Sep 23, 2011
Palestinian statehood and US veto
Alefia T Hussain “Tell President Obama: ENOUGH. It’s time to stand with Israel.” That’s a full page ad appearing in Monday Sept 19’s The New York Times paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel. It accuses Obama of building “a record that is not pro-Israel”, and suggests five steps towards a promise to be a “staunch and reliable” friend of the Jewish state. At the end is, “Tell them: Enough. It’s time to stand with Israel.” It came as a prelude; a pressure tactic in political parlance, four days ahead of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid to seek recognition of a Palestinian state from the United Nations. But hasn’t the Obama administration displayed clear intent to veto the move; so why a full page ad? Why this nervousness? The ad aside, the debate on the Palestinian statehood in the US is heating up. Newspapers are abuzz with the issue since the start of this week. Among international stories, it is already ranked sixth, behind the war in Afghanistan, the overall unrest in the Middle East (mostly Libya and Syria), the European debt crisis, the saga involving the two American hikers held in Iran and the UBS rogue trader. “I would expect the Palestinian statehood issue to generate considerably more coverage this week,” says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director Project for Excellence in Journalism. In New York, the debate is likely to dominate the ongoing 66th United Nations General Assembly session. President Abbas is expected to present a letter requesting full membership for an independent state of Palestine, comprising the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem captured by Israel in 1967, to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday. Ban will pass the letter on to the Security Council. Palestinians are trying to expedite the recognition, and they believe the quickest way is through the Security Council. The Palestinian request will have to be approved by nine of 15 Security Council members. It is most likely to be supported by Security Council members Russia, China and Britain. The US continues to believe in and is pressing the point that the only way to a two-state solution is through negotiations. Contrarily, the experts in media circles in the US view the Palestinian effort as nothing more than symbolic – yet compelling. “...the proposal is fair, and it speaks to the legal-minded, peaceful aspects of the Arab Spring,” writes Steve Coll in The New Yorker. He adds, “Under international law, the Palestinian case is strong but not airtight.” Referring to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which requires a state to have a permanent population, a defined territory, government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states, he comments, “Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza, as mapped by the 1967 pre-war border with Israel – possesses the first three. Yet the unresolved divide between Hamas, which rules Gaza and seeks Israel’s overthrow and Palestinian Authority , which holds the West Bank and accepts Israel in principle, casts doubt on a combined Palestine’s ability to act coherently.” So, based on the Convention, the Palestinian Authority does not qualify for recognition as a state, and “concomitantly, it does not qualify for UN membership, which is open only to states,” write David B Rivkin and Lee A Casey in the Sept 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal. They further argue that the UN – General Assembly or Security Council – has no power to create states or to grant all-important formal ‘recognition’ to state aspirants. “The right to recognise statehood is a fundamental attribute of sovereignty and the United Nation is not a sovereign.” Irrespective of the legal case against the Palestinian statehood, the stakes for the Obama administration in this battle are high. With a tough re-election next year, by withholding the US veto, Obama will “jeopardise his support among the American backers of Israel. But by using it, Obama will further weaken US standing in the Middle East, where popular uprising have unleashed anti-Israel and anti-American sentiment that US backed dictators held in check for decades,” comment Lesley Clark, Sheera Frenkel and Jonathan S Landay for the McClatchy Newspapers. A UN vote on the Palestinian statehood may be the only way to save the Jewish state, writes Trudy Rubin for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She thinks, as Israelis know well, “their entire region is in flux in ways that make them very nervous”. The status quo has crumbled in most Arab countries, and it will not last in the West Bank and Gaza. “Many Palestinians (and much of the “street” in Arab states that are undergoing upheaval) have given up on the idea of two states. So have most Israelis. Yet the death of the two-state concept and the peace process that went with it creates existential dangers for the Jewish state.” For the moment there’s anxiety: will the veto take place? Will it land in the General Assembly? But certainly the Palestinian state must come into existence – eventually.