At the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s “Extraordinary Islamic Summit” Wednesday in Istanbul, many leaders from Arab and Muslim-majority countries spoke out harshly about the US administration’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But, despite their bluster, the forecast calls for mostly calm conditions. Many of the threats they issued are rendered meaningless by the rules of the UN or the dynamics of Middle East diplomacy; others have no teeth to begin with.
The summit’s host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once again called Israel a “terror state,” denounced the US and issued a long list of pro-Palestinian statements. But he did not act on last week’s threat to sever ties with the Jewish state.
Another keynote speaker was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who threatened to abrogate all peace agreements since Oslo and yet again declared that he no longer considers the US an honest broker in the peace process.
His announcement that he would seek full membership for the “State of Palestine” at the United Nations made headlines worldwide. That plan is not new. He already went to the Security Council in 2011 — and failed.
Abbas has intermittently revived the idea since then, most recently during his speech at the General Assembly in September. “We look to the Security Council to approve our application for full membership of the State of Palestine to the United Nations. All those who support the two-state solution should recognize the other state, the State of Palestine,” he declared.
Given the American move last week, Abbas saw fit to respond Wednesday with ferocious rhetoric, including announcing the return to seeking full UN membership for Palestine.
Other speakers in Istanbul echoed his sentiment.
— Govt of Pakistan (@pid_gov) December 14, 2017
But anyone with the even the most rudimentary understanding of how the UN works knows it is an empty threat.
Before Palestine can become a full member of the club, it has to be nominated by the UN Security Council. Any Palestinian bid to join is sure to run headfirst into an American veto there. Barack Obama’s administration vetoed the Palestinians’ attempt in February 2011, and there can be no doubt that Donald Trump and Nikki Haley would do the same. (At the time, the 14 other Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by over 120 of the UN’s 192 members states.)
The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Wednesday night that the Palestinians intend to try to bar the US from voting on a resolution that would both condemn President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and simultaneously admit them as full members of the UN. They will reportedly argue that a country should be prevented from voting on a resolution that deals with its own behavior.
The last time this particular argument was successfully invoked at the Security Council was in 1960, when Argentina did not participate in a vote condemning Israel for abducting Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires, according to the paper.
But that was 57 years ago, and Argentina was a non-permanent member of the Security Council at the time. There is no credible scenario in which the US could be prevented from blocking a resolution accepting Palestine as a full UN member state.
The General Assembly can pass very comforting resolutions, which the Palestinians can word in any way they want. But that won’t change their status
The Americans, by contrast, cannot veto resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly, where the Palestinians are guaranteed a majority. “But I don’t think the General Assembly can give them any more than they already have,” said Yigal Palmor, a former spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
“The General Assembly can pass very comforting resolutions, which the Palestinians can word in any way they want. But that won’t change their status,” he said, referring to the fact that the body already bestowed “nonmember state status” upon Palestine in 2012.
Arguing that Washington is no longer “qualified” to mediate in the peace process, Abbas also demanded “to transfer the entire file of the conflict to the United Nations and to establish a new mechanism to adopt a new course to ensure the implementation of the resolutions of international legitimacy and achieving a comprehensive and just peace.”
It is unclear what exactly he was referring to, but once again: the UN has very little power to actually do anything without US consent. It can pass sharply worded resolutions in the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and elsewhere, but any concrete action with the potential to effect any concrete change would have to go through the Security Council, where the Trump administration is sure to veto anything it deems counterproductive.
In its “Final Communiqué,” the OIC summit declared the US administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital constituted a “clear desertion … of its role as peace broker.”
Citing the need to “internationalize peace,” the statement called on the international community to “promote a multilateral political process, to resume an internationally sponsored, credible process to achieve lasting peace based on the two-state solution.”
This demand, too, appears toothless. Yes, the Palestinians have decided to boycott US Vice President Mike Pence’s (now delayed) visit to the region. It’s a strong protest, but the powers that be in Washington won’t be too offended. They understand that after last week’s blow, the Palestinians cannot just sit still and say nothing.
Trump and his peace team are well aware that, for the time being, the Palestinians — and indeed the wider Islamic world — need to express outrage and indignation. But the Americans also believe that the Palestinians will eventually have to calm down and engage with the US — simply because there is no other game in town.
“The president remains as committed to peace as ever,” a senior White House official said Wednesday, responding to Abbas’s fiery speech earlier in the day. Washington “anticipated reactions like this,” the official added, insisting that the US will “continue to work on our plan for peace that we hope will offer the best outcome for both peoples and look forward to unveiling it when it is ready and the time is right.”
As long as the wound over Jerusalem is still fresh, no Islamic leader would admit the obvious: A peace process not led by the US is nothing but a pipe dream.
Even the European Union, which forcefully rejected the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, made plain this week that Washington will remain at the center of any conceivable peace process.
“I can say very clearly that there is no initiative, no peace initiative, no attempt to restart peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians that can happen without an engagement from the United States,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini declared on Monday, immediately after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brussels.
While she stressed that Washington cannot act alone, she added that Europe does “not want to see a discredited US administration when it comes to negotiations in the Middle East.”
France and Belgium reportedly plan to get the EU to issue a joint condemnation of Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, which would also express the hope that the city would become the joint capital of Israel and Palestine in the future. Given that such a resolution would require unanimous support from the union’s 28 member states — and Hungary already blocked such a move last week — chances of even this kind of statement passing are slim.
More important still is the fact that Israel will simply not agree to any peace process that is not under American tutelage.
The Palestinians can kick and shout and appeal to the Arab League and the United Nations, but if they want anything more than empty statements of support and comfort, they will have to engage constructively with the US administration.