Crunch time at the UN for the future of Palestine

Jointly authored: Professor Marie Breen-Smyth and Professor Sir Mike Aaronson

As the vote whether to give formal recognition goes to the United Nations two experts in International Politics who have just returned from Palestine give their views.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will make a formal request to the United Nations for recognition of Palestine as the 194th UN member state when he addresses the UN General Assembly in New York on 23 September. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is travelling to New York to speak against the bid, which is opposed by the US. Abbas’ initiative has succeeded in turning the spotlight onto an otherwise dormant Israeli/Palestinian peace process, and has resulted in frenzied diplomatic activity and a burst of comment and analysis in the world’s media. Yet the outcome of his move is difficult to predict.

In the West Bank, from which we have just returned, the concerted effort by Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) to mobilise public opinion in support of the UN bid is visible on the streets. Flags bearing the logo “Palestine 194” flutter from PA police vehicles and are handed out free to members of the public. There is a modest trade in T-shirts, mugs, and other memorabilia. On the other side of the security wall, Israelis fear that the US veto in the Security Council of the Palestinian request will result in violence on the streets and a deterioration in the security situation, so an increase in vigilance seems likely. Yet in Ramallah, most Palestinians seem relatively unimpressed, interpreting Abbas’ initiative as an attempt to secure his political legacy before he steps down as President, rather than any significant move in the Israeli – Palestinian peace process.

Perhaps the move is more telling about Palestinian faith in US intent in the region. Palestinians are losing patience. It seems that President Obama cannot bring Israel to the negotiating table after all. Such loss of faith may mark the beginning of the end of US ability, such as it was, to move the peace process forward. In the wider context of the Arab revolutions, other nations in the region are prioritising their own domestic problems even if the cause of Palestine is ever present for them. Until now, Palestinians have been observers rather than participants in these revolutions. Perhaps we should all be asking if there is an alternative and more productive form of international intervention in the Palestinian situation which does not rely on waiting, as if for Godot, on a shift in US foreign policy.

Follow Marie and Mike on twitter: @mbreensmyth1 and @MikeAaronson