Palestinian hopes for statehood fade with US veto at UN Security Council

Palestinian hopes for statehood fade with US veto at UN Security Council
If the vote had passed it would have paved the way for Palestinian UN member status, bringing the occupied territory a step closer to independence.
4 min read
20 April, 2024
America used its veto to block the UN Security Council motion claiming that the vote did not represent the best way forward for peace negotiations [GETTY]

Hopes of greater international recognition towards Palestinian statehood were dashed again this week after the United States vetoed a Security Council measure on full UN membership for Palestine.

The US was the only Security Council member to veto the motion, which saw twelve countries vote in favour of a draft resolution recommending Palestinian membership, with the United Kingdom and Switzerland abstaining.

The vote came in the seventh month of Israel's brutal war on Gaza, which has thrust the Palestine issue into the geopolitical spotlight, while fears of the war spilling over into the wider region have seen allies scrambling to defuse rising tensions.

Palestine, which holds a 'permanent observer state' position at the UN, submitted a request to the Secretary-General on 2 April to reconsider a 2011 request for UN member status.

The United States had indicated prior to Thursday's meeting that it would not support the motion, and its decision has once again placed the chance of Palestinian sovereignty out of reach.

The move was blasted by member states, including Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described it as "blatant aggression…which pushes the region ever further to the edge of the abyss".

While a positive vote from the Council would not have guaranteed member status for Palestine, its passing would have laid the foundations for the General Assembly to hold a vote on UN membership for Palestine, with all 193 member states then participating.

Over 140 members already recognise the state of Palestine unilaterally.

After Thursday's vote, observers called out the hypocrisy of America's veto, noting that it seemed to contradict its own policy of supporting a two-state solution.

US Deputy Permanent Representative Robert Wood said that the veto did not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood but "instead is an acknowledgement that it will only come from direct negotiations between the parties".

Wood cited longstanding issues such as the Palestinian Authority's need for reforms and the control of Gaza by Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist group, as barriers to the "attributes" required for statehood.

However, observers have expressed that even if the vote had passed, it would have done little to change the reality on the ground.

Senior Palestine Analyst at the International Crisis Group, Tahani Mustafa, told The New Arab that America's move was not inconsistent with its policy towards the Palestinians.

"Even when the US does speak of Palestinian statehood, that’s not sovereignty and self-determination they’re offering," she said.

"They’re offering autonomy, which is very much in keeping with the Israeli vision of peace".

Tahani said that Washington leverages the Palestinian Authority's dependence on the US for aid as a tool to prevent Palestinians from accessing international institutions as mechanisms of redress.

With no peace talks on the horizon and the ramifications of the 1990s Oslo Accords, which saw the US broker a deal between then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, fading deeper into history, hopes for Palestinian sovereignty seem further away than ever.

However, the scale of horrors being inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza by Israel has put Palestine back on the map. As Tahani noted, it has made "the entire world recognise all the fallacies around Israel's narrative".

The past six months have seen waves of support for Palestine on a global scale not witnessed before. 

Politically, European states such as Spain, Slovenia and Ireland are uniting in support of Palestinian statehood, while on a societal level, barely a day passes without a solidarity demonstration around the world.

Yet, despite these movements, Western diplomats continue to approach the Palestine-Israel issue with the same worn-out policies of past decades.

Tahani said that the significance of 7 October attack on Israel and the Gaza war means there must be a change in approach towards Palestinian independence and negotiations.

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One of the key sticking points is for Israel and its allies to recognise Palestinian political rights and their right to self-determination on an equal footing with Israel. Until this is addressed, Israel can continue to repress Palestinians into one state, as it is currently doing, according to Tahani.

"You can't go back to the way things were. But you certainly cannot be moving forward in the way that the international community wants to be moving forward, which is to basically rehash and recycle the same discourses and policies," she said.

"Palestinians want real recognition. And they want real self-determination, not these half-hearted, rhetorical statements".