The Palestinian president announced Friday that he would seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the Security Council of the United Nations next week, a move strongly opposed by Israel and the United States and adding significant tension to one of the most intractable conflicts in the Middle East.
The announcement by the president, Mahmoud Abbas, in a televised speech delivered at his headquarters in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, confirmed a strategy that Palestinian officials have been moving toward for months as their frustration over stalled peace talks with Israel has intensified. American, Israeli and European diplomats have struggled to dissuade Mr. Abbas and his aides from taking such a step.
“We need to have full membership at the U.N.,” Mr. Abbas said in the speech, which was broadcast live on Al Jazeera and other outlets. “We need a state, a seat at the United Nations and nothing more.”
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He added: “We are going to the Security Council.”
The United States has said it would use its veto power at the Security Council to stop any Palestinian statehood bid, adhering to the American-Israeli view that the only way to achieve peace is through direct talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Each side maintains that the other presents the obstacles to negotiations.
A veto of the Palestinian bid for full membership would serve as another blow to American credibility in the Arab world, as the Obama administration tries to place itself on the side of protesters in Arab autocracies seeking freedom, justice and a notion of dignity. For many in the region, the plight of Palestinians, under more than four decades of occupation, encapsulates those ideals.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who toured the region this week, highlighted that sense of urgency among many in the Arab and Muslim world for the Palestinians to gain what they see as long overdue recognition. “Recognizing the Palestinian state is not an option, it is an obligation,” Mr. Erdogan said at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, the first stop on his tour. “It is time for the flag of Palestine to be hoisted at the United Nations.”
The very clarity of Mr. Erdogan’s comments seemed to contrast with an American policy toward the region that critics view as muddled, as the Obama administration supports uprisings in Libya and Syria but looks the other way at a crackdown by its ally Bahrain. A veto of Palestinian statehood would almost assuredly intensify perceptions of American double standards.
Mr. Abbas prefaced the news in his speech Friday with a history of what he described as Israeli injustices toward the Palestinians, who he called the only people in the world living under occupation. “This suffering should come to an end,” he said.
He also said the statehood application was not meant to isolate Israel but rather to emphasize what he called Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands since the 1967 war. He also said his criticism of Israel was not a challenge to Israel’s right to exist.
“Israel is there,” he said. “No one is going to take its legal status. It’s a recognized country.”
At the Arab League, which had strongly urged the Palestinians to take the less confrontational path of seeking limited statehood recognition via the General Assembly, an official said the group would now nonetheless stand firmly behind Mr. Abbas. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order not to upstage leaders of the league who were traveling to New York for the United Nations annual meetings.
A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry echoed the sentiment. “We are an Arab state,” the spokesman, Amr Roshdy, said. “We are fully supportive of the Palestinians rights, and Egypt will fully support the request for full membership in the United Nations.”
The swift response was the latest reminder of how the Egyptian revolution has already changed the dynamics of the region. Ousted President Hosni Mubarak, nominally a chief Arab sponsor of the Palestinian Authority, was a reliable ally of both the United States and Israel who could have been counted on to help hold back a messy confrontation at the Security Council. Since his exit, aspiring Egyptian politicians and the interim military rulers have all scrambled to bring Egyptian policy closer in-line with overwhelming public support for the Palestinians and anger at Israel.
Admission to the United Nations as a full member state requires a recommendation from the 15-member Security Council, with a majority of nine votes and no veto from the five permanent members. Then the submission goes to the General Assembly, which must pass it by a two-thirds vote among the 193 members.
The United States has already made it clear that its veto would insure that the membership application will not make it out of the Security Council. But as in other matters involving the United Nations bureaucracy, procedural and legal tools can delay the application for weeks or months along the way.
Any membership application starts with a letter to the Secretary General, who must determine that it is a serious, viable request before passing it along to the Security Council. Normally this would take a day or two, but the period of study could be stretched.
The Security Council committee could also sit on the request, by demanding more information from the Palestinians, for example, on why they meet the criterion of being a state.
In fact, the Palestinians are taking some risk by going the Security Council route because the debate over whether they constitute a state could erupt in full and might convince some United Nations members that they are not.
Finally, as a recent study from the International Crisis Group pointed out, the Security Council could pass a different resolution that neither accepts nor rejects the membership application but puts off the decision while urging all parties to return to negotiations.
In that event, some Palestinian officials have said they will apply for recognition by the General Assembly, but that would not carry the weight of full membership status, as Security Council approval would.