Palestinian Statehood and Repercussions of a U.S. Veto

September 30, 2011

Olivia Jones | SUSRISblog

In a New York Times op-ed earlier this month, entitled “Veto a State, Lose an Ally,” Prince Turki Al-Faisal, reiterated the significance of U.S. support for the upcoming Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and blatantly warned of repercussions for a U.S. veto:

“Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has.” Al-Faisal says. “Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy.”

Upon the election of Barack Obama there was hope among Arabs that the mantra of Obama’s campaign would extend to the Middle East, “Change we can believe in.” Many of those in the policymaking realm were eager to discover if the power shift would bring in a tougher U.S. stance against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Many leaders in the Middle East and Arab populations seemed to give Obama a temporary pass, as the credibility of the United States in the region hinges in large part upon its willingness to address the Palestinian issue.

As National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations President Dr. John Duke Anthony said, “This particular challenge is the oldest one that has bedeviled America maximizing its policy related goals in the region. The most massive one, the most pervasive one.” Neglect of the most prominent Arab concerns could very easily spin out of control and threaten the American interests in the entire region and the strategic Saudi relationship with the United States.

In 2002 Saudi Arabian King Abdullah crafted a peace plan aimed at creating a starting point for a viable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most basic premise of the document was recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories in accordance to the internationally recognized 1967 borders. If Israel accepted the plan, all of the twenty-two Arab countries represented in the Arab League agreed that this would be a sufficient means to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and restore relations with Israel. This universal Arab acceptance of a peace plan was unprecedented. The plan was also adopted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2005. However, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has rejected the “Arab Initiative.”

After the flat out rejection by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, implored President-elect Barack Obama to use the plan as the basis of his peacemaking efforts. During the beginning of the Obama administration, the plan was said to be incorporated into U.S. peace initiatives. In May of 2011, President Obama addressed the public for the first time with an official U.S. suggestion as to the borders of Israel and Palestine, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” However, as the prospect of a UN vote loomed the United States, on September 5th, officially stated it will veto any move by the Palestinians to seek statehood recognition. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said:

“Our position is well known. We think that this taking action at the UN in September is not going to lead to lasting peace, two states side by side. Only negotiations can do that.“

In a SUSRIS exclusive interview with Prince Turki Al-Faisal last November, Al-Faisal recognized that the United States and the Kingdom have the same goal of a Palestinian nation with defined contiguous borders, but have vastly different ideas of how to achieve this goal. Within this disagreement lies the potential for a disturbance in Saudi-U.S. ties. And as Al-Faisal asserted in his “Veto a State, Lose an Ally” op-ed, this disagreement could contribute to a heightened security threat in the region benefitting Iran and Tehran’s unchecked support of Hamas and Hezbollah undermining any peace initiatives. Al-Faisal stated:

“Today, there is a chance for the United States and Saudi Arabia to contain Iran and prevent it from destabilizing the region. But this opportunity will be squandered if the Obama administration’s actions at the United Nations force a deepening split between our two countries.” Al-Faisal continued, “American policy makers have unfortunately been more preoccupied with a deteriorating domestic economy and a paralyzed political scene than with finding a workable solution to this epic injustice.. ..Saudi Arabia is willing and able to chart a new and divergent course if America fails to act justly with regard to Palestine.”

Warnings of damage to the “special relationship” between the United States and Saudi Arabia over the Palestinian question have only been building. This leaves analysts wondering what will be the actual impact of the veto. The realistic consequences that can be expected remain debatable and elusive. However, the prospects of such warnings being followed through by Saudi Arabia are worrisome and could come to pass without American quick action towards achieving the “two-state solution.”

Olivia Jones is a staff writer at the SUSRIS Project [SUSRIS.com / SUSRISblog.com / SUSRIStube.com / SaudiBrit.com]

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