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Obama faces tough choice over Palestine's bid to join the U.N.

By BAYLY WINDER | September 28, 2011

The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has officially presented his case to the United Nations. After a period of debate ending next week, he hopes to go before the Security Council seeking full membership for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. This is a move backed by as many as 150 countries worldwide including Russia, China, and Brazil.

However, the United States plans on vetoing the proposal. For decades, American presidents have pledged to endorse the creation of a Palestinian nation, yet this development is an especially poignant example of America's unconditional support of Israel in the diplomatic arena.

No country has a more privileged relationship with the USA than Israel. American aid to Israel has averaged nearly $3 billion annually since 1985 (the most in the world), an exceptionally high amount for a nation with a healthy GDP per capita of approximately $30,000. Meanwhile back in Washington DC, Israeli lobbying organizations such as AIPAC have exerted tremendous influence.

The notion that Congress is Israeli-occupied territory may be an overstatement, but particularly in the Republican camp Israel has many staunch allies including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. In fact, Rep. Cantor told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a 2010 meeting that that the new Republican majority in the House would "serve as a check" on the Obama Administration.

Over the years America has consistently vetoed UN resolutions against Israel. Whether it is condemnation of illegal Israeli settlements or calls to halt the Gaza offensive of 2008-2009 which resulted in nearly one thousand Palestinian civilian casualties, America has come to Israel's defense. Yet, this promise of a veto propels America into a new level of accommodating Israeli interests.

Those in favor of this veto argue that the Palestinian move is provocative, counterproductive, and may derail the peace process. However, negotiations with a right-wing Israeli leadership have fallen stagnant as settlements expand further into what one day may be a Palestinian state. Netanyahu and his bellicose Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have hardly been reasonable partners in peace.

Moreover, why would it be so controversial to recognize Palestine's right to sovereignty? This basic request falls in line with American policy and should be seen as a necessary step towards a lasting solution, not the contrary.

America's response to the Arab Spring has been ambivalent and has exposed contradictions in US views on democracy and self-determination.

In a period of waning American influence in the Middle East this veto could prove critically damaging. In June, Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi Arabian ambassador to America, wrote "There will be disastrous consequences for U.S.-Saudi relations if the United States vetoes U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state."

The costs of this veto may not outweigh the benefits for Israel, but they certainly do for America. Especially in this period of upheaval in the Middle East, America should value its economic and political ties with partners such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt over an exorbitant Israeli demand.

Ever since the Truman Administration, the presidential commitment to Israel has been seen by some pundits as an attempt to win the Jewish vote.

Today, the evangelical population has also become quite pro-Israeli. Yet, a BBC poll from this month shows that while 36 percent of Americans are against UN recognition of Palestine, 56 percent are in favor of the proposal. Is the US's decision to veto representative of its people or of Israel?

The Palestinians need the support of nine members of the Security Council to gain full membership. If not, President Abbas will have to settle for a majority in the General Assembly.

This would give Palestine non-member observer status, the position held by the Vatican. The current Security Council makeup includes five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In addition there is a rotating group of non-permanent members, which currently consists of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Gabon, Germany, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal and South Africa.

It is unclear whether or not this arrangement will favor Abbas. While Colombia has announced that they will abstain, the United States is the sole member guaranteed to veto the move.

This decision reveals an increasingly isolated America on the world stage, one that stands by Israel against the bulk of the world. Let us not forget that in 1947 it was the United Nations that formally recommended the partition of Palestine and the creation of an Israeli state, and that vote was generally far more contentious.

It would be naïve to suggest that if the US and all other countries supported the Palestinian resolution the situation on the ground would improve dramatically. Rather, it would be a symbolic victory for Abbas, and provide some much needed hope for the people of Gaza and the West Bank. If President Obama truly wants a free, peaceful, and pro-American Middle East, aiding Palestinians in their quest for a nation should be one of his top priorities in the region.

Using the veto power is both hypocritical and immoral; it demonstrates a lack of willingness to move towards a lasting outcome.

The Palestinian right to statehood is just, it is supported by most of the world, and by more Americans than not. I urge Obama to defy the Israeli government and grasp this unprecedented opportunity.

He is well aware that direct negotiations have reached a dead end, and that this veto contradicts his own policy.

As campaigns for the 2012 Presidential election heat up, it may be seen as political suicide to publicly reject Israeli pressure. But, is it worth undermining US security and jeopardizing the American role in the Arab Spring to appease an ungrateful and costly ally?

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