Can Palestine Join the UN?

In his big Middle East speech  yesterday, President Obama said: “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.  Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” That was pretty much a direct rebuke to Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas’ New York Times Op-ed which listed the ways in which Palestine qualifies for recognition as a full fledged, sovereign member state of the United Nations.

In either case, we are heading to a showdown at the United Nations General Assembly in September when there will be a vote on Palestinian statehood. For a new country to be admitted as a member of the UN requires a two thirds vote of the General Assembly and Security Council approval. Chances are, the GA will overwhelmingly approve the measure, but that alone does not carry the force of law.  Rather, the Security Council would need to ratify this decision in order for Palestinian statehood to be a reality, and given President Obama’s implied threat of a veto, the chances are very slim that the question would even come up for a vote.

If Palestinians need any direction, they can look to Kosovo which is in precisely the kind of pre-state limbo that Palestine can expect after September’s General Assembly vote.  So far, 75 countries have officially recognize Kosovo as a state, and it has been admitted to several international organizations (like the World Bank) as a full member. Yet, because of the threat of a Russian veto at the Security Council, Kosovo has not yet made the leap to a fully recognized state capable of joining the United Nations as a member. There has also never been a General Assembly vote on the Kosovo question.

Like Kosovo, once the hold-out Security Council member finally decides to withhold its veto, Palestine will breeze into statehood. The question is not whether this will happen, but when.