All eyes on Bosnia, Gabon, Nigeria

2011-10-02 14:19

Geneva - Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria are the unwitting kingmakers in the desperate Palestinian battle for UN Security Council votes to back their campaign for membership of the world body.

All three face a diplomatic offensive from the Palestinian leadership on one side, and the United States and Israel, which oppose Palestinian entry into the UN, on the other.

Even though Washington has vowed to veto any Security Council approval of Palestinian membership, garnering a majority of votes on the 15-member council would be a valuable moral victory for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki said this week he believed he has eight Security Council votes and is working on the ninth required for a resolution to pass - forcing the United States to use its veto as a permanent member.

The math is complicated with the Palestinians so far only assured of public support from six countries: Brazil, China, India, Lebanon, Russia and South Africa.

Abstain or oppose

The European powers say they have not yet decided how to vote but diplomats say Britain, Colombia, France, Germany, Portugal and United States will abstain or oppose the resolution.

That leaves Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria in the diplomatic firing line.

Malki is to go to Bosnia, where the country's ethnically divided three-man presidency is split on backing the Palestinians.

Other high-level delegations are to visit Gabon and Nigeria, Palestinian officials said, even though Malki said he has assurances from the two that they will back membership.

The three kingmakers already recognise the Palestinian state, but also see the US diplomatic shadow hanging over them. "The United States has political and economic leverage," said one UN council diplomat.

Bosnian Muslim and Croat co-presidents Bakir Izetbegovic and Zeljko Komsic support the Palestinian bid, but Serb member Nebojsa Radmanovic is against. Bosnia's UN votes are normally decided by consensus, so diplomats say the divisions and close links to the United States could force them into an abstention.


"My sympathies lie with the Palestinians and Palestine as a state. But politics is not just sympathies and private positions," Komsic told the Dnevi Avaz newspaper on Friday.

There has been a Palestinian delegation in Gabon for several years but the country could abstain, a source close to the country's presidency told AFP. Gabon will support the Palestinians or abstain, the source said.

Nigeria's Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru has signalled support for the Palestinian bid, without saying clearly how Africa's most populous nation will vote, media reports say.

Half of Nigeria's 150 million population is Muslim and it is a country which the United States has in the past had difficulty gaining leverage over.

Nigeria will however be in a delicate position as it chairs the Security Council for October, including the membership committee and the full meetings if a vote is held.


Abbas will himself visit Portugal this week and later Colombia, to pressure those governments to back the Palestinian cause, even though he knows that success will only unleash the US veto.

The United States and Israel oppose membership because they say there has to be an accord through direct Israel-Palestinian negotiations before a state can be created.

David Makovsky, director of the Middle East peace process project at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank, said that Abbas has "miscalculated" the Security Council members.

Despite the rousing applause given to Abbas's speech to the UN General Assembly on September 23, "his bid to gain UN Security Council approval is losing momentum," he said.

Failure to get the votes, or a veto, will push Abbas into Plan B, a move to secure observer state status through a vote at the 193-member General Assembly, where he can count on healthy majority backing and no veto is possible.

"For more than a year, we have discussed this issue and considered it down to the tedious details," Abbas said in an interview this week with Christian Science Monitor.

"The United States, the bastion of democracy, would do wrong to the Palestinian people if it denies them the right to liberty and self-determination. It will have to bear responsibility for its own actions."

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