Concrete Impact of Palestine’s U.N. Bid Still Uncertain


Elizabeth Whitman – Inter Press Service-IPS

Despite the frenzy of media attention bestowed upon Palestine’s expected bid for statehood at the United Nations later this month, some doubt the impact it would have on the political complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the humanitarian issues and human rights abuses that many Palestinians face regularly.

Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia University and outspoken proponent of Palestinian rights, is sceptical that a vote at the U.N. on Palestine, through the Security Council or the General Assembly, would immediately or significantly alter the political realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In a panel in New York on Monday, he criticised the “consecration” of the idea that the solution to the Palestinian problem is to create an entity out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and noted that the necessary prerequisites to dismantle the Israeli occupation of Palestine are currently non-existent.

Still, Khalidi acknowledged that membership at the U.N. would increase Palestine’s international recognition and expand its access to resources and treaties that would strengthen its diplomatic hand.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice also questioned the impact of a bid for statehood at the U.N., though for different reasons.

“After whatever show we have in the United Nations is done, what will change in the real world for the Palestinian people? The answer is nothing, sadly,” she told reporters on Monday in Washington.

Karima Bennoune, a professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark who was on the same panel in New York on Monday, told IPS in an email that, “Formal statehood may be important for certain reasons, but what is most important is translating that statehood into concrete improvement in the protection of human rights on the ground.”

The Palestinians had been considering two options, not mutually exclusive, to change Palestine’s status at the U.N. and boost its international political leverage. One was to seek full statehood through the Security Council and the other to upgrade its current status from observer to observer state through a resolution in the General Assembly.

An official for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) announced on Tuesday that it would apply to the United Nations Security Council for full recognition as a state, although Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th Session of the GA, also told reporters Tuesday that whether the Palestinians would go through the Security Council or the GA was unclear.

An unsuccessful bid for statehood through the Security Council would not preclude the Palestinians from seeking non-member observer state status in the 193-member General Assembly via a resolution that requires only a simply majority of member states to support it in order to pass – an effort almost certain to succeed.

U.S. opposes Palestinian bid

The United States, one of five permanent members with veto power in the 15-member Security Council, has said that it would veto any Palestinian bid for full membership as a state. This threat has not deterred the Palestinians and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) from preparing the U.N. request.

The United States opposes any efforts by Palestine to seek a vote at the U.N. Rice argued on Monday that recognition of Palestinian state in the General Assembly went against Palestinian interests.

She called direct negotiations “the absolute only way” to reach a two-state solution, which the U.S. supports, and said that pushing for statehood would hurt chances to renew peace negotiations, currently frozen, between Israelis and Palestinians.

Khalidi told IPS, however, that several factors, namely the political climates in the U.S. and Israel and the current state of Palestinian leadership, were “not propitious to negotiations” and thus called into question whether the Palestinians are really sacrificing the option of renewed negotiations by pushing for statehood at the U.N.

Already qualified for statehood

Ironically, although Palestine is seeking statehood recognition at the U.N., it already meets the requirements of international law that define a state.

Bennoune said during Monday’s panel that strong arguments can be made that Palestine meets the four criteria for statehood found in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, the classic statement of the international law requirements for statehood.

Although these qualifications have been subject to much debate, Palestine possesses a population, the core of a defined territory, and the equivalent of a government, and is able to conduct relations with other states so as to meet the thresholds required in international practice, Bennoune said.

“Being a state matters,” she told attendees during Monday’s panel, since in this age, states remain the leading international legal actors. In many ways, statehood is a prerequisite for developing the institutions and policies necessary for growth and development both domestically and internationally.

Bennoune added that that although international law should provide a framework for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, it has been more or less excluded from the debate in the United States about these issues.

The fact that Palestinian leadership sought to seek statehood recognition from a multilateral channel such as the U.N. marked Palestine’s return to an international forum after two decades of direct talks brokered by the United States, Khalidi said.

Still, “I don’t see how you can keep the U.S. out of any negotiations,” he told IPS.

The world will be watching what happens at the U.N. after Sep. 23, when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to submit Palestine’s bid for statehood at the U.N. But the world will have to keep watching in the following weeks and months in order to witness the more concrete implications of Palestine’s bid for statehood.

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