After UN Defeat, Palestinian Unilateralism Seen as ‘Losing its Luster’

January 2, 2015

4 min read

By: Sean Savage

Several months of campaigning for unilateral Palestinian statehood recognition culminated in a diplomatic blitz by the Palestinian Authority during the last few days of 2014. But the campaign ground to a halt on Dec. 30, when the United Nations Security Council rejected a Palestinian resolution that called for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank by 2017 and the establishment of a Palestinian state with borders based on the pre-1967 lines.

It was the second such defeat for the Palestinians at the Security Council, the first coming in 2011.

“[The resolution’s failure] is no great surprise, since the United States has a veto [at the Security Council],” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told “However, it was somewhat surprising that the Palestinians failed to garner the nine ‘yes’ votes to force a U.S. veto. This seems to suggest that the Palestinians failed to do enough diplomatic legwork before pushing for a last-minute vote at the Security Council.”

Schanzer said his sense “is that Palestinian unilateralism is losing its luster at the United Nations, but also on the Palestinian street.”

On Dec. 29, U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke had said America believes the Palestinian resolution “fails to account for Israel’s legitimate security needs, and the satisfaction of those needs, of course, integral to a sustainable settlement.” Before the vote, British Ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant also said that he was concerned about the resolution’s language.

“There’s some difficulties with the text, particularly language on time scales, new language on refugees. So I think we would have some difficulties [voting for the resolution],” Grant said. The U.K. was ultimately one of five Security Council members to abstain for the vote. The U.S. and Australia voted against the measure, which garnered eight affirmative votes, falling one short of passing.

Argentina, Chad, Chile, China, France, Jordan, Luxembourg, and Russia voted in favor of the Palestinian resolution. The tight vote highlighted some shifting attitudes about Israel, especially in Europe and Africa. Notably, the French, whose parliament recently adopted a resolution urging the government to recognize Palestinian statehood, voted in favor. Israel subsequently summoned the French ambassador to the Jewish state and said it was “disappointed and perplexed” by France’s voting decision.

But at the same time, Israel has found new allies on the international stage, including Australia and sub-Saharan African nations.

“The Australian government appears to be leaning quite pro-Israeli. The U.K. appeared to be more concerned with the lack of transparency of the process, and voiced those concerns at [the Dec. 30] meeting. It was interesting to hear Rwanda voice similar concerns,” Schanzer told

After initially supporting the resolution, Nigeria changed its stance and voted to abstain. Rwanda also abstained.

On Dec. 31, Netanyahu praised Nigeria and Rwanda for their abstentions, saying those decisions were what “tipped the scales” against the Palestinians.

The Middle East Adviser for The Permanent Mission of Israel to the U.N., Israel Nitzan, said in a statement after the vote that the Palestinians have continued to avoid direct talks with Israel.

“The Palestinians have found every possible opportunity to avoid direct negotiations,” Nitzan said. “They have engaged in a never-ending string of political games and now they are parading into this Council with preposterous unilateral proposals.”

Shortly after their defeat at the U.N., the Palestinians chose to sign the Rome Statute in order to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. At a signing ceremony in Ramallah, Abbas said that the Security Council let the Palestinian people down.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2014. where he accused Israel of genocide. (Photo: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2014. where he accused Israel of genocide. (Photo: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

“There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down—where shall we go?” Abbas said.

“As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn’t prioritize peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict,” added Abbas. “The Palestinian cause is the key issue to be settled.”

Abbas has long promised to join the ICC as a way to put pressure on Israel, opening up the possibility that Israel could be tried for war crimes in the disputed territories. But by joining the ICC, the Palestinians also open themselves up to war crimes probes as well as possible repercussions such as sanctions by the U.S., which opposes Palestinian unilateralism.

In response to the moves by Abbas, Netanyahu said that the Palestinians have more to fear from the ICC than Israel does due to the actions of the Hamas terrorist group.

“We will adopt steps in response [to the Palestinians joining the ICC] and we will protect the soldiers of the IDF—the most moral army in the world,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

For Abbas, who faces declining popularity among the Palestinians and has failed to forge a lasting unity agreement with Hamas, the recent developments may signal a growing sense of desperation.

“When the [Palestinian campaign for unilateral statehood recognition] began, it was novel and there was a sense that it could truly change the dynamics,” Schanzer told “But it increasingly looks like Abbas falls back on this strategy when all else fails, but without achieving real results. It also looks like he is deliberately choosing to turn away from diplomacy in favor of this fruitless approach. The end result is the international community and the Palestinian street are growing weary of these diplomatic theatrics.”

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