Ask a think tank: Palestine’s U.N. application process

Gina D. from Los Angeles, Calif., writes in with the following question:

What is the process that the Palestinian request is going through at the UN? Why does it take two weeks for consideration? Who, specifically, is involved in the process? Are there formal meetings? And what will be considered as they deliberate?

Our answer comes from Jeffrey Laurenti, a former deputy director of the U.N. Foundation’s United Nations and Global Security initiative and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation:

The U.N. Charter provides that admission of a state to membership is “effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council” -- an inherently political decision. Where there is no controversy, the council breezes through the formalities, as happened in July with the newly independent South Sudan: review by the council’s Committee on the Admission of New Members (composed of all 15 states on the council), council endorsement of the application without a vote, and General Assembly concurrence the next day. When any of the council’s five permanent members objects, an application is stymied: The Soviet Union vetoed Italy’s application repeatedly from 1947 till the United States allowed East European states also to enter in 1955. The United States vetoed Vietnam’s application in 1976 (reversed by President Carter a year later).

The Security Council heard a public presentation by undersecretary-general Lynn Pascoe about Palestine’s application Sept. 27 and then adjourned for backroom “informal consultations” as the application was formally entrusted to the admissions committee. The public “debate” was essentially in all the General Assembly speeches by national leaders over the last two weeks, as every speaker addressed the Palestinian membership question.

The behind-the-scenes deliberations inside the Security Council are presumably over whether a stopgap formula can be found that restarts a peace negotiating track with Palestinian membership assured in a stipulated time frame. Absent such an alternative, we may expect a vote to recommend the application will fail for one of two reasons: either Palestine has not lined up nine votes on the council--the minimum required for adoption--to support its application; or, if it has, one of the permanent members has vowed to vote no.

Failure to win the needed votes in the Security Council would not necessarily leave the Palestinians empty-handed. They can still ask the General Assembly to recognize Palestine as an observer state within June 1967 borders--opening the door to membership in other U.N. agencies and its subscription to multilateral treaties--and they are believed to have far more than the 128 votes required for assembly approval.

Send your own think tank question with your first name, last initial and your city to thinktanked@washpost.com.

Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy and covered think tanks for The Washington Post from 2011 to 2013. He blogs and hosts a podcast at governmentality.net and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.

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