ANALYSIS: Palestinians set to play UN numbers game
With the arrival of the Palestinian delegation in New York City, the great game of Middle East diplomacy shifts to the United Nations.
The Palestinians plan to present their application to become a full member state to the Security Council on Friday. U.S. President Barack Obama has already vowed to use his country's veto to prevent recognition of a Palestinian state, so why should they bother? The Palestinians simply want to show an isolated United States and Israel standing against the majority of nations.
But will that be the case?
Here's where things stand at the Security Council.
Ignoring the possibility of a U.S. veto, for a moment, the Palestinians need nine of the council's 15 votes to succeed with their application. Russia, Lebanon, Brazil, Colombia, Bosnia and South Africa will likely vote yes. Britain is urging both Israel and the Palestinians to resume long-stalled negotiations, but might vote yes. France, Germany, China, Gabon, India, Portugal and Nigeria are all in play.
The Palestinians are courting them all. The Americans are urging the European and African nations to at least abstain, thus denying the necessary nine votes.
And here's why Washington prefers that option: When voting takes place, the first call is for the "yeas." If there aren't at least nine, the voting stops and it will never be known whether a nation planned to vote no, abstain or, in the case of the United States, veto the decision.
If defeat looks likely, the Palestinians would withdraw their pitch at the Security Council. They could then go to the larger General Assembly, where they are all but guaranteed the majority needed to obtain non-member observer status, but that would provide only a slight bump in their international standing — not the full membership the Security Council can offer.
U.S. Congress threat to end funding
Meanwhile, some in the U.S. Congress want to cut off $500 million in economic and security assistance for the Palestinians should they continue at the UN with their pitch, an approach that could backfire.
The Palestinians seem to believe their goals are more important than the money. And European nations are perturbed the U.S. would punish any group for appealing to the international body.
Cutting funds that pay Palestinian civil service salaries and police would hurt Israel, too, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store said Monday.
"I would say it would be a rare example in the international community if votes in the family of nations, the UN should [prompt] something close to sanctions," Store said.
So the march to Friday's expected Palestinian pitch continues. And remember, we haven't seen exactly what they are proposing — though President Mahmoud Abbas has talked of an independent state based on 1967 boundaries.