The Palestinians’ failed proposal to formally establish a state and end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories by late 2017 through a vote in the United Nations Security Council on Dec. 30 continued to reflect the immense influence of the United States on the Palestinians’ ability to assert themselves through the world body.
The vote also revealed a new African shift toward Israel, as Nigeria’s abstention seemingly led to the resolution’s collapse among the Security Council’s 15 permanent and elected members.
As threatened if the resolution did not pass, Palestine, a day after the vote, took its first major step to join the International Criminal Court with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, preparing to sign and ratify the Rome Statute, the treaty governing the court, to be delivered in the next few days to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York by the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour. Mansour, in a phone call with PassBlue, said that Abbas has signed nearly 20 other international treaties as well.
The Palestinians’ goal is to ask the court to pursue investigations of war crimes committed against them by Israel, but the move could invite severe sanctions from Washington.
The Palestinians must wait at least 60 days before they can file cases at the court, or until the treaty enters into force on the first day of the month after the 60th day following date of the deposit. During that time, more negotiations could occur between the US and Israel with Palestine on its formal quest for statehood.
Fatou Bensouda, the court’s chief prosecutor, said in the past that if Palestine became a full member of the court, she would be obliged to also pursue investigation of possible atrocity cases committed by Palestinian factions against another country or entity. (Israel, on the other hand, has signed but not ratified the treaty to join the court.)
The US State Department said in a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the Palestinian action regarding the International Criminal Court. “It is an escalatory step that will not achieve any of the outcomes most Palestinians have long hoped to see for their people. Actions like this are not the answer.”
Only eight countries on the Security Council voted yes to the Palestinian resolution on Dec. 30: China, France and Russia (permanent members) as well as five elected members, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan and Luxembourg, thus quashing the resolution because it needed a majority of votes — nine — to succeed. Australia, an elected member and close Pacific ally of the US, voted no.
Five other members abstained — Britain, Lithuania, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Korea — with the expected no vote from the US, a permanent member, technically not a veto. The abstention from Nigeria, which until now has favored Palestine’s efforts to use the UN to become a bona fide nation, seemed to turn the tide.
An Israeli newspaper reported that besides the intense lobbying by the US to persuade elected members of the Security Council to ensure the Palestinian resolution’s failure, Israel itself apparently called the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, to nudge the country in the direction of Israeli and American interests.
The account in Ynetnews said that Israel and Nigeria have grown close in their mutual fight against terrorism and that Israel has sold weapons to the Nigerian government to use against the Boko Haram group that has besieged a large portion of the northeast of Nigeria and has kidnapped and killed hundreds of civilians, including more than 200 schoolgirls from Borno state last spring.
The Palestinian resolution, which went through several permutations since its first version was introduced in September, was bold: it called for within a year a “just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which it regards as a “sovereign and viable” Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. It called as well on the withdrawal of all Israeli defense forces from the occupied territories by 2017 and mandated that East Jerusalem become the official capital of Palestine and that a prisoner swap take place, among other arrangements.
The UN News Center reported that the resolution, if it had passed, would have made Palestine a full member of the UN within the 12-month time frame.
Yet the backing of the proposal, which was led by Jordan, the only Arab country on the Security Council, did not prove strong enough to counter America’s position. France had even floated a parallel draft resolution, with advice from Britain and Germany, but the US showed little interest in endorsing it.
Instead, it was reported that the US secretary of state, John Kerry, lobbied elected members of the Security Council recently, aiming not only for the resolution’s demise but also to avoid the US nixing the resolution more directly through a veto.
The strategy of the US, as declared by Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, was to promote peace between Israel and Palestine through negotiations rather than what it characterized as nonconstructive methods that did not address Israel’s security.
“The United States every day searches for new ways to take constructive steps to support the parties in making progress toward achieving a negotiated settlement,” Power said in a statement regarding the US vote. “The Security Council resolution put before us today is not one of those constructive steps; it would undermine efforts to get back to an atmosphere that makes it possible to achieve two states for two people.”
France, which is more independent in its votes on Palestine than its fellow permanent member Britain, said in its statement by François Delattre, its new ambassador at the UN, on the resolution: “France wanted to offer — in the form of a draft resolution — a constructive, reasonable and consensual alternative to the initial Palestinian draft, in order for the Security Council to become a positive actor in the conflict rather than the theater of protests, theoretical declarations and successive vetoes.”
Several European parliaments, including that of France, have adopted nonbinding motions calling for recognition of Palestine.
Speculation had prevailed since mid-December as to whether or when the Security Council would actually vote on a Palestinian resolution, with no commitments made publicly, until the sudden call by Jordan for a 5 p.m. meeting on Dec. 30 to cast votes. The Jordanians, allies of the US, had preferred to negotiate more on a text. Palestine could have waited until after Jan. 1, when the makeup of the elected members of the council could have potentially changed in the Palestinians’ favor, ushering in such allies (or anti-Israeli nations) as Malaysia and Venezuela and ushering out Australia and Rwanda, stalwart American friends.
The Ynetnews article suggested that the Palestinians forced the vote before the turnover in the council for various reasons, among them that the Palestinians actually showed their concern about the resolution’s alienating effect on the US, or that they failed to realize that Nigeria would abstain.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said on Dec. 30 that if the Arab-Palestinian resolution did not pass in the Security Council, “we will be forced to take the necessary political and legal decisions.”
That step was taken on New Year’s Eve, as Palestine announced its intentions to become the 123rd member of the International Criminal Court.
[This article was updated on Jan. 1, 2015.]
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.