This article is part of Impact’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict series, which continues until the UN Security Council Vote on Friday 11th November 2011.
The landmark vote to accept Palestine as a fully-fledged UNESCO member sparked jubilation from some quarters, a contrast to the solemn, somber-faced Israeli and American delegations who were left pondering their next move. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council members will vote on whether they will allow the Palestinian Authority to go to the UN General Assembly to ask if they could become a full member state of the UN.
The US and Israel believe a true peace settlement between Israel and Palestine can only be achieved through direct negotiations, not through the United Nations and as such the US is hoping that the Palestinians will fail to get the 9 votes needed from the 15 council members, so they will not have to use their veto.
It is feared that the expected American veto “will have profound negative consequences” as the superpower’s reputation will be significantly diminished within the Arab world. Although the Obama administration’s decision to halt payments to UNESCO, which account for up to 20% of the organization’s funding, may mean the damage has already been done. The move received intense criticism, with many already questioning Obama’s support for “a future Palestinian state”.
It remains to be seen whether Palestine will get 9 votes. The BBC states that they have secured 8 votes from South Africa, India, Brazil, Lebanon, China, Russia, Nigeria and Gabon, but other reports state that not all of these are definite.
France and the UK have said that they will abstain because they do not recognise Palestine as a state. Germany have said that although they approve of a Palestinian state and peace between Israel and Palestine, they, like the US, believe that direct negotiations are the only way and have therefore decided to vote against the bid. This may change in light of Israel’s plans to increase settlement building, a move that the UK, France and Germany have condemned as it hugely hinders negotiations.
This leaves Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Colombia. Bosnia-Herzegovina has three separate Presidents, one for each of the main ethnic groups. The President for the Muslim population, Bakir Izetbegovi? supports Palestine’s bid whereas the Serb President, Nebojsa Radmanovic, is firmly against it. The deciding vote comes from the current Croat President, Chairman Željko Komši, who has helpfully revealed, “The presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina does not have a single view about the issue”. Bosnia-Herzegovina is worried that a positive vote might spur Kosovo on in their efforts to gain full membership. Coupled with Israel’s promise to invest in the country, this makes Bosnia a likely no vote.
Colombia is also unlikely to vote for Palestinian statehood as they receive billions of dollars from America in the form of military aid. Colombia is also politically and militarily allied with Israel and has been the only member of the South American and Arab summits to refuse to recognise Palestine.
Finally, Portugal has argued that Palestine has the right to statehood but also that Israel “has the right to live in security”. This makes it quite difficult to decide which way they will vote.
Public opinion points in favour of Palestine as a recently conducted BBC Globescan survey found. 49% of people across nineteen surveyed countries indicated their support for a sovereign Palestinian state, with only 21% stating that their country’s government should oppose the acknowledgement of Palestine. Israel and Palestine were exempt from the survey; however citizens of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia all voiced their opinions.
Conversely global media reaction towards the vote has been more varied. The Palestinian press has reported Israel’s reaction to the historic vote in UNESCO as “evading the the peace process”, whilst the Americans have been labeled as “being scared” of the international community’s decision. An editorial in the Qatari publication Al-Rayah championed the Palestinian victory as not only “A great diplomatic victory for the Palestinians… but also to the world and Arabs in particular.”
Israel, however, has branded the vote a victory for “bigotry, hatred, and conflict”, with an editorial in The Jerusalem Post claiming that “UNESCO effectively endorsed the warped, hate-mongering Palestinian national narrative” and stating that the chance of peace occurring between the two sides is effectively “slimmer than ever”.
The vote is also alluding to the the internal problems within Palestine’s seemingly united stance. Hamas’ failure to support the diplomatic route to peace may yet scupper hopes of making the Americans and Israelis sweat. It is with baited breath that the world waits for the outcome of Friday’s vote, and for the world’s fascination with what seems unsolvable to be rekindled once more.
Sinead Waldron and Shane Higgins