On November 29, 2012, the Palestinian Authority will request that the General Assembly adopt a resolution to upgrade the Palestinian representation from Observer status to a non-Member State of the United Nations. This follows last year’s failed attempt to have the United Nations Security Council consider their Unilateral Declaration of Independence. This is a matter of great significance and potential impact.
Unlike the Security Council, the General Assembly vote would not be legally binding, nor provide recognition as a state or full membership in the UN – but would still lead to serious consequences. Such an international mandate could enhance the upgraded entity’s ability to join other specialized agencies and possibly give it standing to petition the International Criminal Court against Israel – which PA President Abbas and other PA officials have long asserted is a primary goal. According to Abbas Zaki, member of the Fatah Central Committee, the PA will use UN recognition to void the Oslo accords and "go to all UN agencies to force the international community to take legal action against Israel."
The request for upgraded status will not resolve any of the core issues, including borders and refugees, and could trigger the cut-off of aid from the United States and other countries, as this unilateral action violates all previous agreements and is opposed by much of the Western world.
If this political maneuver is successful, not only will the conflict continue and the lives of Palestinians on the ground not change for the better, but this could potentially make things much worse. It will raise the expectations of Palestinians who will soon see that there is no improvement and perhaps, heavy losses. The proposed direct negotiations with Israel, long stalled by Abbas’ refusal to talk, would be further diminished. Israel would also take measures in response to reflect its disapproval.
Israeli support for a two-state solution was endorsed by five Israeli Prime Ministers who all called for a Palestinian Arab state with defined borders next to the recognized Jewish State of Israel. But this outcome can only be achieved through direct negotiations. Israeli leaders have made incredibly generous offers, all rebuffed by Palestinian leaders. Israel has continuously called for direct talks without preconditions and has made gesture after gesture with no response.
President Obama called Abbas and urged him not to move forward.
The United States and other nations are opposed to the Palestinian move. On November 10th, President Obama called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and urged him not to move forward with the upgrade. Further, according to a recent U.S. government memorandum to European governments obtained by The Guardian, the U.S. called the Palestinian bid “extremely counterproductive,” and stated that, “Palestinian statehood can only be achieved via direct negotiations with the Israelis.”
In addition to President Obama, other world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, have spoken out against Palestinian unilateral action. A 2011 statement issued by the Quartet (the U.S., Russia, EU and UN), prior to the PA’s initial UN bid said, “The Quartet reaffirmed that negotiations should lead to an outcome that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and resolves all permanent status issues… [The Quartet] reaffirms that actions by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community.”
If the Palestinian leadership proceeds with a unilateral move for a UN status upgrade – a clear violation of the bilateral parameters established in the Oslo Accords – then Israel may opt to cancel the Paris Protocol. The Paris Protocol is an economic accord that was part of the Oslo process, that regulates economic relations between Israel and the PA. Other retaliatory measures may include revoking permits for Palestinians living under the PA to work in Israel.
The resolution process begins with the introduction of a resolution that will be introduced to the General Assembly, likely by the League of Arab States or another group, calling for the upgraded status. This can be done at any time, but will be timed to coincide with the annual Palestinian Solidarity Day at the UN on November 29th. A majority of those present is required – and a majority is assured.
The UN vote will not be decided on its merits nor any moral or legal basis. Only a simple majority vote is needed for the PA to achieve the status upgrade. This is assured as of the 193 member states, 22 belong to the League of Arab States and 120 to the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) currently chaired by Iran, and 56 are part of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation.
The hope is that by diminishing the number of countries who support this resolution, particularly in Europe and other democracies, that this will undercut the legitimacy of the vote.
Last year's experience, after UNESCO granted the PA upgraded status, should be a warning of potential consequences for other UN entities that might follow suit. UNESCO had to cut its budget dramatically with the loss of U.S. funding and the failure of others to make up the difference as promised.
Attack on Israel
Palestinian maneuvers for statehood at the United Nations are a part of a comprehensive strategy to delegitimize and stigmatize Israel. As explained by Middle East expert Alexander Joffe, “The UDI (unilateral declaration) strategy cleverly positions Palestinians to pursue their long-term goal of eradicating Israel by co-opting additional United Nations institutions. This long march through the institutions has spread the delegitimization and stigmatization of Israel widely and at a low cost.”
The PA hopes to take Israel to the International Criminal Court.
Palestinian leaders have explicitly said that the UN status upgrade will be exploited to attack Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC). In referring to the ICC in October, Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat said: “[Israel doesn’t] want me to have a sword on their neck.” Similarly, senior PA official, Nabil Shaath said: “We will have political goals behind this decision – for which we will have an overwhelming majority – including that we will become full members of international organizations, mainly the International Criminal Court.”
In fact, Hamas is also opposed to this move by the PA. The Hamas Charter still calls for the annihilation of Israel and rejects the three Quartet Principles – recognition of Israel’s right to exist; acceptance of existing agreements; and an end to violence. However, if the UN approves the upgrade in status to a non-member state, then Hamas – a designated terrorist group by many countries including Jordan, Japan, the EU and the United States – would be given de facto international legitimacy. It is important to note that Hamas is in full control of Gaza and the PA has no authority there. Abbas hasn’t set foot in Gaza in years.
The bid runs counter to international law, as the Palestinians do not meet the criteria for statehood as defined by the 1933 Montevideo Convention. Under the principles of international law, there are four prerequisites for statehood: a permanent population; a defined territory; effective government; and a capacity to enter into relations with other States. Currently, the Palestinian Authority does not satisfy this criteria. According to the UN Charter, membership is open to states only, not movements.
At a time when the Middle East is in turmoil – Iran moves ever-closer to nuclear weaponry, Syria is amidst a bloody revolution, and the Egyptian government moves toward greater radicalization – a Palestinian move would be a distraction from the crucial issues in the region, wasting time and energy, and raising tensions.
Those hopeful for peace in the Middle east should contact consulates of UN member states, especially those of European countries, their Washington Embassies and UN Missions, urging them to vote against (or at least abstain from) this resolution. Contact your Congressional representatives and local leaders, including your clergy, with the message that this UN action will not help the Palestinian people, but only further wedges the hope for a negotiated settlement with the State of Israel.