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The U.N. Vote on Palestine Was a Rehearsal
An influx of new Security Council members means a likely ‘yes’ vote—and a veto dilemma for Obama.
By JOHN BOLTON
Wall Street Journal
Jan. 2, 2015
Long-standing Palestinian efforts to use the United Nations to achieve internationally recognized statehood status nearly succeeded early Wednesday. Just after midnight, the Security Council narrowly rejected a Jordanian draft resolution fixing a one-year deadline for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, requiring Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines, and declaring Jerusalem the capital of “Palestine.”
Because the U.N. Charter requires nine affirmative votes from among the Security Council’s 15 members (assuming no vetoes) to pass a resolution, Jordan’s proposal failed—by one vote. There were eight in favor, two against, and five abstentions. Nonetheless, a pro-Palestinian, U.N. Charter-compliant majority may soon exist.
And absent more-effective U.S. diplomacy, the Obama administration could soon face making a choice that it would dearly like to avoid: whether to veto a biased, anti-Israel resolution. The Palestinian Authority has already significantly upped the ante by moving, later on Wednesday, to join the treaty creating the International Criminal Court.
A firmer U.S. strategy might have prevented the dilemma from arising. The White House’s opening diplomatic error was in sending strong signals to the media and U.S. allies that Mr. Obama, wary of offending Arab countries, was reluctant to veto any resolution favoring a Palestinian State. Secretary of State John Kerry took pains not to offer a view of the resolution before it was taken up. Such equivocation was a mistake because even this administration asserts that a permanent resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict requires direct negotiations and agreements among the parties themselves.
No draft resolution contrary to these precepts should be acceptable to the U.S or worth wasting time on in the diplomatic pursuit of a more moderate version. This American view, advocated for years and backed by resolute threats to veto anything that contradicted it, has previously dissuaded the Palestinians from blue-smoke-and-mirror projects in the Security Council.
It is precisely the Obama administration’s audible heart palpitations about negative Arab reactions to a possible U.S. veto that encouraged the Palestinian Authority and its supporters to plunge ahead. Mr. Obama neither prevented the resolution from going forward nor prevailed decisively enough to discourage the Palestinians from trying again within months or even weeks.
Several factors support a swift Palestinian reprise. First, they obtained a majority of the Security Council’s votes, even if not the required supermajority of nine. In today’s U.N., the eight affirmative votes constitute a moral victory that virtually demand vindication, and sooner rather than later.
Second, the text of Jordan’s resolution was wildly unbalanced even by U.N. standards—for example, it demands a solution that, “brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967,” and calls for “security arrangements, including through a third-party presence, that guarantee and respect the sovereignty of a State of Palestine.” A few meaningless tweaks here and there, and several countries that abstained could switch to “yes.” Third, on Jan. 1 five of the Security Council’s 10 nonpermanent members stepped down (their two-year terms ended), replaced by five new members more likely to support the Palestinian effort.
Consider how Wednesday’s vote broke down, and what the future may hold. Three of the Security Council’s five permanent members (France, China and Russia) supported Jordan’s draft. France’s stance is particularly irksome, since it provides cover for other Europeans to vote “yes.” The U.K. timidly abstained, proving that David Cameron is no Margaret Thatcher ; the abstention signals that a more “moderately” worded resolution might be enough to flip London to a “yes.”
Washington cast the only permanent member’s “no” vote, which is characterized as a veto only when nine or more Security Council members vote in a draft resolution’s favor. Will President Obama now have the stomach to cast a real veto against a U.N. Charter majority backing the Palestinians? Is this the point where the “liberated” Mr. Obama allows a harsh anti-Israel resolution to pass? Happy New Year, Jerusalem.
Among the nonpermanent members, the prospects are grim. Three “yes” votes came from Jordan, Chad and Chile, which all remain Security Council members in 2015. Two additional supporters, Argentina and Luxembourg, have been replaced, respectively, by Venezuela (no suspense there) and Spain. Spain narrowly won election in October, defeating Turkey after three ballots. Madrid might be expected to support Washington, but not necessarily, given recent EU hostility to Israel and the appeasers’ argument to soothe wounded Muslim feelings about Turkey’s loss by backing the Palestinians.
Only Australia joined the U.S. in voting “no.” Its successor, New Zealand, would either have abstained or voted affirmatively, according to Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
South Korea abstained, but its replacement, Malaysia, is a certain affirmative vote. Angola, taking Rwanda’s seat, is an abstention at best. While abstainers Lithuania and Nigeria remain, Nigeria’s Boko Haram problem could easily move it to “yes” as an olive branch to the Muslim world. And Lithuania, as a new member of the euro currency union, could well succumb to arguments for EU solidarity, especially if Britain also surrenders.
Finding nine affirmative votes, and likely even more, looks decidedly easy. The Obama administration can only prevent what it dreads by openly embracing a veto strategy, hoping thereby to dissuade pro-Palestinian states from directly confronting the U.S.
And if that fails, the veto should be cast firmly and resolutely, as we normally advocate our principles, not apologetically. As so often before on Middle Eastern issues, a veto would neither surprise nor offend most Arab governments. If the administration had courage enough to make clear that a veto was inevitable, it would minimize whatever collateral damage might ensue in Arab lands. But don’t hold your breath.
Mr. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
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