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09.18.11

5 Key Moments to Watch at the General Assembly

As the U.N. General Assembly opens for debate, The Daily Beast has the people—and issues—to watch, from the Palestinian statehood battle to the debut of South Sudan.

The year 2011 may go down in history’s annals as a year of unbridled consequence. Global market shifts, sparks of revolution, and quests for land have touched every corner of the globe—and with them has come a seismic shift in geopolitics. When the United Nations General Assembly opens for general debate this week, delegates from the organization’s 193 members will have a full agenda, and world leaders will vie for time at the podium. Some of the high moments to watch:

Abbas v. Netanyahu: Following months of building tension, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced last week that his government would seek full U.N. membership as a new member state. It’s a push staunchly opposed by Israel and almost certain to be vetoed in the Security Council by the United States. But Abbas, who will take his case to the full General Assembly, sees it as the only way to push his people closer to statehood amid stalled peace talks. On Wednesday, he’ll make the case for the Palestinian territories to become a new recognized nation using land annexed from Israel, just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make an impassioned case against.

Libyan Gate Change: Just a day before gaveling into the organization’s 66th session, the General Assembly voted overwhelming—114 to 17—to allow delegates for the Libyan rebels take the seat of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. It is another stunning setback for the embattled leader, who’s now on the lam and suspected of having left the country for asylum elsewhere in Africa. But the real news may be the global body’s next steps on Libya, including whether to allocate funds to help Libya’s transitional government gain its social and economic footing in the coming months and whether an international search will intensify to find the missing dictator.

Assad in the Crosshairs: As unrest continues in Syria over President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters, the international community is fortifying official opposition. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week urged global leaders coming for the debate to “speak in one voice” to denounce al-Assad—a plea Ban will likely make with leaders next week. Yet the key development will hinge on sanctions aiming to suffocate the regime, a current point of division. The U.S. and part of Europe have proposed sweeping economic penalties, but China and Russia have both blocked the efforts. Those countries’ leaders are expected to debate the body’s next move on al-Assad.

South Sudan’s Debut: After gaining official nation status, South Sudan is now the newest member of the United Nations. It’s an exciting prospect, considering the years of strife in the region. And President Obama will meet the nation’s new president, Salva Kiir, to mark the new country’s milestone, the White House announced Friday. But the region is still fraught with violence. Ibrahim Gambari, the joint special representative for the U.N.’s arm in the African Union, has said violence in the region has been reduced significantly. But Darfuri refugees say that’s not true, and they’re demanding Gambari either apologize or step down.

Turkey’s Big Play: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be a pivotal figure in this week’s debate. The country’s delegation will participate in top sessions on Iraq stability, Libyan reconstruction, and global famine. Erdogan is expected to use his time at the lectern to help push for Palestinian statehood, and the White House approached Erdogan for a meeting with Obama to launch a new global antiterrorism initiative. It’s the latest move by Turkey to raise its profile over the next three years as it vies for temporary membership on the Security Council in the 2015–16 term.