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Projecting The UN Security Council Vote on Palestine

- September 23, 2011

It now looks almost certain that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, will submit an application for statehood UN membership (please NYT and others: this is a subtle but important difference) to the UN Security Council (UNSC). Given that the U.S. has the right to veto the proposal and has already announced that it will do so, the outcome of the vote is no mystery. Yet, there is still interesting politics going on. As David Bosco notes, the U.S. would prefer not to exercise a potentially explosive veto and thus hopes that the resolution will fail to acquire support from 9 out of 15 UNSC members. More generally, as I noted earlier, this is not just about the formal consequences of votes but also about symbolic politics. The strength of the majority may affect the strength of the Palestinian case in other ways.

The figure above reflects the announced position of UNSC members based on various reports (updates appreciated!). The horizontal axis reflects the position of states on UN General Assembly votes on Palestine in 2010 (see here for a brief explanation of data and methodology). As one would expect, it is mostly countries in the middle who have yet to make up their “minds.” States that generally support or oppose the Israeli government have for the most part already announced their positions.

A couple of observations. First, by historical standards this is a powerful UNSC. There are few small states whose votes may come cheap. Bosnia and Gabon are obvious targets. Yet, they are not just targets for the U.S. As I noted before: some of Palestine’s supporters have become relatively more powerful in recent years. We have good evidence (pdf) that the U.S. uses aid to buy votes. I have little doubt that ten years ago Gabon could have easily been “persuaded” by the U.S. Not so straightforward now. Colombia and Nigeria are also in play.

Second, the big question is what the UK and France are going to do. My best guess is that they will try hard to delay a UNSC vote while working on a compromise UNGA vote on enhanced observer status. France has already announced it would support such a move. Any insight about the domestic politics in these countries would be appreciated.

Third, the nine votes can be achieved if all states in the “probably support” category are swayed. This seems likely but it also creates an uncomfortable position for the governments of Bosnia, Gabon, Nigeria, and Portugal. Yes, some aid may be gained but some may be lost too. Moreover the domestic politics of this is complicated and does not always point in the direction of the money. I suspect that more than one government leader is thinking that non-permanent UNSC membership is not all it’s cracked up to be.