The General Assembly vote: a turning point in the Palestinian issue?

The General Assembly vote: a turning point in the Palestinian issue?

September is a critical month for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the U.N. General Assembly convenes in mid-September for its annual meeting, the Palestinians will ask the assembly to vote on a resolution to recognize Palestinian statehood.

The Palestinian leadership has already given up on peace negotiations and last May reconciled with Hamas. The reconciliation came in the context of the Arab uprisings and was forced upon the leadership by demonstrating Palestinian youth. After the reconciliation came, the decision was made to pursue an alternative path to the recognition of its statehood at the United Nations.

In the past the Palestinians had tried the option of unilateral statehood. The most recent attempt was by the late Yasser Arafat after the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000. At that time Arafat travelled to several capitals, including Ankara, to seek support for such a declaration. That attempt failed when most of these countries advised Arafat to continue with the peace negotiations rather than pursue a unilateral path.

This time the context is very different. There is really very little hope for negotiations. The Arab uprisings have also created a new atmosphere more amenable for the Palestinians. A transformation of the policy of a key Arab actor, Egypt, is very critical. The transition government in Egypt has already called upon the United States to support Palestinian independence. Although the uprisings in the Arab world have not directly addressed the Palestinian issue, it is clear that popular empowerment will force governments in the Arab world to be more sensitive toward developments in the Palestinian issue, as in Egypt. Anyone familiar with Arab politics would know how deep the support is for the Palestinians at the public level.

There have already been declarations of support from different countries around the world. Turkey has also expressed support for the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. The critical issue here is what the EU countries and the U.S. will do. In a press conference Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative, referred to a report and said the Palestinian Authority had made significant progress and that Palestinian institutions now compared favorably with those in the West. In recent months there have been several other reports published by international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the U.N. that have studied the police force, municipal services and schools, and they say they believe the Palestinians are nearly ready to run their own state.

Even then it would be difficult for the EU to find a common position on this issue. Nevertheless some EU countries could be more supportive. The Barack Obama administration, on the other hand, would be less likely to support such a resolution due to the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. The fact that the Obama administration is already coming to the end of its first term further complicates the situation.

Palestinian officials haven’t announced the wording of the resolution, but they have publicly hinted that they will call for recognition of the 1967 borders. If the resolution proceeds to a vote and passes, the result may not change everything on the ground immediately. As the Palestinian officials also recognized, it would not necessarily mean peace. But especially depending on the support it gets, the resolution may mean the further isolation of Israel.