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US holds deciding card on whether UN bid played with a winning hand: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-04-10 20:28

In what the Palestinian Authority ambassador to the United Nations called a "historic moment", the UN Security Council decided on Monday to review the PA's renewed application for full membership, and to make a formal decision this month.

This is indeed historic, considering that the PA's last, and first application, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted in 2011, didn't even make it to a vote. It may also be historic because international sympathy for the proposed "two-state solution" is reaching a historical high as Israel faces an increasing global backlash against its military operations in Gaza. With humanitarian concerns dominating global news headlines, even the United States, Israel's closest ally, has urged the Benjamin Netanyahu government to exercise restraint and repeatedly emphasized the importance of "two states" as the ultimate resolution to the Israel-Palestine issue.

But the extent to which the latest bid for membership proves to be historic remains to be seen. The degree of diplomatic breakthrough that enabled the PA's 2011 bid to result in Palestine gaining its present status as a nonmember observer state may be less forthcoming this time.

This is not because Palestine doesn't deserve the full membership it desires, or Palestinians don't deserve the kind of international recognition full UN membership would bring. They are entitled to a rightful place among nations, and to be treated as equals.

But a state can't become a UN member without the approval of both the UN Security Council and General Assembly. As per the UN Charter, the application needs to first be approved by the UNSC, and then get the support of two-thirds of member countries in the UNGA. According to its rules of procedure, the UNSC should decide whether the applicant is committed to peace and able and willing to carry out the obligations set in the UN Charter, and, accordingly, whether to recommend the applicant for membership. With about 140 of the 193 member countries recognizing Palestine as a state, the application is widely believed to stand a good chance in the UNGA. So its fate lies with the Security Council.

The presiding UNSC president's remarks on Monday about the referral receiving no objection doesn't mean that would continue to be the case going forward. For its long-standing, openly, repeatedly stated sympathy and support for the Palestinian people and the "two-state solution", there is little doubt about China endorsing full membership for Palestine. However, as has been obvious, especially since the onset of the Gaza conflict, the UN, its Security Council in particular, has become unprecedentedly divided over ongoing conflicts from Ukraine to Gaza.

Theoretically, Israel's vehement opposition to the UNSC considering awarding Palestine full UN membership won't suffice to derail a decision in the PA's favor, unless the US manifests it by using its power of veto.

UNSC approval requires at least nine votes in favor, with no vetoes. That the US didn't prevent the referral from being made in the first place and has repeatedly highlighted the two-state solution doesn't mean it will support the PA's bid for full membership. Washington's commitment to "two states" has always been conditional — it should follow a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The US' UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has said the US "position is a position that is known, it hasn't changed".

The US supporting immediate UN membership for the PA will thus betray not only its commitment to Israel as a close ally, but also its own set condition of a deal negotiated by Israel and Palestine. The latter seeming a remote possibility given the doubts Israel has expressed about both the PA's capacity for delivering peace as well as its corresponding commitment.

Given all this, the truly historic breakthrough that is widely hoped for could continue to prove elusive.

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