Avoiding a US veto on a Palestinian state

So it’s official. The Palestinians are going to the U.N. Security Council next week to seek full membership of the United Nations for a Palestinian state.

They know they will face a U.S. veto and will have to take their case to the U.N. General Assembly, which cannot grant statehood. The 192-nation General Assembly would have to consider upgrading the Palestinians’ representation from an “entity” to a “non-member state” — a measure certain to be approved.

There are two disasters looming here. The first is for U.S. foreign policy, which supports a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. So a veto would be an illogical negation of that policy — unfortunately, something that happened once before in the U.N. Security Council last February. But the second is for the Palestinian people. How will their lot be improved? The fact is that it won’t, without negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas argues that recognition would mean that Palestine “would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, and not as a vanquished people."

Yet this decision by the Palestine Authority is heavy with international implications. It will provoke a new crisis in the Middle East, and probably a harsh backlash from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is already feeling the chill of isolation from Israel’s neighbors. It would throw up legal issues regarding the status of Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Palestinians’ right of return.

There is still time to avoid a debacle next Friday, when world leaders will be at the U.N. There is nothing like a deadline to focus minds, and U.S. and Quartet diplomats have been holding urgent talks in the region on a way out. The Palestinians say that they are prepared to envisage a “credible” alternative to the U.N. Security Council move. But it is hard to see whether a deal — whose outlines have been known for years — can be snatched under such pressure before the end of next week.

The key thing now is to avoid that U.S. veto. Prince Turki el-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, the former ambassador to the U.S., writing in The New York Times this week, said that a veto would have “profound negative consequences.”

“In addition to causing substantial damage to American-Saudi relations and provoking uproar among Muslims worldwide, the United States would further undermine its relations with the Muslim world, empower Iran and threaten regional stability. Let us hope that the United States chooses the path of justice and peace.”

More in International

Israel's historic election

Read more »