The UN Vote for Palestinian Statehood is a big talker this week. Here’s what’s going on– and why.
- Palestine consists of two unconnected territories in the Middle East, both bordering Israel. The two parts of Palestine are the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, which borders the Mediterranean Sea. Some claim that the territories are an independent state, while others claim they are part of Israel. That’s where the conflict comes in.
- Jerusalem is a city on located on the edge of the West Bank and Israel. Palestine has declared East Jerusalem as its capital, but Israel claims all of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem contains landmarks considered holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians.
- Palestine Liberation Organization: The PLO is a group that the UN and Israel recognizes as the representative of the Palestinian people. Palestinian people are largely Muslim. In the past, the PLO has been charged with terrorism. But in 1993 they said they would stop their violence.
- Israel: Israel is the country that borders Palestine. Traditionally, its government has claimed and even occupied Palestinian territories—especially Jerusalem. However, reported statistics suggest Israelis are moving closer and closer to recognizing Palestinian statehood.
- United Nations: The UN is an international organization that tries to allow countries to cooperate and negotiate peacefully. Its members are typically internationally recognized nations. These nations vote to make decisions. Sometime the decisions are about whether a state should be a UN member or not. Palestine is not a member of the UN, but is considered a “non-member observer.”
- General Assembly: This main body of the UN votes to make recommendations to member states. All UN member states are a part of the general assembly. For votes about new membership (and other important issues), a 2/3 majority is required to win.
- Security Council: This smaller body of the UN can vote to make resolutions that member states are required to follow. The Security Council consists of 5 permanent states—the US, the UK, Russia, France and China—and 10 non-permanent states. A resolution must have at least 9 votes to pass. Any of the permanent members can veto a membership vote.
- During World War II, millions of Jews living in Europe were persecuted and killed by Nazis and Nazi supporters in the Holocaust. After the violence ended, the Jews wanted a homeland. Many of them moved to Israel, where they had lived even before the Holocaust. The US helped fund this move, called the Zionist movement. However, Palestinians were also living in Israel. This triggered years of wars among Israelis, Palestinians, and Palestine’s Arab neighbors.
- During the early 1990’s, peace processes finally began. While Israel has handed the West Bank and Gaza Strip over to the Palestinians, lots of dispute still exists:
- Despite these conflicts, attempts have been made at peace talks.
- In 1993, both parties signed the Oslo accords, agreeing to mutual recognition and Palestinian government.
- Leaders of each party failed to reach a conclusion when they met in 2000 at Camp David in the U.S.
- In 2007, the Annapolis conference began. This was the first conference where both parties wanted to reach a two-state solution. However, no final agreement was reached and violence broke out in the Gaza strip again.
- In 2010, leaders started up peace talks again. However, they ended when Israel started building on West Bank land again. This made Palestinians so mad they refused to keep negotiating.
- In August 2011 the PLO announced that it would submit an application to the Security Council for UN membership in September. After continued failing peace talks, many think the PLO wants to bring international attention back to its struggle.
- Others, including US President Barack Obama, believe this is an attempt at a shortcut to peace and will not be successful. They think talks are necessary to create real peace—not just UN recognition.
- Breaks within the Palestinian people make things more complicated. The PLO’s opposition party called Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip. They don’t think UN statehood is the right way to go.
- A vote has not yet occurred. It could take weeks or even months, according to past votes and the LA Times.
- Republicans in the US—like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney—are trying to use Obama’s stance to make an argument against him in the presidential race. They say his behavior is “emboldening” Palestine and harming Israel.
- The US and European countries are trying to make Palestine and Israel try more peace talks instead. France is getting impatient, demanding a timeline for more peace talks.
- But, if the US vetoes the bill, this could cause a lot of unrest among Arab countries. Some see this as a sign that the US is losing power in the Middle East.
- If the Security Council does veto the application, Palestine may take it to the General Assembly. Palestine is more supported in the General Assembly than in the Security Council.
