On November 29, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 67/19 , upgrading Palestine at the international body from an "observer entity" to a "non-member observer state." The Palestinian Authority established through peace agreements with Israel has since changed its title to the “State of Palestine” on official correspondence and at the UN.
The move came as Palestinians sought ways of moving ahead a peace process that has been stalled in negotiations with Israel. Some Palestinians argued that upgraded UN status would mean little on the ground, where the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain occupied and under a divided leadership, but the change in status has allowed Palestinians access to UN organizations such as UNESCO, where it can apply pressure to Israel as a member of the UN body.
PLANS FOR CHANGE
In a televised interview in September 2011, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said an appeal for statehood at the UN was meant to defend the legitimate rights of Palestinians. Israel and the US protested, arguing that a Palestinian state could only be realized through direct negotiations. Abbas said that although the UN’s step would not end the occupation, it would strengthen the Palestinian position. Faced with Israel’s intransigent right-wing government, Abbas and his party Fateh were suffering from a crisis of confidence, making no headway on their promise to deliver an acceptable end to the conflict with Israel.
Hamas leaders said that a move to the UN would not realize improvements in Palestinian lives. "I hardly can see a difference between an authority under occupation and a state under occupation, because the core problem from which we all suffer is the occupation and not the terminologies," advisor to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh Yousef Rizqa wrote in an editorial.
On September 26, 2011, President Abbas delivered a speech to the United Nations that was watched on large screens across the West Bank. President Abbas asked the member states of the UN Security Council to recognize the State of Palestine on its pre-1967 borders, i.e., the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In an attempt to make Abbas withdraw his proposal, the Quartet (comprised of Russia, the US, UN and EU), an advisory body on the Middle East asked Palestinians and Israelis to resume peace talks within a month, in order to reduce tensions between them and reach a peace agreement by the end of 2012. Ultimately, Abbas’ statehood measure never came to a vote when it was found that it did not enjoy a majority in the council. In any case, the US was expected to veto the resolution if it had come to a vote.
As a full member at the UN, Palestine would have taken a seat among other UN member states, and have the ability to vote in the General Assembly. It would also have had access to the International Court of Justice as a full member state. When the Security Council move failed, Abbas turned to the General Assembly , where as a non-member state, Palestinians have many of the same rights they had as a non-member observer state, with the ability to participate in General Assembly debates. They also have access to inter-governmental bodies such as the International Criminal Court and 14 other UN bodies and conventions.
Under their new status, Palestinians joined UNESCO on October 31, 2013 (107 votes for, 14 against, and 52 abstaining). The US, which stopped paying its dues to UNESCO according to US law that prevents it from supporting any UN body that accepts PLO membership, then stepped up efforts to prevent Palestinians from joining other UN groups. Abbas agreed to postpone new accessions in exchange for a release of 104 long-term prisoners from Israeli jails and a nine-month period of negotiations to end April 29, 2014. The talks did not produce any breakthrough and Israel ultimately balked at releasing the final group of prisoners.
PROS AND CONS
Detractors say that such unilateral steps aren’t conducive to a long-lasting peace between the parties, because any agreement needs to define Palestine’s borders, which the UN is not prepared to do. Moreover, the moves leave aside the question of Palestinian refugees and their right of return. It appears, however, that Abbas and his peers are using the statehood measures as leverage to try to get Israel to move in negotiations.
Timeline of Palestinian Statehood Initiatives
• In 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organization was established with the goal of creating a Palestinian state throughout the entirety of the former British Mandate of Palestine.
• Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
• In 1978 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat called for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as part of the Camp David accords, though Israel refused.
• In November 1988 the Palestinian National Council - which is the legislative body of the Palestinian Liberation Organization – made a declaration of a State of Palestine. The declaration took place in Algiers, and although it said the state’s capital was Jerusalem, it did not designate any definite borders. A state can exist and be recognized, however, even if that state has unclear boundaries.
• Following the declaration, subsequent documents referred to Israel, implicitly recognizing its existence as well.
• In 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization began making headway on the Oslo peace agreements. The Palestinian Authority, which was set up as a governing body following the peace agreements, envisions the State of Palestine as being in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
• Since the Madrid Conference in 1991, negotiations with Israel have failed to meet the expectations of the Palestinian Authority. In September 2010, the Abbas government began engaging in direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, although the negotiations quickly fell apart due to Israel’s refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement construction, along with Netanyahu’s plan to maintain a decade’s-long presence in the Jordan Valley.
• In November 2010, Abbas announced that he was contemplating a turn to the UN following the breakdown in negotiations.
• In December 2010, the United States announced that it was abandoning its efforts to convince Israel to extend the moratorium on settlement construction. Abbas then began asking the international community to recognize the State of Palestine as existing within its 1967 borders.
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