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Will Palestine join "phantom republics"?

Santiago Dotor

The UN Security Council’s Standing Committee on Admission of New Members is currently considering Palestine's application for full United Nations membership. Eight of the Security Council's 15 members have already declared their support for the Palestinian application: China, Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa, Lebanon, Niger and Gabon. But the Palestinians' bid faces a practically inevitable veto by the United States, one of the five permanent Security Council members—which, unlike the 10 rotating members, wield veto power within the Council. (KashmirWatch, Oct. 1)

Economic warfare versus "diplomatic warfare"
Palestinians are meanwhile concerned that their economy may collapse if Israel retaliates against their bid for statehood by withholding revenue collected on their behalf. And the US could also take punitive financial measures against the Palestinians. US Congress members have called on President Obama to reduce the Palestinians’ annual $500 million in foreign aid if they proceed at the UN. Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have already frozen about $200 million in Palestinian aid in response to the statehood bid.

"There must be consequences for Palestinian and UN actions that undermine any hope for true and lasting peace," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) and the number-two House Democrat, Steny Hoyer (MD), accused Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas of "diplomatic warfare" against Israel. Cantor and Hoyer wrote in a joint Sept. 22 opinion in the New York Daily News: "Congress will not sit idly by. The US will likely reconsider its assistance program for the PA and other aspects of US-Palestinian relations should the Palestinians choose to move forward in requesting a vote on statehood."

The Palestinian Authority's economic adviser Mohammad Mustafa warned: "If the financial situation gets worse, the level of frustration will go up and the dangers will be unbearable, so I hope that we will not get to that level of frustration and that people will get paid..." (Bloomberg, Sept. 21)

But, significantly, the aid freeze only applies to butter—not to guns. In the unambiguous wording of AFP, Oct. 1:

The economic package is separate from security aid, which the US lawmakers say would be counterproductive to block. They fear that withholding those funds would weaken the ability of Palestinian security forces to quell anti-Israel violence.

Palestine and the "phantom republics"
Palestine is not the only country to face such dilemmas. Similar cases were noted by the United Arab Emirates' The National Oct. 1, in a very thought-provoking (if not always strictly accurate) piece entitled "Palestine is but one of many aspiring to the United Nations":

There are currently 193 states in the UN but the Palestinians hold only permanent mission status, conveying the right to speak at General Assembly meetings but little else...

The Palestinians are not the only people caught in this diplomatic limbo. Around the world, there are at least 11 other nations seeking UN membership, many with just as little chance as the Palestinians, which at least has membership of the Arab League and a long list of supporters.

Some are almost unknown outside their immediate borders.

Their names often sound as if they have come from a comic opera but the aspirations of their people are deeply felt and their national stories often tragic. Many are the result of the fracturing of the old Soviet Union in 1991.

The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, better—although hardly—known as Transnistria, is a narrow, ragged strip of land along Romania's border with Ukraine. After declaring independence 20 years ago, it is recognised only by two other fragments of the former Soviet empire, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, also outside the UN community of nations.

Most friendless of all is Somaliland, which split from Somalia in May 1991. The country of 3.5 million people has a flag, a national anthem and an army but it is unrecognised by any other state, inside or outside the UN.

The Republic of Kosovo is recognised by 84 UN member states and has joined the International Monetary Fund, but its existence is challenged by neighbouring Serbia and its close ally, Russia, also with a Security Council veto. As a result, its membership of the General Assembly remains stalled.

The island of Taiwan, better known as the Republic of China, is claimed as sovereign territory by the People's Republic of China, another permanent member of the Security Council. It is recognised by nearly two dozen other states with UN membership.

Several states have, however, gained full membership of the UN from permanent observer status. The majority were the defeated powers after the Second World War, which led to the founding of the UN, and include Italy, Japan, Austria and the divided Germany. Kuwait had observer status from 1962 to 1963 after gaining independence from Britain, while the UAE went to full UN membership within days of the foundation of the federation in December 1971.

On the flip side, the Holy See, which includes the Vatican City, which has permanent member status of the UN, maintains diplomatic relations with nearly 180 nations and is permitted to ratify international treaties.

Strangest of all is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, a Roman Catholic order founded nearly 1,000 years ago that has no territory since it was evicted from Malta by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Now with a headquarters in Rome, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as it is usually known, claims sovereign status, maintains diplomatic missions and enjoys the same status at the UN as the Palestinians.

These are among what Rene Wadlow has called "phantom republics"—with varying degrees of legitimate claims to full statehood, or prospects of achieving it, and whose aspirations are used by the world powers as bargaining chips on the geopolitical chessboard. As we asked our readers upon Kosova's declaration of independence in 2008:

"Do you support independence for Kosova? If your answer is 'no,' please tell us how you feel about Palestine, East Timor, Western Sahara, Northern Ireland, the Basque Country and Puerto Rico. If your answer is 'yes,' please tell us how you feel about Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria."

Of course (in case you failed to grasp it), the prior cases (Palestine, now-independent East Timor, etc.) are all causes célèbres of the left, broadly defined—which has generally rejected Kosovar statehood, viewing it as an imperialist creation to diminish Serbia. Similarly, the US State Department supports Kosova, while viewing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as mere Russian creations to diminish Georgia. Russia, in turn, supports statehood for Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria (officially part of Moldova, not either Romania or Ukraine as implied above) while opposing that of Kosova.

We have noted that Somaliland is recognized by no government, as its claim to sovereignty is in the interests of no world power—only its own peopleTaiwan is in the most ironic situation of all—the absurd fiction of its non-existence as an independent nation being official dogma even to its own government! Both the regimes in Taipei and Beijing consider Taiwan to be a province of China—that being about the only thing they agree on concerning its status. As Asia Sentinel points out, those states which recognize the Taipei government do so instead of the People's Republic. An independence movement in Taiwan is demanding its own government drop its hubristic claim to being the "legitimate government" of over 1 billion Chinese.

Tellingly, the above piece—published in a conservative and semi-official Arab newspaper—mentions the irrelevant (despite the obsessions of the conspiranoidsSovereign Military Order of Malta, but not one of the most obvious cases: Morocco-occupied Western Sahara. Morocco's Maghreb Arabe Presse (via informs us Sept. 26 that Rabat has voiced its support for Palestinian statehood at the UN:

Morocco reiterates its "support for the Palestinian Authority's application, through his Excellency president Mahmoud Abbas, for Palestinian membership in the United Nations, as a sovereign state, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with Al Quds al-Sharif as its capital," Moroccan Foreign Minister Taïb Fassi Fihri told the United Nations member states during the general debate of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly.

Get the irony? The Organization for Statehood and Freedom tells us that more than 80 countries have recognized Western Sahara’s independence, "although some suspended that recognition in the late 1990s and early 21st century." NationMaster lists those 80 countries without mentioning that some have dropped out, while the Disputed Territories website indicates the number now stands at 47. However, no country on earth officially recognizes Morocco's claim to the territory. It is a shame that Arab states like the UAE will not call out the Moroccan monarchy on its hypocritical stance of supporting an independent Palestine while illegally occupying Western Sahara.

After all, Western Sahara—languishing interminably under occupation, without a vote at the UN—is a stark example of what could await Palestine if its statehood bid fails.

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