As Mahmoud Abbas puts forward Palestine’s UN bid for full member-state status, a panel of experts at the Brookings Doha Centre have laid out the possible scenarios that the process may take in the coming months and years.
Speaking at the policy discussion at the Centre on Tuesday, director Salman Shaikh said: “The Palestinians are attempting a brand new paradigm, of internationalising this particular dispute because those negotiations involving a very slim number of actors, led by the United States has not worked, and I’m afraid the trust has broken down in that respect.”
The problem, he explained, has returned to the UN, where it began with the partition of the two states 61 years ago.
“Some of the scenarios that are playing out in New York are, in my view, trying to create the conditions, perhaps a more level playing field, for the kinds of negotiations to try and achieve a two-state solution that previously has not worked.”
The beginning of the new paradigm will ultimately be tomorrow, when Abbas hands the letter of application for full membership to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
According to Shaikh, the first possible scenario for the process is if the Palestinians get the nine ‘yes’ votes that they need to pass any resolution in the Security Council (SC). If they cannot achieve that then the US will not have to use its veto, but if they get them then the US or another permanent member of the SC will have to exercise their veto power.
In the meantime, 10 non-member states in the SC are being put under great pressure to vote one way or the other, or to abstain, and it is not yet clear how the vote will go.
“There is a scenario where Palestinians are able to get nine affirmative votes but it does not go straight to the voting procedure,” Shaikh said, “and there is another scenario where the president of the SC, which is normally the case, will refer this to a special committee inside the SC which consists of all the members of the SC to discuss this application – its called the ‘Committee on New Admissions.’ This committee could take a number of months before we get to any kind of a vote and in fact it may go backwards and forwards in that respect.”
Israel’s application, which went through a UN procedure, was first put in November 1947 and was not a member until March the following year, Shaikh added.“A five-six months delay, in this particular environment, would be very interesting indeed given everything else that’s going on in the region, and given the tumult that the region is already in,” he said.
“One way to avert that is to have a time out for negotiations, but if there is a breakdown then that will have a profound impact on raising the diplomatic pressure at the UN and on the ground – not just in Palestine but in Cairo and Jordan amongst other places.
“It may be that the Palestinians choose to go to the General Assembly, the conventional wisdom of course is that they may well do that, and if they do, they will be applying for an upgrade of their status from non-member entity to a non-member state with observer status, rather like the Vatican. But that is a scenario which, right now, the Americans and Israel and some of its allies, even if they are in a minority, are trying to make sure doesn’t happen because that does mean that the Palestinians would have the right to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, to the International Court of Justice and other things and to pursue legal activities on Israeli individuals or groups through that recourse, something that they have not had before. The Europeans…are trying to invent a new category, which is that the Palestinians get non-member status but they don’t have that right.”
One more scenario would allow the General Assembly (GA) to override the SC, which can happen if half the GA agrees to call an emergency special session, and then two thirds of voting members vote for the resolution during that session. Of the ten special sessions called so far, six have been on issues in the Middle East.
That route, said Shaikh, would be tantamount to Palestine pressing for the “nuclear option…a no holds barred kind of race to secure the two thirds vote needed to pass that sort of resolution.”
Who will emerge the winner or loser is unclear as this is only the beginning of the new paradigm. European opinions seem to be divided between the two positions, while the US is almost certain to come out as losing some of its moral authority and its position as chief arbiter if it chooses to exercise its veto and continue to oppose Palestinian statehood.
Patience will be required, as tomorrow will mark the beginning of what could be a long journey at the UN.
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