By: Quinn Daly
On Friday September 23, 2011, Palestine applied to the United Nations to become the world’s newest state, much to the chagrin of the United States. This move by Palestine will add an entirely new dimension to the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict, which has taken place for generations of peoples on both sides of the conflict. While the vote is yet to take place, both Palestine and Israel have begun to lobby the UN Security Council members in order to sway them toward their respective sides in the debate.
Currently the Security Council consists of the five permanent members: the USA, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. There are another ten rotating members consisting of Germany, India, Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria, Gabon, Colombia, Brazil, Portugal, and South Africa. These countries will decide the future of the statehood debate. The most interesting dynamic is how these states will vote. There are a range of concerns that will likely unfold in the upcoming days that will influence a country to vote a certain way. For instance, Colombia is likely to abstain as a result of closer ties through arms sales with Israel, while many experts believe Bosnia and Herzegovina will vote in favor of Palestine due to its large Palestinian refugee community. Each country will have a set of concerns beyond their approval or disapproval of a Palestinian state. These concerns will dominate the debate within the both the rotating and permanent member countries.
The American vote, positive or negative, will prove vital for its legitimacy within the region. This issue has defined American policy toward the Middle East over the past hundred years, and this vote could forever change this dynamic. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have openly stated a pro-Israeli vote would damage relations. Middle Eastern states have supported a Palestinian state, while many Western countries believe statehood will not resolve the conflict. Germany has argued that peace talks are necessary prior to a bid for statehood. Adding to Obama’s diplomatic issues abroad, this issue could play a huge role in domestic affairs. America’s Jewish population has traditionally voted for the Democratic Party, yet a vote for Palestine would likely alienate an important voting bloc. Many attribute the Democrats loss of the 9th Congressional district to the perceived anti-Israeli policies of the Obama administration.
An American stance that allows for eventual statehood is the best option for US policymakers. The United States needs to increase its legitimacy in the Arab world in order to gain support from newly formed governments in the post- Arab spring landscape. Bringing new governments closer to the United States keeps them away from Russian and Chinese political and economic influence. This is especially important in a region with eroding support for American initiatives. Many Arabs have viewed recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unfavorably. This forces governments into the hands of the Russian or Chinese. Friendlier relations offer the United States more to gain than ignoring Arab concerns. While outright statehood may not be the best option, Obama must seek peace talks with the eventual goal of a Palestinian state. The trick will be to find a solution that benefits both Israel and Palestine.