Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Can the United Nations Make Palestine a State?

by Elliott Abrams Thursday, June 23, 2011

Can the United Nations General Assembly make Palestine a state?  The answer is no, and yes.

It appears that the Palestinians initially thought they could become a UN member state even if the United States vetoed their efforts in the Security Council. There was discussion a few months ago of a “Uniting For Peace” resolution in the UNGA, a procedure allowed by the UN Charter for action when the Security Council is tied in knots and unable to act. But UN lawyers soon clarified what is obvious on reading the Charter: that provision may be available for certain actions, especially dealing with threats to peace, but does not override the Charter provisions relating to membership. Chapter II, Article 4 says that “peace-loving states” that accept their obligations under the Charter are eligible for membership, but “The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” Membership thus requires an affirmative recommendation by the Security Council and as well as an affirmative vote in the General Assembly. As the United States has told the Palestinians there would indeed be a veto, there will be no opportunity for “Palestine” to become a UN member state next Fall. Read more »

Return to Sender

by Elliott Abrams Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A group of very well-known American leaders has written an open letter to the president blaming almost every aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel and urging heavy American pressure to change Israeli policy. If Israel does not comply, the letter suggests, the president should impose “consequences.” Read more »

Can Bahrain Save Itself, Part II

by Elliott Abrams Monday, June 13, 2011

On June 3 I wrote here about some good news from Bahrain. The king had lifted the state of emergency and called for dialogue, the main opposition group Al Wefaq had accepted the request, and the foreign minister (and soon after, the crown prince) had visited Washington to talk about compromise and negotiation.

And yet. Today’s news does make one wonder if this is all window dressing. The crown prince had been expected to lead this dialogue. Today the government announced that it would instead be led by Speaker of Parliament Khalifa al Dhahrani, who unlike the crown prince is regarded as a hard-liner. Perhaps even more significantly, he is not a member of the royal family and has little decision-making power. Whether Al Wefaq can enter into negotiations with him is uncertain, and the group will surely wonder why the crown prince has backed—or been pushed—out.

Watching events in Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia, the king should come to grips with reality: things cannot go back to the way they were in Bahrain last year. The sooner he enters a serious negotiation over constitutional reform with Al Wefaq and others, the sooner Bahrain can address and perhaps solve its problems.

Read more »

Syria: Follow the Region?

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, June 12, 2011

The violence in Syria is awful to see. Today the New York  Times reported that “Backed by tanks and helicopters gunships, Syrian army troops stormed the northern town of Jisr al-Shoughour on Sunday, after a bombardment that left much of the surrounding countryside in ruin and sent refugees fleeing to the nearby Turkish border.” The refugee numbers are heading toward five thousand and will obviously go higher; the number of unarmed civilians killed by the regime passed one thousand and is climbing fast. But even the violence of this past week is apparently not awful enough to jolt the Obama Administration out of its failed Syria policy.

Secretary of State Clinton, interviewed yesterday in Lusaka, Zambia had this to say:

“Syria, for example, is engaging in horrific, revolting attacks on its own people. The region, however, is trying to – behind the scenes – get the government to stop. And they believe that that, at the time, is the best way to go forward. So we listen very closely to what people in the neighborhood, in the region, say.”

Read more »

Egypt: Good News and Bad

by Elliott Abrams Monday, June 6, 2011

A new poll of Egyptians suggests that the attractions of religious extremism are smaller than feared. In an opinion poll commissioned by the International Republican Institute, only 15 percent of respondents say they support the Muslim Brotherhood. And a similar 15 percent say religious leaders strongly affect their political views. Read more »

Can Bahrain Save Itself?

by Elliott Abrams Friday, June 3, 2011

The first real glimmers of positive news emerged from Bahrain in the last two days. The king lifted the state of emergency on June 1. He then called for “all necessary steps to prepare for a serious dialogue, comprehensive and without preconditions” that would “start from July 1,” and sent the interior minister to meet that same day with opposition parties. Those parties have now responded positively; the main group, al Wefaq, said it “welcomes the appeal from King Hamad for a serious, comprehensive dialogue based on the principle of national consensus.” Read more »