US set to dash Palestine’s great expectations

As President Abbas prepares to bid for full UN membership for Palestine, the move is being strongly opposed by Israel and the US, who claim it would undermine chances of a return to peace talks.

­If global politics were a sport, the United Nations would be the grand arena, and September would be opening season. Nearly 200 of the world’s most powerful and not-so-powerful players descend on New York City, gathering in one room for a week’s worth of speeches and a chance to grandstand on the international stage.

Nearly 10,000 delegates and 2,000 journalists are in town for the General Assembly debate. But in reality, there are only five countries who really matter: Russia, China, France, the USA and Britain – the permanent Security Council members with veto power.

“The real power in the United Nations resides in the Security Council and it requires a consensus among the five permanent members. And as long as one or more permanent members won’t go along with something, the UN’s ability to act is limited,” Hussein Ibish from the American Task Force on Palestine told RT.

No resolutions can succeed if opposed by any of the big five. Case in point – the current Palestinian campaign for UN membership and statehood, an initiative the US publicly supported last year.

"When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel," stated president Obama in 2010.

But this year it is the opposite, with Washington saying it will veto Palestinian membership of the UN, and warning of additional collateral damage.

"One of the things that I hope the Palestinian leadership is considering is the day after. What will happen when after whatever show we have in the United Nations is done, what will change in the real world for the Palestinian people. The answer is nothing, sadly,” said US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice.

David Shorr, an analyst with the Iowa-based Stanley Foundation, which focuses on multilateral diplomacy, says the US is having a hard time maneuvering between its desire to make friends in the Arab world and its unwavering support for Israel.

“Try as they might – and they have been trying to bridge some of these differences –it does not look like [the US] is going to be able to head off the vote,” he told RT.  “Palestinians have come to see the peace process really as a trap, that’s what they are trying to get out of. Real statehood and a two-state solution can only be reached through the peace process, but Palestinians have real doubts about whether this process is leading anywhere and whether the Israeli side is sincere in trying to reach an agreement.”

­Ironically, the majority of the General Assembly supports Palestinian UN membership. The assembly alone, with two-thirds majority, can award nonmember observer status to the Palestinians, like the Vatican enjoys. And it does not need Security Council approval to do so. So no-one can veto this decision.

Some believe, however, the UN is the wrong forum for resolving major international disputes.

“It is a very dysfunctional situation and actually the UN really is not the venue for this,” maintains City Press journalist Matthew Lee. “The UN only gets the hype aspects of these fights and deals with them pretty badly. The Israeli- Palestinian problem at the UN is mostly theater, and this is just one particularly freakish example of it,” says Lee.

This global gathering attracts the security, crowds, and media madness of a sports championship. But when it comes to practical outcomes, scoring more than a symbolic victory could be unlikely.

“Even if there is a permanent member or two or three who believe that Palestine should not be a member of the UN, they want it on record that the vast majority of the world do believe it’s time,” Doug Hostetter, a co-chair of the NGO Working Group On Israel and Palestine, told RT.

The annual UN gathering always delivers highlights, headlines, bells and whistles. Many wonder if this superbowl of diplomatic strategy leads to anything more than the event itself.