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Con: U.S. brings terrorism on itself if it vetoes Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations at U.N.

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John B. Quigley
May 28, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, Should the U.S. veto any U.N. resolution to recognize a Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders?

The Obama administration should not veto expected resolutions in the U.N. Security Council on Palestine. The issue is likely to come to a head at United Nations in September.


One possibility is that Palestine will seek confirmation of its claim to the territory of Palestine that Israel occupied in 1967. Israel took that territory—the West Bank and Gaza Strip—by force of arms in 1967 and has no legal claim to it. There is no reason in principle to oppose such a resolution.


Palestine may also seek confirmation of its statehood and admission to the United Nations. Under the U.N. Charter, the Security Council plays a preliminary role in the admission of new members, the final decision resting with the General Assembly.


U.N. membership would put Palestine on a par—at least formally—with Israel. There is no reason of principle to deny membership to Palestine. Both India and the Philippines were accepted to U.N. membership well before they were fully independent.


Palestine has been treated as a state for years, despite lacking total independence. Palestine has diplomatic relations with most states of the world. That includes the United States. Palestine has a diplomatic mission in Washington. The United States has long treated Palestine as a state by asking it to negotiate borders with Israel.


President Obama has stopped just short of stating that he will veto a Security Council resolution on Palestine’s territory or on its admission to the United Nations. He told the pro-Israel American-Israel Political Action Committee: “No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state.” It is not clear whether he was saying that Israel is not likely to withdraw on the strength of such a vote, or whether he was saying he will veto it.


The president also affirmed that he will continue to protect Israel against adverse Security Council resolutions. But he did not say if that means a veto to a resolution on Palestine.


If the United States vetoes a pro-Palestine resolution in the U.N. Security Council, the only reason will be domestic politics. Support for Israel is rewarded by votes and contributions in presidential and congressional elections.


To date, principle has taken a back seat in the Obama administration’s policy on Israel and Palestine. Last February, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have criticized Israel for settlement construction in Palestinian territory. The United States does not dispute that the settlements are illegal, and that the land grab sabotages the peace process.


The February veto was hardly noticed by the U.S. media, but in the Arab world it was a bombshell, providing new evidence that the United States is not interested in peace.


Each time we cast a pro-Israel veto, we give al-Qaida recruiters another argument in favor of terror violence against U.S. citizens.


Gen. David Petraeus, testifying in the U.S. Senate, said that the perceived “U.S. favoritism for Israel” has led to “Arab anger over the Palestinian question.” The result, he told the senators, is that “al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.” Even if the United States does cast a veto in the Security Council to a resolution for Palestine U.N. membership, the General Assembly may admit Palestine anyway. Under the U.N. Charter, the need for Security Council approbation is unclear. The General Assembly, which has the final say on membership, might admit Palestine even over a U.S. veto in the Security Council.


President Obama came out in favor of the “Arab spring” because he didn’t want to stay on the wrong side of history. If the administration opposes Palestine statehood, we will be odd man out. We will bring more terrorism on ourselves. And we will write ourselves out of the Middle East peace process.


John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at Moritz College Law, 55 West 12th St., Columbus, Ohio 43210.

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