Is the U.N. Palestine Vote a Game Changer?

December 3, 2012

The Palestinians have won their bid for stronger recognition at the United Nations. To be candid, this could be a game changer… but it probably isn’t. Most likely this move is yet another hollow gesture that ends up being meaningless.

The U.N. General Assembly voted last week to recognize Palestine as a non-member state. One hundred and thirty-eight countries voted in favor of changing the status of the Palestinian territories from a non-member “observer entity” to a non-member “observer state”.

While this does not make Palestine a voting member of the U.N., this vote does give Palestine the rights to join some of the specialized agencies of the U.N. which can only create complications for Israel. Symbolically, what this vote means is that Israel has lost leverage with countries that used to back it unquestioningly, but that doesn’t necessarily change the reality of the political landscape.

The United States was opposed to this vote, because, while it was a symbolic gesture, it was ultimately nothing more than an empty statement. It’s basically a publicity stunt. The politics surrounding Palestine have not changed. The Palestinian territories does not have a unified government, and it doesn’t even control its own borders.

Furthermore, this vote will not do anything to advance peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

A portion of the Palestinian government does not recognize Israel, and therefore a unified Palestine would not as of now accept a two-state solution. The vote came amid renewed hostilities between Israel and militant Islamist group Hamas within Gaza. Hamas as a state institution is one of two main governing bodies within Palestine, and it makes up the larger Palestinian government with the Fatah party. (Side note: the two Palestinian political factions have been at odds with each other since 2006 when Hamas won legislative victories and began to overtake Fatah in political influence.)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is a member of Fatah, and his ability to travel to the U.N. and get this achievement will undoubtedly help Fatah politically: Abbas’ U.N. victory will slow Hamas’s political progress. So in that way, the U.N.’s vote could have real political ramifications. But I wouldn’t read too much into it… yet.

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