Global Ethics Corner: Blocking the Bid: Is the U.S. right to veto Palestinian Membership to the UN?

September 30, 2011

In September, the Palestinian leadership submitted its bid for full state membership to the United Nations. As expected, President Obama promised to veto the application, arguing that UN membership would deter a peaceful two state solution.

Not surprisingly, the president's threat sparked outrage across the Arab world. Yet it was widely supported in the United States, where members of Congress called for even harsher punitive measures against Palestine.

The U.S. position on Palestinian membership raises ethical and strategic questions. The ethics debate runs something like this:

Advocates of the U.S. veto say the unilateral bid imperils Israel's right to exist. Palestinians' insistence on the restitution of 1967 borders threatens Israeli security, creating indefensible borders. They say Palestinian efforts only risk agitating anti-Israeli sentiment and sparking violence throughout the West Bank.

Critics counter that the U.S. veto threat represents a double standard. After all, if the U.S. truly supports the right to self-determination—as it did in Kosovo—it should do the same for the Palestinians.

Yet much of the controversy pertains not to substance, but to strategy.

Advocates of the U.S. position say the UN is the wrong forum for a two-state solution. They say UN recognition will only ostracize Israel and create further obstacles to negotiations. Critics argue that in exercising its veto, the U.S. risks losing its pivotal role in a future settlement. In siding so clearly with Israel, the U.S. is sidelining itself from negotiations.

As the UN Security Council weighs the Palestinian bid, is the U.S. right to oppose UN membership? Would Palestinian membership to the UN threaten future peace or could it provide a foundation for future negotiations?

By Marlene Spoerri

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Marco Castro/UN
Eskinder Debebe/UN
Marco Castro/UN
Israel Defense Forces
European Parliament
Pete Souza
Marco Castro/UN
U.S. Department of State
Mark Garten/UN

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