The determined efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to push for United Nations membership met with the stiffest resistance on Wednesday when U.S. President Barack Obama made it clear he will veto any resolution recommending UN membership to Palestine.
U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Obama urged Abbas to refrain from moving a membership resolution at the UN and said the U.S. will veto such a move if it found that all avenues for a compromise were closed.
We would have to oppose any action at the UN Security Council including, if necessary, vetoing, Rhodes said after Obama met with Abbas.
Reiterating the unflinching support for Israel, Obama had told the UN General Assembly that the formation of a Palestinian state could be possible only through talks with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the U.S. statement with glee, saying Obama deserved a badge of honor for refusing to support Palestine.
The biggest hurdle in Palestine's quest for UN membership is the stiff opposition of the United States. Even if two thirds of the UN members voted in favor of Palestine's bid, it would still require the approval of the 15-member Security Council. However, if the U.S. uses the veto power, this would never be possible.
Much as it is expected that the U.S. will not waver in its unconditional support to Israel, the unequivocal denial of Palestinians' aspirations for UN membership has raised criticism that President Obama has diluted his commitment to the Middle East peace-making process.
BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, wrote that Obama's UN speech was as much about the politics of his own re-election bid next year as it was about the politics of making peace.
Republican presidential frontrunners have often criticized Obama for his lenience toward Palestine, with some politicians saying that the U.S. financial aid to Palestine should be withdrawn if it goes ahead with the membership bid.
As long as the U.S. is against the membership move, Palestine's hopes will not be fulfilled. UN rules stipulate that a full membership application requires an approval by the Security Council and a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly.
According to Reuters, Egyptian Ambassador to the UN had said in May that as many as 112 countries recognized a sovereign Palestinian state and more were expected to do so in the days ahead. However if the U.S. applies the veto power, Palestine’s UN membership will remain a dream.
What Would Abbas Do?
Abbas fired up followers in Ramallah when he declared that he will fight to the last for getting the UN membership.We are going to the United Nations to attain full membership ... that we are not going to bring independence. Let's not exaggerate ... We will continue to negotiate, he said. We want a seat at the United Nations, and we don't want anything more, said Abbas, but insisted that Israeli occupation of disputed territories was illegal.
The strong opposition of the U.S. will scuttle his plans, but he will have advanced the Palestinian fight for nationhood significantly if he formally moved the UN for membership. Abbas is addressing the United Nations on Friday, after which he is expected to make a formal application, notwithstanding the opposition of the U.S.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to hit the middle ground when he said Palestine may be admitted as a non-member state. This would be an upgrade from the simple observer status that Palestine enjoys now. Observers say this will be a symbolic victory for Palestine and will give it a stronger hand in negotiations and litigations with Israel.
Hamas, Arab League
Abbas has also faced tough criticism at home over his move to apply for the UN membership. The Hamas movement, which controls Gaza, has blasted the plan saying that it would be cosmetic, especially when Mahmoud Abbas said his aim is to return to the negotiations with the occupation after all. Hamas has said Abbas should not go to the United Nations at all.
However, the Arab League has largely supported Abbas' plans. The Arab League's stated position is that Palestine should get full U.N. membership.