Tag Archives: Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The UN Security Council, the General Assembly, and Palestinian Statehood

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said today he would seek UN Security Council recognition for a Palestinian state.

Palestinian leaders are expected to take their bid for statehood to the United Nations next week, potentially provoking a diplomatic showdown that could have serious consequences for Israel, Palestine, and the United States.  The UN Security Council has the power to approve Palestine’s admission as a full member state, but the United States is one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the council (along with Russia, China, Britain, and France), and the U.S. has promised to veto any resolution approving Palestinian statehood.  The U.S. and Israeli position is that Palestinian statehood should be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel.  Despite this veto threat, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said today that he would seek Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state.

While the Security Council effort is destined to fail, Palestine could gain a partial victory through the UN General Assembly.  The General Assembly has the power to upgrade Palestine’s status from “observer entity” to “observer state,” and such a resolution will almost certainly succeed since each UN member state gets one vote in the General Assembly (the majority of member states back Palestinian statehood).  As this article at Politico notes, “with that enhanced status, the Palestinians could take some actions against Israel, including filing cases in the International Criminal Court [ICC].”  The prospect of ICC charges stemming from Israeli actions is discussed here.

A Foreign Policy article entitled “ Train Wreck in Turtle Bay” describes the costs to all parties of a diplomatic clash over Palestinian statehood: “A diplomatic confrontation is not in the interest of any party. For Israel, it could prompt an outburst of public anger and possible violence in the occupied territories that would be a security challenge at home and deepen its growing isolation abroad. For Palestinians, it could mean a return to more restrictive forms of control by Israeli occupation authorities, more checkpoints and roadblocks, as well as other forms of retaliation, including punitive economic measures. For the United States, it risks bringing back traditional anti-American sentiment front and center to Arab political discourse at a time when the country has been increasingly perceived as a positive force standing with the people against dictators.”

What do you think?  Is the Palestinian effort to achieve statehood through the UN a wise idea, or will any statehood effort be counterproductive if it does not first gain Israel’s approval?

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Israel, Gaza, and the Challenge of Deterrence

Israeli medics evacuate a person injured in the attacks of August 18.

Thursday’s deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, allegedly perpetrated by militants from Gaza, illustrate the limits of deterrence.  Deterrence involves the use of threats to prevent undesired actions.  Deterrence threats take the form “don’t do X, or else,” where X is the undesired action and the “or else” is the threatened punishment.

Israel has relied on the threat of costly retaliation to prevent militants in Gaza from attacking Israelis, but recent changes in the security environment have made these deterrence efforts much more difficult.  Specifically, the chaos in post-Mubarak Egypt has reduced Egypt’s ability or willingness to police the Sinai Peninsula, opening up a vast new territory from which Gazans (who can easily escape Gaza through tunnels into Egypt) can attack Israel.

Successful deterrence requires the ability to pinpoint the actor who took the undesired action so that actor may be targeted for retaliation.  However, as noted in a Christian Science Monitor article on Friday, “Unlike attacks launched from Gaza – a small, densely populated territory run by Hamas – attacks launched from the Sinai are potentially harder to trace to a specific group, and thus harder to assign ultimate responsibility for.”

This problem of identification and accountability is the reason why some scholars and policymakers, particularly since 9/11, have concluded that we cannot rely on deterrence to prevent states from giving weapons of mass destruction to non-state, terrorist organizations.  That is, if a state’s leaders believe the weapons it gives to terrorists can’t be traced back to the source, they will not be deterred from doing so.  This, of course, is a key argument in support of preventive war, as articulated by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks.  Preventive war involves striking an enemy (or potential adversary) before the threat has fully materialized.

What other factors besides the problem of identification/accountability may undermine efforts to deter unwanted behavior in world politics?  Is there any way to overcome these problems?  When deterrence cannot be achieved, is preventive war the answer?