Action Alert: A UN Vote for Palestine
Without a last minute intervention, the United Nations General Assembly this month will proceed to consider a bid by the Palestinian Authority to gain official recognition of the State of Palestine. On September 20 the General Assembly will consider a motion to accept Palestine as a sovereign nation. A vote of two-thirds of the UN’s 193 member states is needed for the motion to pass. One hundred twenty-six countries already recognize Palestine with its 1967 borders, leaving only a few undecided countries needed to vote yes to reach the 129 threshold. What will the vote mean if it passes and will it advance peace in this protracted conflict?
In 2010 President Obama told the UN General Assembly that “next year” the world could hope to “have an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel.” However, the U.S. has failed to provide the robust support for peace talks President Obama suggested, and although Obama and other officials publically stated America’s official policy opposes Israel’s rampant expansion of settlement building, the U.S. failed either to push back or press the case for renewing negotiations when Israel repeatedly rebuked the U.S. Administration.
While some European states already plan to support the measure, France and Britain are still publicly undecided. The U.S. has maintained that a UN vote would not help create peace, and hoped the Palestinians would back down from a vote, but it has failed to give them any incentive to do so. If the General Assembly approves the motion, it does not mean Palestine has achieved statehood. The motion will still need to be voted on by the Security Council, where the United States is certain to veto it. Nor will a UN vote mean Palestine has achieved peace. The conflict and its daily manifestations will remain. In fact, Israel has suggested that the situation of Palestinians under occupation could become worse if the vote passes, which is entirely in its power. What may be gained? First a vote would highlight the fact that the international community has the responsibility and the ability to end the occupation, rather than leave circumstances up the powerful and powerless to negotiate.
It is clear that Palestinians have the right to independence. U.S. policy recognizes Palestinians’ rights to independence and the indispensible role the U.S. must play to achieve them. UCC positions also support a two-state solution to the conflict. U.S. and even Israeli leaders have declared that the occupation is unsustainable and fuels the conflict. Entailed in a peace solution is an end to the violence and injustice of the occupation and a negotiated resolution of outstanding issues like borders, refugees, resources, and Jerusalem. In this sense, a vote for a Palestinian state at the UN will not bring peace by itself. To achieve two equal and independent states, side-by-side, with Jerusalem as the shared capitol of both states, the U.S. must play an active role in pursuing peace.
Tell Congress and the Administration that rather than working to block a vote at the UN, it should affirm U.S. commitment to a comprehensive peace process that includes not only a recognition of Palestinian statehood but also an end to the occupation, resolution of all outstanding issues (including refugees, borders, Jerusalem, etc.) and way towards a fair and lasting two-state solution.
The Palestinians regard their decision to bring their case to the UN as a last resort. They know the current status quo only advances Israel’s current hold on Palestinians’ daily life and threatens the chances of a fairly negotiated peace solution in the future. Palestinians know the U.S. Administration is unlikely to push its support for a balanced peace process in an election season and against a U.S. Congress hostile to Palestinian rights. Their hope is with international opinion and international law on their side, a positive vote will strengthen their position in negotiations and shake-up the situation stacked against them. But a UN vote is not without risk and in unlikely to improve the daily life of Palestinians under occupation in the short term. Some in the U.S. Congress are already threatening to retaliate against Palestinians, their international supporters and the UN itself if the vote proceeds. The US only recently began applying diplomatic pressure to stop the vote, but has yet to engage the parties in coming up with any credible alternatives to make peace.
Tell Congress and the Administration that resolving all aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate remains an urgent international priority with important implications for US interests, and that US commitment is needed to end the occupation and negotiate a fair and lasting two-state solution.