As U.N. Annual Session Looms, So Does New PLO Bid for Status Upgrade

By Patrick Goodenough | August 7, 2012 | 4:38 AM EDT

Palestinian Authority and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas waves a copy of the application he submitted to U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon for U.N membership, at U.N. headquarters in New York City on September 23, 2011. (UN Photo by Marco Castro)

( – With the fall opening of the annual United Nations General Assembly approaching, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has signaled its intention to renew its bid to upgrade the status of “Palestine” in a body that is eager to embrace its cause.

But while PLO and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas plans to launch his new appeal for observer-state status in a speech to the assembly in New York late next month, he will ask it to delay its vote on the matter until late November, a decision evidently tied to the U.S. presidential election.

Last year, Abbas’ made his application for full membership through the Security Council, where the U.S. threatened to use its veto to kill it if necessary. The bid fizzled out after a Security Council committee said members were too divided for it to make a unanimous recommendation. Rather than risk defeat Abbas then chose not to push for a vote.

The General Assembly route is a far more promising one for Abbas, as no country has veto power and its membership has largely been supportive of the Palestinians for decades. The overlapping developing blocs known as the “Non-Aligned Movement” (NAM) and the “G77 plus China” account for a comfortable majority of seats.

P.A. foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said at the weekend a successful application for observer-state status would be followed by a move for full membership.

Late last month Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Qatar endorsed the new application, and Abbas sought to bolster the initiative last weekend by inviting representatives of a dozen leading NAM member-states to a conference in Ramallah to formally declare their support.

The plan was aborted after Israel, which controls crossing points into the disputed territories, barred entry to some of the ministers – from Cuba, Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh – whose countries do not recognize Israel.

Israel did not prevent the others – from India, Egypt, Colombia, South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Zimbabwe – from entering since those countries do have relations with Israel. But Abbas called off the conference and PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi protested that Israel had “humiliated” the entire NAM.

“What, Cuba won’t like us?” the Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor as scoffing in response to the complaints. “Malaysia will vote against us in international organizations?”

“If you do not even bother to have relations with Israel, you cannot be a player here.”

Iran is about the assume the rotating presidency of NAM for the next three years and is hosting a NAM summit in Tehran late this month. With Israel’s arch-foe at the helm and Abbas participating, “Palestine” will feature strongly on the agenda.

Israel and the United States say the bid for U.N. recognition is an attempt to bypass the process of seeking a negotiated settlement to the conflict, to which Palestinian leaders committed themselves under the Oslo accords.

Governments abetting the Palestinian initiative learned last fall that their stance carried a cost, when the Obama administration, in compliance with U.S. law, cut funding to the U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO after it became the first U.N. body to grant “Palestine” full membership.

The PLO had intended to seek membership of a string of other U.N. bodies, but amid fretting by U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon over the financial implications of admitting “Palestine,” it backed down.

Abbas plans to take his new application to the U.N. next month despite questions about his own political legitimacy, almost four years after his presidential mandate expired.

Ahead of the January 2009 expiration, Abbas issued a decree “extending” his tenure for a year, but amid the ongoing rift between his Fatah faction and Hamas scheduled Jan. 2010 presidential elections were then postponed indefinitely, also by decree.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow