UN Vote on Palestine, 41 abstentions: Spineless states?


November 30, 2012 by John Buckley

The 29th of November saw the UN General Assembly voting on ‘non member observer state’ status for Palestine. A first step, many politicians have noted, to a two state solution to the conflict in Israel, Gaza, West Bank, Palestine. For me a two state solution is the only solution. I know this is a simplification of the conflict that has been present for generations. But we have two distinct cultures and societies. Both have a right to safety, security and to have their own space to build a future.

Palestinian Land

The inclusion and recognition of Palestine on the international stage is only part of this. But the issue that I noted last night was that 41 states turned down their democratic right to vote.

Here’s the list:

Albania, Andorra, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Croatia, Dem. Rep. of Congo, Estonia, Fiji, Germany, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malawi, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Poland, Korea, Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Togo, Tonga, UK, Vanuatu

And here are the no voters:

US, Israel, Panama, Palau, Canada, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Czech Republic, Micronesia

Obviously I’m not going to be able to understand to a full extent why states turned down the democratic right, that they so often push/fight/press for around the world, but here’s my observations. Mind you I do think it’s reprehensible and contradictory to turn pass up this right and responsibility:

–       Conflict: It’s kind of ironic that people would abstain from voting in relation to a conflict to avoid conflict isn’t it? Many states are wary of the dynamic of Israeli US relations and feel that voting at all either way would lead to tensions.

–       Trade: This is a general statement but I think that economic ties are definitely a driver for some states in relation to UN GA votes. Individual states reliance on others for commodities and services may be an influencing factor here. So what do states value more? Human rights and justice or economic prosperity?

–       Process is not ready: This is the most widely admitted to reason for abstaining. Many states feel that a bedrock of peace needs to be laid first. That recognition of Palestinian statehood would raise tensions and put the future of both states at risk. Should we not be aiming to work towards Israel and Palestine as equals? To break the power imbalance? Abstention here reinforces the uneven planning field.

–       Fear: International relations’ best friend. Fear of what will and will not happen. What others will think or how they will respond. Fear is no excuse for inaction.

What does it say about the UN? About Democracy? Countries such as Croatia, and Congo, among many others, who have been occupied, who’ve had to fight for their freedom from invaders and colonizers. Why did they abstain?  I’m not sure I understand. I’m not sure I often understand the value of the UN. Their peacekeeping work, work via UNIECF and other entities has had a profoundly positive impact on many horrific situations. But are the states involved really bothered overall?

I’ll hand it over to the abstainers, here’s what some of them said:

–       William Hague (Foreign Secretary, UK) – Mr. Hague said Britain seeks a number of assurances ‘principally that the Palestinians would seek negotiations with Israel “without pre-conditions”. He also stated that he supports Palestinian statehood, but Palestine should not seek membership of the international criminal court as any move to extend the jurisdiction of the court over the occupied territories could derail any chance of talks resuming (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20524115)

–       Guido Westerwelle (Foreign Minister, Germany) – “It is a balanced and carefully considered decision. On the one hand we see the Palestinians’ justified desire for their own state, but on the other hand we recognize our special responsibility to Israel, and for peaceful and stable development in the region,”. But he added that they do favor a two state solution (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/29/us-germany-un-palestines-idUSBRE8AS0AV20121129)

Are UN votes worth getting worked up about? I’m not sure. It’s also not sure whether or not the new status of Palestine will have a real impact on the daily lives of those on the ground. How will Israel react? Will the blockade ease? Or will heals be dug in further. There are lots of unanswered questions on the journey that still has a long way to go.

What is another ongoing question is how states value international collective democratic processes. We often talk here of China, Russia and the US using their vetoing powers, but we don’t often think of the other states and why shy away. I think it’s interesting to see the representatives of our own (the citizens of theses states) power shying away from making decisions on basic issues of justice.


3 thoughts on “UN Vote on Palestine, 41 abstentions: Spineless states?

  1. Interesting read there john, well done.

    Did you happen to hear why Canada voted no?
    It really surprised me!

    I assumed the worst initially but checked it out as I was a little shocked at their “no”.
    Canada apparently felt it an insult of sorts to offer Palestine so little in recognition in naming it a “non member observer state”- the Canadians felt Palestine should be given more, or higher, recognition globally, and within the UN.
    Nice to hear all the “no-ers” and “abstainers” were against the idea!

    • That’s really interesting from Canada. I’m not sure Palestinians would’ve appreciated it, but interesting stand point. Agree that they deserve full state recognition, but I think that this is a foot on the ladder ya know? Will be interesting to see what happens.

      Hope you’re well dude

  2. MAJOR typo there! I meant to say *weren’t against the idea” =)

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