Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Palestinians seeking membership in the United Nations won’t be able to count on the newly elected Security Council members to better their chances.
When the 193-country General Assembly today picks five countries to replace a third of the 15-member body on Jan. 1, support for the Palestinians will drop by one as Guatamala, running unopposed, succeeds Brazil in the Latin American seat.
“This election won’t help the Palestinian cause,” said Jeff Laurenti, a UN analyst at Century Foundation. “Guatemala will be in favor of everything Palestinian until the Americans tell them otherwise. They can be persuaded to abstain.”
That unfavorable outlook means the Palestinians might as well push for a vote on membership as soon as Nov. 11, when the council meets to discuss the final report put together by experts on the viability of the Palestinian application.
A council member, probably Lebanon as the only Arab country represented, can call for a vote within 24 hours at any time.
The Palestinians have said at least eight council members - - Russia, China, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Lebanon and India -- will vote “Yes.” Nine votes are needed for membership.
Even if the Palestinians muster enough votes, they can at best hope for a moral victory because the U.S., as Israel’s closest ally, has said it will use its veto.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, applauded in the General Assembly when he presented his statehood bid on Sept. 23, has let the application languish in an admissions committee as he mulls the next step at the UN after a monthlong reprieve.
Adding to the pressure to act is a deadline set by Quartet mediators to renew negotiations. That elapses next week just as a prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas has increased the popularity of the rival group, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and Israel. Abbas’s Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad said this week the time is “not ripe” for talks to resume.
David Makovsky, head of the Middle East peace project at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Abbas has miscalculated the direction of the Security Council countries and his bid to get their approval is losing momentum.
Quest for Recognition
In efforts to ensure the quest for recognition doesn’t run out of steam, the Palestinians have pursued other options, including full membership in the UN agency that promotes education, culture and science. The 193 members of Unesco meet on Oct. 25 to vote on the motion, which must be approved with a two-thirds majority.
The Palestinians might also circumvent the council and try to upgrade their status at the UN to “non-member state” from “entity” in the UN General Assembly, where they enjoy the two- thirds majority needed and where the U.S. has no veto.
In the U.S., Palestinian overtures have met with threats from Republicans to stop funding the world body and interrupt Palestinian aid. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is seeking to be the Republican candidate facing Democrat Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, said the Palestinian membership bid is a “travesty.”
UN Funding Questioned
“I think it’s time not only to have that entire debate about all of our foreign aid, but in particular, the UN,” said Perry. “Why are we funding that organization?”
American interests are unlikely to be advanced in a new Security Council that in a worst-case scenario for the U.S. could see Mauritania, Pakistan and Azerbaijan triumph over allies such as Morocco, Slovenia and Hungary.
“The U.S. will be looking warily at some of the candidates,” said Laurenti. “Pakistan, while a front runner, is very nervous Americans might have put up a stealth campaign against their coming in.”
American relations with Muslim Pakistan, which has served six times on the Security Council, have soured since the May raid in which U.S. SEALs killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The relationship deteriorated further after Pakistan’s main spy agency was suspected of involvement in the Sept. 20 killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leading Afghan envoy seeking peace talks with Taliban insurgents.
As the second biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping after Bangladesh, Pakistan’s candidacy carries heft at the world body and it has mounted an election campaign. Still, nuclear-armed Pakistan’s opposition to the start of talks on a treaty to ban production of fissile material for nuclear weapons has created frustration among voting UN members.
Kyrgyzstan, competing against Pakistan to replace Lebanon, has said it’s open to extending U.S. military access to an air base that supports NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.
If elected, Pakistan will join archrival India, also a nuclear power. The neighboring countries, created by the partition of British India in 1947, have gone to war three times over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The last time they served together in the council was 1977.
Mauritania, Morocco and Togo are vying for the two African seats. Mauritania has the backing of the African Union while Morocco is supported by France, a former colonial power. Togo, where most of the population is Christian, could get the upper hand to avoid two African Muslim countries in the council.
Azerbaijan, Hungary and Slovenia are seeking to replace Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The election of Azerbaijan, the only Muslim applicant for the Eastern European seat, would be a long-shot and would be a pickup for the Palestinians that could offset the loss of Brazil, according to Laurenti.
Given that the votes are cast in a secret ballot, surprising winners can emerge and it can also take several rounds of voting to secure the necessary two-thirds majority.
In 2006, Guatemala and Venezuela slugged it out for 46 rounds before they both backed out and Panama was chosen as a compromise. Guatemala’s willingness to withdraw from the race then meant it was implicitly guaranteed a spot this time.
--Editors: Ann Hughey, Steven Komarow
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