The UN General Assembly has now voted, by 138 votes to 9, with 41 abstentions and 5 no-shows, to recognise the existence as a state “of the State of Palestine on the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967”.
The “no” votes were cast by Israel, the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.
The Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau, all former components of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, are “freely associated states” of the United States, with US zip/postal codes and “Compacts of Free Association” which require them to be guided by the United States in their foreign relations. They more closely resemble territories of the United States than genuine sovereign states – rather like the Cook Islands and Niue, “freely associated states” of New Zealand which make no claim to sovereign statehood and are not UN member states. They snuck into the UN in the flood of new members consequent upon the dissolutions of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, when the previous standards for admission were effectively ignored.
Nauru, a tiny island of 10,000 people in the central Pacific, has, since the exhaustion of the phosphate deposits which briefly made it the country with the world’s highest per capital income, had virtually no sources of income other than marketing its UN votes (reliably joining the United States in voting against Palestine) and diplomatic recognitions (joining Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela in recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and housing in tents aspiring illegal immigrants who had been hoping to reach Australia. It is a sad place, an island with no beaches, the world’s highest obesity rate and no real alternative to diplomatic prostitution.
Palestine: The meaning of a status upgrade
Accordingly, only three “real” states joined Israel and the United States in voting against Palestine and the two-state solution: Canada, the Czech Republic and Panama. They must make their own excuses.
In population terms, the opponents of Palestine represent approximately 5 per cent of the world’s population, 370 million out of over 7 billion, and, of those, the United States accounts for 314 million. It follows that countries with less than one per cent of the world’s population supported the United States in this vote.
The 41 states abstaining in the vote were Albania, Andorra, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Congo (DRC), Croatia, Estonia, Fiji, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Poland, Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Togo, Tonga, the United Kingdom and Vanuatu.
It is worth noting (and a bit puzzling) that 15 of these states (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Congo (DRC), Hungary, Malawi, Mongolia, Montenegro, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Togo and Vanuatu) have extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine, although most of the formerly communist states of eastern Europe did so when they had communist governments.
They have been more than balanced out by the 27 states which have not yet recognised the State of Palestine but which voted in favour of Palestine: Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Eritrea, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago and Tuvalu.
Five states did not vote: Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Liberia, Madagascar and Ukraine. Kiribati is no surprise. For economic reasons, it is the only UN member state which does not maintain a permanent mission in New York. Why the other four, all of which have extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine, failed to push any of the three buttons is a mystery.
The European Union vote was 14 “yes”, 1 “no” and 12 abstentions. Aside from Germany, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom, all of the old “Western” members voted for Palestine. All ten of the new “Eastern” members (the three Baltic states, formerly part of the USSR, the six former members of the Warsaw Pact and Slovenia) abstained or, in one case, voted against Palestine. These “Eastern” states have passed from domination by one empire to domination by another empire without ever daring to fully assert their independence. That said, all except the Czech Republic did at least dare to abstain.
It may take some time for the results of this vote to be fully digested. In the best of all possible worlds, one might hope that the United States would finally recognise that, on the issue of Palestine, it is totally divorced and isolated from the moral and ethical conscience of mankind and must now stop blocking progress toward peace with some measure of justice, step aside and permit other states with a genuine interest in actually achieving peace with some measure of justice to take the lead in helping Israelis and Palestinians to achieve it.
Since we do not live in the best of all possible worlds, and since Americans persist in believing that they are the “indispensable” nation, other states will need to make clear to the United States that its vote on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People has definitively disqualified it not only from its prior monopoly control over the “Middle East peace process” but even from any further role in it and that its further involvement in the preeminent moral issue facing the international community is no longer needed or wanted.
John V Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.