The United Nations General Assembly voted today to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a "non-member observer state," a symbolic victory in the Palestinian quest for statehood.
The vote was overwhelming, with 138 in favor, nine against, and 41 abstentions. Most of the votes, including the United States' "no," were unsurprising. One important story here is in Europe: The European Union's 27 votes were never going to decide the outcome, but they are an important indicator of potentially changing global diplomacy with regards to Israeli-Palestinian relations.
"The EU has become the most undecided and therefore scrutinized bloc at the U.N.," Daniel Levy wrote at the Daily Beast. "For Europeans (or at least some of them), Israel-Palestine tends to be an issue that crosscuts domestic politics, the role of national history in contemporary foreign policy, transatlantic relations and mercantilist interests."
So how did Europe vote? It about split between voting for the Palestinian bid and abstaining, with only one "no," from the Czech Republic. The U.K. suggested that it might vote "yes" if the Palestinian Authority offered assurances that it wouldn't pursue charges in the International Criminal Court, but apparently came away unsatisfied.
This actually represents a potentially significant shift in Europe's position on Palestinian membership at the United Nations. Last year, the Palestinian Authority sought membership in a U.N. body called the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), seen as a test case for today's bid. Here's how Europe voted then, and below that are some important takeaways on the changes:
Here are the big changes between the 2011 vote and today's:
Five countries switched from "abstain" to "yes": Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, Georgia.
Three countries switched from "no" to "abstain": Germany, Netherlands, Lithuania.
One country switched from "no" to "yes": Sweden.
One country was absent: Ukraine, which had abstained in 2011. It happens.
Excluding Ukraine's absence, that means that nine European countries moved their votes in a way that suggests greater support for Palestinian U.N. statehood efforts. That might just be about these two particular U.N. votes and nothing more, or it might represent shifting European diplomatic energy away from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (the U.S. and Israel have warned that approving the Palestinians' bid would undermine the process) and toward supporting more such unilateral Palestinian efforts.
It is difficult to see good news here for Israel or for the U.S.-led peace process.