Palestinians’ push for statehood will create waves

By Cliff Kupchan On Sept. 16 and again on Sept. 19, the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas stated that his government would apply to the U.N. Security Council for full membership at the UN this week, a move which will further stoke already significant strains. The United States will almost certainly veto the application, however, ...

By , the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media.
SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images
SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images
SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images

By Cliff Kupchan

On Sept. 16 and again on Sept. 19, the Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas stated that his government would apply to the U.N. Security Council for full membership at the UN this week, a move which will further stoke already significant strains. The United States will almost certainly veto the application, however, amplifying ill-will among all interested parties.

Security Council approval requires at least nine votes and no vetoes; some international diplomats believe there is a chance that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will fail to secure the nine "yes" votes, obviating a U.S. veto. In any case, a membership application to the Security Council takes time, ranging from weeks to months. This would provide an interlude for other diplomatic actions, including a shift of focus to the U.N. General Assembly and efforts to return to the peace process, though that outcome is not likely.

By Cliff Kupchan

On Sept. 16 and again on Sept. 19, the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas stated that his government would apply to the U.N. Security Council for full membership at the UN this week, a move which will further stoke already significant strains. The United States will almost certainly veto the application, however, amplifying ill-will among all interested parties.

Security Council approval requires at least nine votes and no vetoes; some international diplomats believe there is a chance that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will fail to secure the nine "yes" votes, obviating a U.S. veto. In any case, a membership application to the Security Council takes time, ranging from weeks to months. This would provide an interlude for other diplomatic actions, including a shift of focus to the U.N. General Assembly and efforts to return to the peace process, though that outcome is not likely.

Despite Abbas’ statements, there is still a small chance that the Palestinians will go straight to the General Assembly and avoid the provocative Security Council option. Significant debate is ongoing within the PA, with Abbas and his senior advisor Nabeel Shaath favoring the Security Council route. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad favors a less inflammatory path. At the General Assembly, the PA would apply for non-member state status. Most observers believe the PA would need a two-thirds majority to attain that status, which appears to be within easy reach. The weight of that majority would be enhanced by affirmative votes from France and, probably, Britain. Again, the United States would vote against the proposal.

The Palestinians are taking the U.N. path because the PA has given up on the peace process in its current form. A high-level Palestinian recently visited Washington, delivering the message that leverage between Israel and Palestine had to be equalized and that U.N. membership or de facto recognition (non-member state status) was the only peaceful option. The PA leadership appears genuinely committed to a two-state solution, and does not believe its gambit will lead the Israelis to abandon further negotiations.

The biggest, and most likely, risk is of Palestinian unrest and violence directed against Israel, though casualties will likely be limited. The mood among the population in the West Bank is a mix of apathy and anticipation over the U.N. vote. PA officials have stated that they will prevent any violent reaction, though celebratory marches have already been planned. The population is likely to be emboldened, angry at the United States, and frustrated by lack of actual change on the ground following the vote, a factor that will grow stronger over time.

The combustible mix will probably lead to actions, peaceful or otherwise, against Israeli soldiers or settlers. In any case, a Palestinian mobilization will probably push Israel into a defensive crouch that could lead to preemptive actions. Israeli forces would probably curb movement by Palestinians and enter refugee camps and cities, settlers may commit hostile acts, and the government could withhold tax remittances. Palestinian security forces will likely seek to curb unrest, but at the risk of the PA’s legitimacy. Fear of uncontrolled escalation on both sides will probably limit violence, but the West Bank could well remain unstable for a protracted period.

Any unrest would likely come in waves. Abbas is scheduled to address the United Nations and submit the Security Council application on Sept. 23, shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech; unrest could well occur on Friday. After that, disorder is most likely following Security Council or General Assembly action.

Cliff Kupchan is a director in Eurasia Group’s Middle East Practice

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer

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