On December 30, 2014, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution sponsored by Jordan on behalf of Palestine on the question of Palestinian statehood. Since it did not get nine positive votes, the resolution was not adopted. The negative vote by the US did not amount to a veto since the resolution fell short of the required majority by one. The Jordanian draft stressed the need to attain a just and lasting solution within 12 months of the adoption of the resolution and, inter alia, called for the full withdrawal of Israeli occupation by the end of 2017, and the establishment of the state of Palestine on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, with agreed and equitable land swaps.
After the failure of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to reach a solution within nine months in 2013-14, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was under pressure from his people. President Abbas declared in his speech to the UN General Assembly that he would ask the Security Council to approve Palestine’s membership of the UN. This was done by Jordan, the Arab member of the Council, on behalf of Palestine and the Arab group. France, whose parliament voted overwhelmingly to ask the government to recognise Palestine, joined in the initiative and produced a draft of its own.
The French text talked of intensified efforts to attain a two-state solution expeditiously and Israeli withdrawal to be completed by November 2016. It did not contain the deadline of 12 months for the Palestinian state and was acceptable to the UK and Germany. Following consultations lasting several weeks, Jordan came up with a draft of its own, which incorporated many of the points in the French text and circulated it “in blue”, that is, as an official document of the council, on December 17. That draft would express appreciation for American efforts to solve the problem, affirm the need to attain a just solution within 24 months and declare the boundaries of the Palestinian state as on June 4, 1967.
The Arab group continued to discuss the matter among themselves. The final text emerged on December 29 and was voted on the following day. The draft was strengthened in full awareness that the US would veto it. The intention was to embarrass the Americans, but the US managed to put enough pressure on some members to abstain, ensuring that the draft would not receive nine positive votes. A veto would have further inflamed anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world, including in countries such as Pakistan and even India.
Why did Jordan and the Arabs/ Palestine not wait for two more days — until January 1, 2015 — for the vote? If they had, the result of the vote would have been different because the composition of the council would have changed for the better for Palestine. Five new countries have come in — Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela — and a minimum of nine votes was guaranteed. The US would have had to exercise its veto. The explanation lies in the desire of the present Palestinian leadership, as well as Jordan, closely allied to the US, not to alienate the Americans. Abbas, too, does not want to lose American goodwill. As they say, all international politics in the final analysis is domestic politics.
Following the vote, Abbas signed the application to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). The implicit threat is that Palestine, once it is admitted to the ICC, will ask the court to investigate war crimes committed by Israel during the past few years.
The reality is, like donor fatigue, there is “Palestine fatigue”. For many years before the Arab Spring, the Palestine issue was a pawn in the Arab chessboard. When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an extremist Jew and Yasser Arafat died in suspicious circumstances, the Palestinians, realistically speaking, lost the chance of achieving a state of their own. Arafat was the only one with authority who could have offered meaningful concessions and carried the people with him. On the Israeli side, Rabin, with his distinguished military record and “iron-fist” policy for many years, could have offered compromises that the Israeli people would have accepted. The Palestinians are unlikely to realise their just aspirations through negotiations because they do not have a negotiating partner on the Israeli side.
The Palestinian people, certainly in the West Bank, do not have the stomach for another intifada. The 1987 intifada, which was a spontaneous movement, brought them the Oslo accords, thus disproving the widely accepted theory that violence does not pay. Hamas’ rocket and missile activism only brings more support for Israel, though the latter’s disproportionate response negates this advantage. The elements of a solution have existed for a long time: two states, no right of return of refugees except for a limited number as a symbolic gesture, East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, etc. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have a leadership capable of offering or agreeing to such compromises. Hence, the Palestinian issue will not be solved for a very long time, if ever.
The writer, India’s former permanent representative at the UN, is adjunct senior fellow, Delhi Policy Group