Last Monday, inquisitive Brandeis students attended an informal discussion panel on the Palestinian bid to the UN for membership status. The discussion featured Guive Mirfenderski, an international law expert and a lecturer in the Legal Studies program here in Brandeis University as well as two student panelists: Ashraf Hussein, a senior and a recipient of the Slifka scholarship for peace and coexistence, and Chen Arad, a freshman and a recipient of the Malkin scholarship.
The discussion kicked off with a brief explanation of the UN membership application process: a state submits an application to the Secretary General who then appoints a membership committee. The committee then has a timetable of 35 days to report back to the counsel for discussion and then a vote by the Security Council and the General Assembly. In the Palestinian (PA) case, the anticipated vote is expected for the third week in November. The panelists agreed that it is likely the PA has enough support to achieve the necessary super-majority, or two-thirds of the General Assembly. The Security Council, on the other hand, is expected to veto the PA bid, undoubtedly because the US opposes the bid and has been engaged in much political wrangling with the other SC members. Guive pointed out, however, that the GA can disregard the SC veto and admit the PA. If that happens, Guive believes a “power play” will occur in which power will shift from the SC to the GA and could result in a change of structure in the UN.
The discussion then turned the possible implications of Palestinian statehood; for Israel, US, and the PA itself. Guive first clarified that the PA’s application for membership status is but a mere first step in a long term process. He expects that despite the outcome, there won’t be any violence or another intifada. He explained that the PA has transitioned away from violence to diplomacy ever since Arafat’s death and the incumbent Mahmoud Abbas took over. Chen Arad, an Israeli, has concluded from his contacts in Israel that Israelis are indifferent to the decision and are not concerned about violence. However, Arad, who served in the Israeli Army, has sensed from his comrades and recent military reports that the reserves may be called up just in case. Israel is also worried that of the PA gets membership status, the PA will be able to bring charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court on Ashraf Hussein pointed out that the PA’s bid “de-Americanized” the peace process and is unique in that the US has normally played the 3rd party mediator between the PA and Israel.
One student asked if the democratic uprisings in the Arab states across the Middle East, known as the “Arab Spring,” has influenced the PA’s bid. Guive believes it has. The Arab Spring, has encouraged has incentivized Israel to make peace with the PA so the PA won’t be influenced or befriended by hostile and dictatorial regimes such as Syria or Iran. The Arab Spring has also influenced the PA in that peaceful protests can be more effective than violence. This could be seen last May when 1,000 Palestinian protesters converged on Israel from Jordan and Syria. The protest caught Israel completely off guard and baffled the IDF which was unaccustomed to handling peaceful protests.
Another student inquired, “what effect did the prisoner swap have on the bid?”. According to the panelists, Israel’s prisoner swap was negotiated with Hamas not Fatah. This is significant because Israel has buoyed Hamas at the expense of Fatah. This move was a retaliation against Fatah because it was Mahmoud Abbas (head of the PA on the Fatah ticket) that submitted the PA’s bid to the UN. Moreover, the fact that Israel was able to conduct successful negotiations with the Hamas wing of the PA rather than with Fatah enabled Israel to show Fatah as an ineffective government and Abbas as an ineffective leader. By portraying Fatah as weak, Israel was able to show that the PA is ineligible for statehood.
With the decision coming up in the next few weeks, it is imperative that we understand the course of events and reasons behind the PA bid to the UN in order to understand its ramifications. Discussions like these are essential in comprehending this monumental moment in history which can very well reshape the international relations in the Middle East and quite possibly the structure of the UN. But if you can’t attend the lectures, I highly recommend the daily news update by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace which has the latest news reports from the Middle East. Or to learn more, watch Shai Feldman, a Brandeis professor and director of the Crown Center for the Middle Eat Studies here at Brandeis, discuss the Palestinian Bid at Shai Feldman On the Palestinian UN Vote