This coming week, the UN General Assembly is expected to give a historic vote on upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s observer’s status to the one of non-member states of the global organisation. Recent developments in the Mideast are not without connection with this important vote. The pressure put on Israel and, consequently, on the international public opinion in the last couple of weeks cannot be explained without taking it into account. Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador from Ankara and suspended the mainly bilateral military ties for the reason that Israel had not presented apologies for the May 2010 incident involving the humanitarian aid flotilla trying to break the embargo imposed on the Gaza Strip. The besiegement by the unleashed crowd of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the forced evacuation of the staff after US pleas with the Egyptian military authorities (September 9), as well as, more recently (last Thursday), the evacuation of the Israeli Embassy in Amman, with Jordanian authorities warning about the risk of an imminent attack on it are evacuation the more general action designed to isolate Israel on the international arena on the eve of this historic vote. The recent interview granted on Sunday by chief Turkish diplomat A. Davutoglu to show that his country intends to enter into an alliance with Egypt, seeking to achieve ‘a genuine axis of real democracy’ and that Turkey is, in the region, ‘right at the centre of everything’ should be read with a lot of attention.
In fact, no one really knows the way Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will choose to take at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly: a) ask the UN General Assembly for a vote on the so-called ‘Vatican option’, where Palestine’s non-permanent UN membership would be recognised, which would enable it to be represented on numerous structures of the organisation, or, b) ask the UN Security Council help to obtain for Palestine the permanent membership of the organisation, which would definitely be vetoed by the USA. In the case of a positive vote, option a) would also involve the action by the International Criminal Court on Palestinian territory, with Israel decisively opposing the exercising of such a mandate.
So far, a total of 94 states have announced their plans to recognise the Palestinian state and calculations show that 130 UN members would vote in favour in the General Assembly. However, the decision of the General Assembly will need to be validated by a UN Security Council resolution without which the vote would have no practical meaning such as, for example, in respect of imposing sanctions on Israel.
The European Union and the Middle East Quartet have stepped up efforts to identify a diplomatic way out of this convoluted puzzle which threats to grievously deteriorate things in the Mideast. Last Wednesday, Quartet special envoy Tony Blair worked intensely to complete a text which he was going to bring before the two parties – Israeli and Arab – as the basis for resuming peace talks.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that he would raise the issue on the UN Security Council which, as mentioned before, would pose quite a few problems, including the impact of a possible veto already announced by the US. Abbas is therefore under the pressure put by many European and Arab states trying to convince him to keep his request in the General Assembly alone in order to avoid much broader complications at the level of the entire international system.
Meanwhile in the international arena positions are becoming clearer, pros and cons become fortified by new adherents, directions of argumentation diversify and attitudes become more nuanced or, on the contrary, more radical.
Friday, September 16, 2011, The New York Times published a column called ‘Ten reasons for an European <Yes>’, where two high-profile European diplomats – Marrti Ahtisari, former President of Finalnd, and Javier Solana, High Common Foreign Policy Security Representative of the EU until 2009 – plead for the recognition of the Palestinian state inside its 1967 borders. The number one reason is that a positive vote would preserve the solidity of the ‘two state’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel (like the US) does not reject the idea as such, but demands that it should come as the result of bilateral negotiations. The two high-ranking diplomats whose expertise cannot be questioned also say that a positive European vote would also be good for the ‘Arab spring’, by strengthening its democratic course, would justify the EU financial effort of allocating EUR 1 bn to the Palestinian state every year, would demonstrate that the EU acts in solidarity, as a global actor, on major contemporary dossiers; would support the US – now with a scope of action that has been restricted by local shortcomings – to act effectively in relation to Israel, that Israel itself would be also helped by a recognition of the Palestinian state because that would make its legitimacy stronger and that a violent Palestinian (Arab) response would be avoided or at least made improbable. ‘Moves toward recognition of Palestinian statehood within 1967 borders would reinforce the legitimacy of Israel’s own existence,’ say the authors.
Under the headline ‘The Palestinians’ Illegitimate UN Gambit’, Texas Governor Rick Perry brings forth the arguments of the side pleading for a ‘No’ vote at the UN. He shows that Israel now has to cope with mounting hostility in the Middle East, that the intention of the Palestinian leaders to obtain a one-sided endorsement ‘threatens Israel and insults the US’. However, the overriding argument is that the UN and the US have supported the efforts of Israel and its neighbours to come to peace through direct negotiations, but that, this time, ‘theatrical gestures’ in New York are preferred over ‘the painstaking labour of negotiation.’ In the context of the argumentation it is shown that the current situation has been facilitated by the errors of the Obama Administration in its approach on the matter. It is obvious that the current domestic political situation in the US and that the American political establishment is already engaged in the presidential election campaign are leaving their mark on the country’s stance regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Setting aside the other details of this geopolitical puzzle, it has to be said that it is a counterproductive idea for international stability, especially in a volatile region such as the Mideast, to put multiple pressure on one of the parties, this time Israel. Not to mention that this ‘game’ goes in several directions (US, EU). Developments like that have a way of getting out of hand at some point.
At the same time, even if Europe says ‘Yes’ to it, it may collide with an American veto on the Security Council or even the possible abstention of one of the European powers enjoying that right. (France, who needs to accommodate the position of Germany who, in turn, is a strong supporter of Israel, or Great Britain with a strong attachment to its alliance with the US). In conclusion, an European ‘Yes’ would act more like a hurdle for the dynamic of the consolidation of trans-Atlantic relations, with unpredictable consequences at a time when it is badly needed given the international financial and economic crisis.