Palestine on the U.N.’s Blue-Brick Road
By Kate Gould on 09/28/2011 @ 04:40 PM
Today, the President of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referred Palestine’s application to become a U.N. Member State to the committee that deals with the admission of new members, which includes all 15 members of the UNSC.
Though the bid for full membership is widely expected to be symbolic in the face of a promised U.S. veto in the UNSC, each stage in the process could have enormous political consequences. The Palestinian leadership has signaled that if they aren’t able to achieve full membership, they could press for non-member status as an observer state, like the Vatican.
Below, I outline the various steps for U.N. consideration of the Palestinian proposal, including options that the Palestinian leadership has to achieve their objective for statehood recognition. For visual learners, I recommend checking out a helpful graphic the New York Times published on "Steps in the Palestinian Bid for Membership".
Next Steps at U.N. Likely to Take Weeks
The UNSC committee that deals with new membership applications is slated to hold its first session considering Palestine’s application for Statehood on Friday, September 30th. A decision on whether or not to refer the matter to the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) is expected to take weeks, or even longer. Normally the review process takes 35 days, but this limit is likely to be waived. If the Committee does not reach consensus on how to proceed, one envoy suggested it might pass back to the full Council.
Any recommendations for admission to the U.N. must receive nine of the Council’s 15 members and no vetoes from the five permanent UNSC members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While the Obama administration has already vowed to oppose the application, which would ensure its failure, it is not certain whether Palestine has the votes from nine other members of the UNSC. The U.S. and Israel are intensively lobbying UNSC members to also oppose Palestine’s membership application, to avoid the prospect of a lone U.S. veto.
Six Votes Down, Three to Go: China, Russia, Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa have announced they would approve the Palestinian request at the UNSC.
Three Swing UNSC Votes: Gabon, Nigeria, Bosnia have been identified by the Palestinian leadership as “swing states”.
If the UNSC recommends admission, the recommendation is presented to the 193-member Assembly, where a two-thirds majority of members present and voting (129 member states) is necessary for the admission of a new state.
If the UNSC approves, then the recommendation for admission will go to the UNGA, where 2/3rds of its members (129 countries) must approve the resolution for Palestine to be admitted as a member state. If the UNSC rejects the application, then it must submit a report to the UNGA. The UNGA can refer the application back to the UNSC again.
Statehood Recognition without UNSC approval
Whether the UNSC rejects or delays addressing Palestine’s bid for U.N. membership, there are two options the Palestinians have to still achieve some form of statehood recognition at the U.N.:
Option 1) Seek Non-Member Observer State Status
Obtaining non-membership observer state status would only require a simple majority in the UNGA. This would change the status of Palestinian U.N. representation from “observer entity” to an “observer state”, like the Vatican.
Option 2) Invoke “Uniting for Peace” Method to Obtain Member State Status
Though it appears unlikely, Palestinians could attempt to invoke Resolution 377, known as Uniting for Peace, a U.N. mechanism adopted in 1950 during the Korean War to circumvent the Soviet Union’s blocking action on South Korea.
The resolution allows for a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly to override the Security Council -- and its veto-wielding members -- when the 15-member decision-making body “fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.”
While the resolution was adopted with strong U.S. support, it is often seen as a valuable mechanism to address the power imbalance represented by the veto power of the five permanent members on UNSC. However, no state has ever been admitted to the U.N. through “Uniting for Peace”, so it seems unlikely the Palestinians would choose this path.