Defying the wishes of the United States, but winning plaudits across much of the rest of the world, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally requested full recognition of Palestinian statehood from the United Nations on Friday.
His action is, in itself, a defeat for the United States — and to a lesser degree for leading European nations — which had been lobbying hard to dissuade Abbas from filing the request, or at least to come to some kind of compromise.
Abbas spoke to the General Assembly shortly after handing a letter requesting recognition to the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Abbas’s speech was interrupted by applause on at least six occasions, underlining the broad support for his bid at the world body.
He added: “The time has come for our men, women and children to live normal lives, for them to be able to sleep without waiting for the worst the next day will bring.”
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the gathering that the Palestinians “want a state without peace, and the truth is you shouldn’t let that happen.”
Attention will now move to the U.N. Security Council, which will consider the Palestinian request before it goes to the full General Assembly. The Obama administration has pledged to veto the request at the Security Council, if necessary, but would much prefer not having to do so. The deployment of the veto would further inflame tensions between the United States and the Arab world.
At this point, it seems likely that the Security Council will take up the request sometime next week. Earlier this week, one reported compromise proposal would have had Abbas making the request but accepting that no action would be taken on it for as long as a year. Perhaps mindful of the possible negative reaction back home to such a perceived climbdown, Abbas instead pressed ahead.
It is expected, however, that there will be several weeks before an actual vote is held. A defeat on a majority vote in the 15-member Security Council would obviate the need for a U.S. veto, but such an outcome is very far from certain.
Reports today indicated that six of the members, including Russia and China, were confirmed supporters of the Palestinian bid. The positions of the two other major European powers on the Security Council with veto power, Great Britain and France, were unclear.
Even if the Security Council rejects the request, the Palestinians could still have their status elevated to that of a non-voting observer by a vote of the full General Assembly, where they enjoy overwhelming support.