.S., faced with nine or more affirmative votes, exercises its right as one of five permanent members of the council to veto the resolution. U.S. officials are telling the AP that they think the Palestinians will fall just short of nine votes, while Palestinian officials say they'll get the magic number comfortably (David Bosco at Foreign Policy is updating his vote-counting as new information surfaces).
Why the Result Matters: How the Palestinian bid for statehood dies in the Security Council may make a difference. If the Palestinians don't get nine votes, the AP explains, the implication will be that their statehood quest doesn't enjoy broad international support. But if the U.S. is forced to veto the measure, it could damage America's "image in the Arab world" at a crucial time in the region. Still, The New York Times adds that since applying for membership through the Security Council involves bureaucratic steps like letters, committee formation, and study that could take months, the U.S. might be able to avoid an embarrassing veto and exploit the delay to restart peace negotiations.
The Alternative Plan: Abbas could change his strategy at the last minute and take the less aggressive route of upgrading Palestine's U.N. status from an "entity" to a "non-member observer state" (like the Vatican) through the 193-member General Assembly--a measure that's much more likely to pass since the Palestinians have broad support in the larger body.
How the Bid Could Help Palestinians: By launching a U.N. bid for a Palestinian state based on the armistice lines from before the Six Day War in 1967, the Times explains, the Palestinians are desperately trying to "preserve the two-state solution in the face of ever-encroaching Israeli settlements" and "shake up the negotiations that they feel have achieved little after 20 years of American oversight." CNN adds that if the Palestinians go the alternative route and upgrade their U.N. standing through the General Assembly, they'll be able to observe and submit resolutions and pursue legal action against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
How the Bid Could Hurt Palestinians: U.S. lawmakers are threatening to cut off critical aid to Abbas and the Palestinian Authority if statehood is pursued at the U.N., and Israel is also warning that it could tighten restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank or freeze tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in retaliation. The U.N. campaign has already caused serious tensions between Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza and hasn't warmed up to the statehood bid. An unsuccessful U.N. bid could also spark violence and resentment in the Palestinian territories.
Will All This U.N. Hoopla Produce an Actual Palestinian State? Doubtful. The U.S. maintains that the Palestinians can only achive a state through direct negotiations with Israel. "In order to achieve the creation of a Palestinian state with clear boundaries, with sovereignty, with the ability to secure itself and provide for its people, there has to be a negotiated settlement," declared Susan Rice, America's U.N. ambassador. As the AP notes today, this week's U.N. bid "highlights a simple, bitter reality: [The Palestinians] cannot establish an actual state without Israel's blessing, even if the Security Council or a majority of General Assembly members recognize Palestine in pre-1967 borders."