- Egypt is in the northwest corner of Africa. It’s the Arab world’s most populous country—87 percent of its people are Muslim. Its capital is Cairo. A part of Egypt called the Sinai Peninsula connects to western Asia, where Egypt and Israel share a border.
- Israel is a western Asian country on the east shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Its government reports that a majority of its citizens are Jewish.
- In a building in Cairo, Israel has an embassy where Israel’s ambassador to Egypt and other diplomats work.
- Egyptian demonstrators: These are Egyptian citizens who are not happy with Egypt’s relations with Israel, among other things like the way new governors were selected. Many young and politically involved citizens are unhappy. But many of the 3,000 responsible for recent incidents are described as Ultras—tough, often violent soccer fans.
- Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF): This group of Egyptian military leaders is currently in charge in Egypt. The former president, Hosni Mubarak, gave them power after protesters urged him to leave. According to Egypt’s state website, SCAF consists of 18 military leaders. They made changes to Egypt’s constitution and plan to hold elections by November. They also appointed new governors, and political analysts and protestors who kicked Mubarak out weren’t happy with their selection.
- Benjamin Netanyahu: He’s the Prime Minister of Israel. He’s been called stubborn and resilient in the face of recent Middle Eastern unrest.
- Palestinian/Israeli conflict: Jewish Israelis and Islamic Palestinians have been fighting over land in Israel since the early 1900’s.
The Palestinians claim that since they were there before Israelis, they deserve the land. However, both Jews and Muslims have important religious reasons for wanting to live there. Different settlement plans have been proposed by different groups, but conflict continues. The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics says Israel is more than 75 percent Jewish and almost 17 percent Muslim. But some Palestine supporters don’t trust those numbers.
This conflict has contributed to the traditional tension between Israel and the Arab world.
- 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty: Egypt and Israel signed this treaty after decades’ worth of conflict between Israel and surrounding Arab nations. It ended the war, and it said that both countries would keep troops out of the Sinai Peninsula. The US agreed to fund Egypt’s military if Egypt stuck to this treaty.
- Sinai Peninsula Attacks: In August 2011, attackers crossed into Israel from Egypt, killed 8 Israelis and hurt 30 more. The attackers came from the Sinai Peninsula, but no one is sure of whom they were associated with. Some people said their actions showed the world that SCAF wasn’t good at ruling its people.
- Israelis struck back. The ensuing fight killed three Egyptian border guards, which angered the protesters that kicked Mubarak out. They thought SCAF should bring Egypt’s ambassador in Israel home and make Israel’s ambassador in Egypt go home. SCAF didn’t do this because they wanted to maintain peaceful relationships with Israel, perhaps to keep getting US military funding.
- On September 9, 2011, Egyptian demonstrators attacked the Israeli embassy building. They knocked down the wall surrounding it and went inside, where they threw documents out of windows.
The Israeli ambassador and 85 other diplomats weren’t hurt. Some say they were escorted out by the Egyptian military and flown home to Israel, but others think the Egyptian military didn’t help in their escape. The military also tried to stop the demonstrators, but not until they knocked the wall down. Some people think the military let this happen on purpose, to make the demonstrators look worthy of harsher discipline, or maybe even to justify postponing elections.
Repercussions and Future:
- Egypt-Israel relations were already tense. Now, things are looking even tenser. Israeli diplomats, officials, and Netanyahu have condemned the attacks. But the US and other countries might be getting frustrated with Netanyahu’s stubborn attitude, leaving Israel disadvantaged in its foreign relations.
Netanyahu also discussed what the attacks might say about SCAF’s ability to govern, suggesting along with others that they have little control. SCAF has vowed to change this by using emergency law, which allows for increased policing and suspension of constitutional rights.
This has sparked talk of more protests. Protesters wanted Mubarak to leave Egypt because he was ruling under emergency law. They feel like Egypt is drifting into the same situation again.