Palestinians lose statehood bid but gain momentum at UN

The UN Security Council vote Tuesday fell just shy of the nine needed for approval. The resolution targeted Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as well as a peace deal based on pre-1967 borders.

Bertil Ericson/AP
The Palestinian flag hangs over the Palestinian Authority's mission in central Stockholm in November. On Oct. 30, 2014, Sweden recognized Palestinian statehood. Frustrated by deadlock in the Middle East peace process, a growing number of European leaders and lawmakers are calling for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

Palestinians faced a setback Tuesday night when the UN Security Council rejected their motion to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and establish a Palestinian state by 2017. But in many ways momentum is still on their side.

Palestinians have scored important political support as they've moved to internationalize their fight for statehood away from US-brokered peace talks, especially in Europe.

The UN resolution, put forward by Jordan, sought a timeline for withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and to return to borders prior to the 1967 war. It included a peace deal within a year based on these moves.

The resolution narrowly missed the nine needed “yes” votes on the 15-member council yesterday. Eight countries voted "yes," including France and Luxembourg, while Australia and the United States, which called the resolution "deeply imbalanced," voted "no." There were five abstentions, including from Britain.

Palestinian officials are meeting today to plan their next steps, including possibly setting a date to apply to join the International Criminal Court, Palestinian officials told the Associated Press.  Such a move could pave the way to war crimes prosecutions against Israel, the Financial Times reported.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat criticized those who voted against their resolution. “Although the majority of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution, once again, certain countries continue to ensure impunity to the Israeli occupation and its severe international law violations by not voting in favor of the resolution,” he said. “We call upon the international community to assume its responsibility.”

Palestinian officials have increasingly relied on international pressure to press their case, and they've had some success. In 2012 they were accepted by the UN as a non-member observer state, thanks in part to support from European countries.

Sweden moved this fall to officially recognize a Palestinian state. That was followed by a flurry of legislative action, from France to the UK to Spain, which have all started leaning towards recognition. On Dec. 17, a European Union court reversed the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, while just hours later, the EU parliament voted to support “in principle the recognition of Palestinian statehood,” The Christian Science Monitor reported. 

The moves have brought stinging criticism from Israel, as well as many Jewish organizations, particularly in Europe, where protests this summer brought back worrying signs of anti-Semitism. But they reflect “a growing frustration with Israel,” the Monitor also reported last month.

While the US would have vetoed the measure even if it had won the nine needed votes, the US moved early to ensure it was rejected, as reported by the Washington Post:

Over the previous two days, Secretary of State John Kerry made a flurry of calls to 13 foreign ministers and leaders to express his concern that a resolution would only deepen the conflict, officials said."

"We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table," US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said.

Today the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, issued a statement saying that “the EU renews its call for both parties to resume negotiations urgently and to refrain from any action further undermining the viability of the two-state solution."

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