The Math of the Palestinian Bid at the Security Council

On December 30, the Security Council voted down a measure that would guarantee Palestinian statehood by 2017. The resolution would effectively circumvent direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine, a move the Palestinians believe is necessary considering the halting progress that has been made over the past year. The USA was strenuously opposed to this resolution, but it did not fail because the USA cast a veto. Rather, the resolution was one vote shy of the requisite 9 “yay” votes needed to pass a resolution.

The Security Council may vote on this resolution again soon; and on January 1, 2015 five new members joined the council. How might the new Security Council’s vote tally differ from the previous council vote? And might the USA be forced to cast a diplomatically embarrassing veto?

On December 30, the vote tally was 8 in favor (Argentina, Chad, Chile, China, France, Jordan, Luxembourg and Russian Federation);  2 against (USA and Australia); and 5 abstentions (Rwanda, Nigeria, Korea, The UK, and Lithuania)

On January 1, 2015 Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Korea and Rwanda left the Security Council, their two year terms having expired. They were replaced by: Venezuela, New Zealand, Spain, Malaysia, and Angola.

From an American perspective, the goal is to avoid having to cast a veto. In general, the permanent members of the council like to avoid exercising their veto; on the Israel-Palestinian question, the USA would most certainly not want to appear isolated in support of Israel. The only way to achieve that goal is to secure at least 7 “nays” or abstentions. If there are fewer than 7  abstentions or “nay” votes, then the USA’s “nay ” vote becomes a veto. In the previous two votes on a Palestinian statehood issue, last week and back in 2011, the USA was able to convince at least 6 other members to abstain or vote against the measure, so the resolutions garnered less than 9 affirmative votes and the USA’s veto was never cast

But if a vote is called in the coming days or weeks what might happen?

From an American perspective, the math does not look good. Three countries in the abstaining or “nay” camps are no longer on the council (Australia, Korea, Rwanda). Of the five incoming countries, Venezuela will almost certainly vote for the resolution and Malaysia has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, so they are probably in the “yay” camp. That means the USA will need to sway Spain, Angola and New Zealand in order to avoid casting a veto.  This is a tall order. Even if Angola and New Zealand can be convinced to abstain from the resolution, Spain may join with France in voting for the resolution, and that would be enough to force a US veto.

The verdict: it will be difficult, but not impossible for the USA to avoid a veto on the Palestinian statehood resolution. It all depends on Angola, Spain and New Zealand. I suspect we’ll known how these votes come down very soon.  The Palestinians, backed by Arab members of the Security Council, are pledging to re-submit the resolution.