Palestine at the UN : the cards are on the table

Mahmoud Abbas just finished his speech , and received a standing ovation from the vast majority of the UN General Assembly. The Palestinian leader has asked the full membership of Palestine within the organization. But yet, ite missa est. The U.S. veto will fall sooner or later, excluding the accession of a State of Palestine to the United Nations. In addition to the basic question posed by the Palestinian initiative, the reactions to this approach will in fact reveal the true face of Western policies in the Middle East.

In his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, a year after he called for the creation of a Palestinian state in 2011, Barack Obama reiterated today’s U.S. position, modeled on the Israeli position, that peace can only come from a negotiated solution. At one year of U.S. presidential and possible renewal of its mandate, the U.S. U-turn between 2010 and 2011 shows the little latitude left to Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions, especially regarding Israel.

Facing this American change, Palestinian disappointment is palpable. Mahmoud Abbas and his team are not to blame for blocking the negotiation process, and Obama knows it. Since the end of the moratorium on the settlement late September 2010, the Israeli government made no efforts to stop the construction of new housing units in the occupied territories. Adopting such a biased attitude, the sponsor of the peace process, what were the United States, will never been considered as a neutral arbiter of the situation anymore.

For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy spoke on Tuesday in front of the same Assembly, offering Palestine to acquire the status not of member state, but the one of observer state. French president proposes here a solution – known from long by the PLO – which avoids the introduction of the request to the Security Council, and thus avoids for the U.S. having to impose their veto. A solution which also shows that the EU failed to take a common position, and finally found a middle one that seems to make everyone happy.

A non-member state has in itself some symbolic value, but by the state character it gives, confers also the possibility to ratify international treaties, including the International Criminal Court one. However, since such an eventuality is exactly what frightens Israel, it is likely that special status would be found for Palestine, which excludes the possibility of such approaches. We will therefore have to analyze the conditions of accession of Palestine to the United Nations as a observer state before to celebrate.

The Palestinians, some of which were already skeptical about the approach of the Palestinian Authority, will maybe see in all this just another trick to avoid giving them full independence. For most of them, being a member or a almost member to the UN does not change anything to the Israeli occupation they have to face daily. The relative failure of the Palestinian initiative to the UN may finally give the blow to Fatah’s old guard surrounding the President of the Palestinian Authority, and by extension discredit the entire institution.

Having virtually let the Palestinian approach meaningless, the international community thus gives again priority to the negotiations. Negotiations will now have to take place in the most difficult context. And if neither the U.S. nor the European Union are able to assume the role of neutral sponsor of the peace process, what is the future of those negotiations? The European Union has shown in the past that it was a weak actor in the international arena. However things can sometimes change. But the situation on the Israeli-Palestinian arena and the Arab spring require reforms and actions that it seems ultimately unable to achieve.


Nathalie Janne d’Othée