Mahmoud Abbas in New York – meets UNSG, but does not [yet] submit letter asking for UN membership

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has arrived in New York for what has looked like an eventful week that would culminate in a Palestinian bid for full membership in the United Nations.

Abbas met the UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon today — but did not submit the letter that has to be given to the UN Secretary-General to start the process.


About a week ago, Abbas told journalists including correspondents from The New York Times that he would submit the letter to the UNSG as soon as possible after he arrived in New York.

The answer can only be — Abbas is allowing maximum time for diplomatic contacts and negotiations to play out.

On Friday, in the Muqata’a Presidential Headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas gave a televised speech in which he said he would hand the letter to the UNSG on Friday, at the end of Abbas’ scheduled address to the UN General Assembly. He is 14th on the speakers’ list on Friday, listed between Tajikistan and Japan.

Palestinian officials say they expect this means Abbas will be one of the last speakers on Friday morning — about 12:30, they predicted [but it could well be later].

It would be a dramatic visual if Abbas, speaking at the podium of the General Assembly on Friday, simply turned around and handed the Palestinian letter up to the UN SG, who will be seated behind a marble table on an elevated platform directly behind Abbas.

After Palestinian officials made clear that they intended to go through with their UN bid, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was inscribed two or three speakers later, after Abbas speaks on Friday.

The Obama administration has said it will use its veto power, as one of the 5 Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, to stop the Palestinian bid, if necessary.

However, it became clear over the weekend that the U.S. would prefer to defeat the move in another way — by persuading enough members of the Security Council to not support the Palestinian bid, so that it will fail to win the 9 votes needed to pass, and be adopted.

This is trickier — and would require the U.S. to abstain [for its no vote would automatically become a veto].

It would also mean persuading the EU to adopt a common position, and also abstain. There are 4 EU members on the UN SC:
Britain + France, who are also permanent members with the veto power; and Germany + Portugal, non-permanent members who could either abstain [if there is a common EU position], or vote no.

A defeat by abstention, rather than by veto, would be a much softer blow to the Palestinian plan — a kinder, more gentle dissuasion –and easier to explain on the international level, and in the Middle East. It would be a nicer way to leave the door open for a second Palestinian try, without causing the same bitterness here on the ground that a U.S. veto would do [even if joined by Britain + France].

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in New York today that “We along with all the other twenty six countries of the European Union have withheld our position on how we would vote on any resolution that may come forward in the General Assembly in order to exert as much pressure on both sides to return to negotiations. That is the only real way forward.”

(1) PALESTINIANS TURN TO UN, WHERE PARTITION BEGAN, by Neil MacFarquhar, published 18 September 2011 here.
(3) ABBAS DEFIANT AS ‘ALL HELL’ BREAKS OUT OVER UN PLAN, by Maan News Agency using material from a Reuters report, published today here.

Hague’s remarks can be read in full here.

Significantly, he only mentioned the UN General Assembly.

According to the British Foreign office website, “The Foreign Secretary noted that ‘the Palestinians haven’t yet said exactly what they will put forward’, but commented that submitting a letter to the Security Council seeking full membership of the United Nations was ‘not a course of action that we recommend because it will just lead to confrontation’ and ‘such a move in the Security Council would clearly be vetoed by the United State … It’s not clear how many of the members of the Security Council would support it but it would leave no one any further forward. Now there are other options for the Palestinians, other motions they can put forward in the General Assembly best of all, as I say, an agreement to return to negotiations with the Israelis, with the Israelis agreeing to that as well. And that is what we will be putting pressure on both sides to do. I’ll be meeting President Abbas here in New York tomorrow”…

British Foreign Secretary Hague also said, according to the website, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is a problem which my predecessors and many British Prime Ministers, many American Presidents have worked on extremely hard without as yet success. So clearly it is one of the most vexing, one of the most intricate, one of the most difficult problems in international affairs. But its importance is enormous, the consequences of failing to arrive at a two state solution could be catastrophic for the Middle East and the wider world so we have to keep trying and we have to retain enough optimism that it is possible to succeed. We’ll be fully engaged in that here in New York meeting Israelis and meeting the Palestinians”.

Mahmoud Abbas, it should be noted, is the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] — which is recognized at the UN since 1974 as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people — and Abbas is currently continuing as President of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority [PA].

6 thoughts on “Mahmoud Abbas in New York – meets UNSG, but does not [yet] submit letter asking for UN membership”

  1. If the UNSC does not vote and sends application to committee, can PLO still go to UNGA for upgrade of membership?

    1. No, because the two bodies [UN Security Council + UN General Assembly] cannot both be “seized” of the same matter at the same time. This is a rule written into the UN Charter,
      Article 12 (1). This was mentioned in the previous post on this blog here.

      IMO, it would have been much better for the PLO to go to the UNGA first, to upgrade the status of their representation to observer state [non-member]. We are already beginning to see one of the counter-arguments to the UNSC move: “it’s not qualified for full UN membership because it’s not a state…”

      I don’t think the Palestinian leadership spent a lot of time studying the UN before making their moves [they always seem to think it’s up to others to act for them internationally, and they have always given far greater priority to their own intra-Palestinian and regional politicking].

      And I don’t see that they had very good staff work either, as this wasn’t called strongly and insistently to their attention, unfortunately.

  2. Maybe it was called to their attention and that’s why they took the path they did. Perhaps they understood that going first to the GA is more effective. Perhaps they wanted something less effective. Perhaps a compromise has already been agreed upon.

    1. Yes, maybe, though you would think that they would have studied all this very carefully in the months leading up to now, to September — though of course the best concessions are always made at the latest possible hour.

      Can Mahmoud Abbas survive a compromise?

      Now, it seems, Obama will meet him [apparently at U.S. request] after the Obama-Netanyahu meeting later today in NYC.

  3. Mahmoud Abbas can survive yes. Though that interview by Fayyad has upset me a lot.

    The problem is, we don’t have an effective intelligent opposition. I’m in NY on Friday. If I talk to anyone serious I’ll let you know.

    You know, I’m starting to miss the old Arafat appointed “unprofessional” diplomats.

    1. The Fayyad interview was upsetting — but that’s what happens when you give a journalist an assignment… No context, no understanding — all of that is just boring detail.

      Wonderful you’ll be in NY on Friday! Wishing I could be…

      With Arafat, at least the confusion was interesting.

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