Palestinians Seeking for Statehood – Political Implications for US Foreign and Domestic Politics

Palestinians Seeking for Statehood – Political Implications for US Foreign and Domestic Politics

On Friday it became official: the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas will hand in a resolution this week to seek recognition as a state by the UN General Assembly  (UNGA) and the UN Security Council (UNSC). But what does this mean for US domestic and foreign policies?

This article argues that there are two issues deriving from the Palestinian effort: First of all, the bid for statehood constitutes a challenge to US Foreign policy, its role in the Israel-Palestinian peace process and its leverage within the United Nations. Second, from a more domestic perspective, the fronts between Republicans and the Obama-Administration will probably crystallize if a resolution comes to pass.

1)   America’s Role in the World – between leverage and powerlessness

When the Palestinians made clear their intention to seek statehood by the United Nations, the Obama Administration pointed out that these efforts are not a positive step within the peace process in the Middle East and that the US will veto such a resolution in the UNSC. Obama emphasized that only bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine would lead to a comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement. In order to prevent such a resolution to be handed in, intense demarches and consultations within the MENA region have been going on during the last weeks – with limited success. Prime Minister Abbas officially declared last Friday that he will definitely present a resolution this week.

Even if the US vetos this motion within the UNSC, American leverage will end within the UNGA where majority votes rule. If the Palestinian resolution came to pass here, the US would be powerless. Although resolutions passed by the UNGA are legally not binding and would not automatically lead to the desired recognition of statehood from a legal point of view, the status of the Palestinian Authority would probably be upgraded by obtaining an observer status in several UN agencies and sub-organs.

The Obama Administration now tries to convince its allies not to accede to such a resolution in the UNGA, but if this strategy does not work out, the US has to reconsider its relation to Israel and its attitude towards the Palestinian Authority, as well as its role in the Israel-Palestinian peace process – which might cause even deeper internal cleavages between Republicans and Democrats.

2)   US Relations to the PA and to the UN – Crucial Point in Domestic Policy Debates

On the occasion of the recent Palestinian efforts, the Republicans began a lively debate about US aid to the Palestinian Authority and US financing of the UN in general. In several hearings and press conferences chaired and initiated by them, they pointed out that US financial assistance to Palestine that accounts for approximately $600 million a year should be cut, if the Palestinian Authority holds on to its path. Further, Republican hardliners argued for completely cutting down financial assistance for all UN agencies that – in case the resolution came to pass by the UNGA – would upgrade Palestine.

Senator Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairwoman of the House’s Foreign Relations Committee, openly criticized the Obama-Administration for its irresoluteness on behalf of sanctions against Palestine and glorified the Bush-41-Administration that stymied similar Palestinian efforts in the 1980s, At that time, the US threatened the United Nations to withdraw all financial aid if they voted in favor of such a “unilateral” motion.

That Obama’s hesitating attitude towards Palestine and his policy towards Israel fuels another serious debate on the domestic level, has already been illustrated by New York’s congressional elections that were held last Tuesday: The democrats lost an important seat to Bob Turner (R-NJ) – a seat not held by Republicans since 1923. Bearing in mind that the electorate of this 9th congressional district mainly consists of Orthodox Jews that have until recently been quite committed to the democrats and that the Democrats’ candidate Anthony Weiner is Jewish himself, the electoral defeat is considered in part a referendum on Obama’s policy to Israel.

If the Palestinian resolution came to pass this Friday, it is obvious to conclude that Republicans would exploit the issue on their behalf. Obama then would have to deal with another hard-fought cleavage on the eve of the up-coming presidential election in 2012.


Opening statement of Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) on behalf of the House’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing “Promoting Peace? Reexamining U.S. Aid to the Palestinian Authority“ in US Congress, September 14, 2011

By Susanne Schwarz

Susanne Schwarz studies Political Science in Berlin and currently serves as an intern to the EU Delegation in Washington DC.

 (The article is based on personal observation and opinion and does not reflect any official or institutional position.)


New York’s election: Republican Bob Turner takes Anthony Weiner’s seat (September 14, 2011), abc News, URL: (Retrieved September 19, 2011).

Ros-Lehtinen Opening Statement at Hearing Examining U.S. Funding to Palestinian Authority (September 14, 2011), House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, URL: (Retrieved September 19, 2011).