The United Nation’s lopsided vote upgrading the status of the Palestinian Authority from “observer entity” to “nonmember state” was a defeat for U.S. influence at the world body but carries little consequences for American military operations overseas, experts say.
The immediate consequences are more likely to be felt by the Palestinians than anyone else, evidenced by Israel’s overnight decision to build 3,000 new homes on Palestinian territory and the U.S. Senate’s predictable threat to cut off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.
As for Israel, it could possibly find itself in the International Criminal Court answering to war crime charges by Palestinians if the Palestinian leadership is able to leverage its new status into ICC membership.
But in terms of the U.S., which has personnel and assets throughout the Middle East and a still-hot shooting war in Afghanistan, the UN’s vote will not change much, said Stephen Walt, a professor and head of Harvard University’s International Security Program.
“The UN vote will have few if any direct effects on U.S. military deployments in the region,” Walt said in an email to Military.com. “Events in Afghanistan will drive our presence there, not a UN vote on Palestine, and our opposition to the UN resolution didn't surprise anyone.”
That was generally the statement of other experts contacted by Military.com, including Brett Schaefer, a fellow in international regulatory affairs at The Heritage Association’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
When it comes to the day-to-day, Schaefer said he expects American military operations or missions to remain status quo.
“I think the U.S. position on this issue is well understood [across the region]. I don’t know if the vote yesterday is going to shift positions one way or the other,” he said.
Thursday’s vote ended in a 138 to 9 landslide victory for the Palestinian Authority, with only Israel, the U.S., Canada, Czech Republic, Panama, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau voting no. France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark joined other European countries in favoring nonmember state status. Germany, with its understandably complicated relationship with Israel, joined 40 other countries in abstaining.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday shortly before the vote that it was likely to be an “impressive” victory for the Palestinians. But he played down any adverse impact on Israel, a marked contrast to comments recently made by other Israeli cabinet ministers, who called the UN move “a strategic threat” and “political terrorism.”
“Some people are concerned that once [Palestinians] are a non-member state they will try to go to the ICC,” Barak said, referring to the International Criminal Court. “I don’t think that [non-member status] will have a huge influence or a major import on any issue, but probably somewhere in the future they will probably try to raise issues from the past and go the HRC [Human Rights Commission] or some other organs.”
Barak said that would not help resolve the longtime conflict and is more likely to make things worse.
“I think the most important need is to open [negotiations]. Even if can’t agree on a fully-fledged peace, probably we accomplish something which is better than the status quo,” he said, or what could result by not doing anything.
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute in Washington, said the UN vote – though largely symbolic – does strengthen the hand of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority has been undermined by Israel’s settlement building.
“The UN gambit primarily has been an attempt by Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah [the party he leads] to demonstrate something for their people, since they have cooperated with Israel and essentially gotten nothing, at least nothing obvious to West Bank residents,” Bandow said in an email Friday. “Indeed, Israel just announced approval for more settlements. I don't think the UN action will do much.”