Palestinians Formally Request UN Membership

United Nations – Resisting American pressure, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority formally requested full United Nations membership on Friday as a path toward statehood, rejecting arguments by the United States and Israel that it was not a substitute for direct negotiations for peace in the Middle East.

Mr. Abbas handed a letter requesting the membership to Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General, before delivering his speech at the annual General Assembly. Mr. Ban was submitting the request to the Security Council.

Speaking to Palestinian Americans who came to his hotel Thursday night, Mr. Abbas said the United States had aggressively sought to deter him from the move but that he had insisted on proceeding.

“There are small countries in the world that have gained their freedom and independence but we still haven’t got ours,” Mr. Abbas told his guests. “So we are going to demand this right.”

The request for Palestinian statehood on land occupied by Israel has become the dominant issue at this year’s General Assembly, refocusing global attention on one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.

The Security Council will likely take up the issue in earnest next week, diplomats said, when the question becomes whether the United States and its allies can stall it. Washington is also working to prevent the Palestinians from gathering the nine votes needed for it to pass in the full council and thus avoid further wrecking the image of the United States in the Middle East by casting yet another veto against something Arabs want.

The final vote is not expected to take place for more than a month.

Among the 15 members, some are expected to stay solidly in the Palestinian camp including Russia, China, Lebanon, South Africa, India and Brazil. The United States is a solid vote against, and the five European members—Britain, France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Portugal and Germany—are all question marks. The positions of Colombia, Nigeria and Gabon are also not entirely clear.

The African Union supports membership, but it is not entirely clear if Gabon and Nigeria will go along. President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria did not mention the issue in his speech to the General Assembly, unlike many leaders from the developing world who support Palestine, and the statement by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, was somewhat enigmatic. He said he hoped to soon see a Palestinian state, but noted that both the Palestinians and the people of Israel are friends of Gabon.

In Latin America, Colombia is the only nation that does not have diplomatic relations with the Palestinians, and it is an American ally. In his General Assembly speech, President Juan Calderon seemed to echo the line from Washington, saying “progress can be made if consistent dialogue and effective mediation are favored.”

In Europe, Germany tends to lean against, its relations with Israel always overshadowed by the legacy of World War II. France leans the other way, while Britain sits on the fence. Portugal and Bosnia have been close to the Palestinians and the Arab world in the past, but their support is not assured this time around.

In theory, United Nations procedures demand that the special 15-member committee — one from each state — that studies the membership issue report back in 35 days, but nothing is more flexible than a deadline at the United Nations. Security Council members can stall things for weeks and weeks by requesting more information or by saying they are waiting for instructions from their capitals.

Behind them, though, looms the policy enunciated by President Nicholas Sarkozy of France, who said that the Palestinians should get enhanced membership in the General Assembly, moving from an observer entity to a non-member observer state.

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said it would wait to see what happens in the Security Council before moving forward. By tradition, the General Assembly does not take up an issue when the Security Council is studying it and vice versa, but it is not impossible.

The historic day of speeches engendered a sense that the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had come full circle. The Palestinians call their membership application a desperate attempt to preserve the two-state solution despite encroaching Israeli settlements, as well as an attempt to shake up the negotiations that they feel have achieved little after 20 years of American oversight.

The question is whether trying to bring the intractable problem back to its international roots will somehow provide the needed jolt to get negotiations moving again.

The general point of view of the Israeli government and its supporters is that the Palestinians and their Arab allies gave up the right to the United Nations resolutions detailing a two state solution by rejecting that original plan and waging war against Israel for six decades.

But after every war, the United Nations resolutions and indeed the peace treaties with other Arab states have all reaffirmed the resolutions that outline the two-state compromise, starting with General Assembly resolution 181 in 1947. In the annex of their membership application submitted to Mr. Ban today, the Palestinians listed every United Nations resolution that envisioned a two-state solution that has not been implemented, they said.