On 31 October, a clear majority of UNESCO members voted to welcome Palestine as a full member in the UN body. As a result both UNESCO and the Palestinians are punished hard by the US and Israel. Why this anger? And what next for Palestine’s UN membership bid? The vote was held in Paris where the headquarters of the UNESCO is located. Only 173 out of the 194 member states of the UN body came to the vote. Of these, a clear majority of 107 voted in favor – amongst them France, Spain and heavyweights Brazil, Russia, China, and India – 14 voted against (Israel, US and Germany) and 52 abstained. This was a clear victory for the Palestinian Authority (PA) which was thus granted the majority needed to become a full member of the UN organization.
While the world cheered on the protesters and the Arab Spring which forever transformed the Middle East, regional powers trembled at the possible outcomes of the uprisings of which few, for them, would be favourable. Many of the regional and global powers which play a leading role in Middle East relations are relatively unpopular amongst the Arab youth and the general population. The Middle East is arguably not a better place today than it was eight months ago. The Arab Spring was only the first step, and if it is mismanaged it could pull the Middle East into a series of wars, the impact of which the whole world would feel.
The revolts sweeping through the Mediterranean and the Middle East have exposed the tremendous shortcomings of EU policy towards the region. That policy mistakenly equated short-term stability with deeper and long-term sustainability. In a number of recent speeches, European commissioners have admitted they were wrong to prioritise short-term interests, centred on economic cooperation, security and migration management.
On 20 September Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), will personally deliver a request to the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon for the “State of Palestine” to be granted full membership status at the UN. The resolution is expected to be passed on to the UN Security Council, whose rotating presidency for September will be held by Lebanon. In the likely event of a US veto, the PA has stated its intention to refer the question of Palestinian independence to the UN General Assembly, where another Palestinian ally, Qatar, will chair the presidency of the Assembly.
Recent events in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey have demonstrated the continued prominence of questions about Kurdish autonomy and statehood. The Kurdish people can be found living in an area that stretches from Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and into Syria. They have aspired and struggled for centuries to have their own homeland, but so far they have failed to achieve this. This has led to decades of violence between the Kurds and various governments in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. As with many other nationalist aspirations to achieve independent statehood, for the Kurdish people time has solidified the sentiment passed from generation to generation that they must struggle to achieve what their grandfathers sang to them about as babes.
Over the last 12 months, Israel and Lebanon have become embroiled in a legal and diplomatic battle over rights to undersea natural gas fields along their common but disputed maritime border. This could potentially provide the spark to ignite the next war between the Jewish State and the Islamic Resistance Movement Hezbollah. A gigantic deposit of natural gas (Leviathan) estimated to contain 453 billion cubic meters of natural gas, at a likely market value in the hundreds of billions of dollars, was discovered in June 2010 approximately 130 kilometres offshore of Haifa. Alongside natural gas, the Leviathan is also believed to yield 4,2 billion barrels of oil.
In mid-March, at the height of the pro-democracy protest movements in Bahrain, the government resorted to bringing in foreign troops, mainly from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to violently subdue the protesters. The following three months saw the imposition of emergency law and widespread government attacks against Bahrain’s Shia population. While Bahrain’s Shia population represents a majority in numbers, they are given little political and economic power.