From ‘Entity’ to ‘State’: the Upgrade of Palestine’s UN Status

Palestine’s efforts for recognition of statehood finally reached a breakthrough on November 29th, when the resolution of an upgrade from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state” in its U.N. status was successfully endorsed. Among the 193-member assembly, 138 voted in favor of the resolution, with 41 abstentions and 9 against. This significant move, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described in his speech, represents a “last chance to save the two-state solution”. [1] Israel, on the other hand, considers this resolution not advancing peace but “pushing it backward”, according to Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nation. [1]

Symbolic Move?

Though still far from its goal of U.N. member state, this symbolic elevation constitutes an significant endorsement of the legitimacy of their claim to and, as Palestine hopes, will bring them new leverage on the issues with Israel. In his speech before the vote, Abbas said they “did not come here to delegitimize a state established years ago, that is Israel,” but “came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine”.[3] Though most of the U.N.’s 193 members already recognize Palestinian statehood through bilateral relations according to Palestinian Liberation Organization,[3] this move implicitly recognizes Palestinian statehood in terms of international law and specifically, in U.N. framework.

On the other side, Israel and the U.S. expressed their strong opposition on this move. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points out that “only direct talks will confer true statehood on the Palestinians” and believes this decision “will not advance the establishment of a Palestinian state” but “push it off”.[5] In her speech after the vote, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also considered the decision “unfortunate and counterproductive”.[5]

Substantive Gains?

Substantively, this upgrade will potentially help Palestinian authority to gain access to other international agencies, most prominently International Criminal Court. Palestine’s previous request for investigation in the 2008-2009 Gaza war was rejected by ICC, saying it’s still for other bodies to determine whether the Palestinians could be considered a state, which in turn would allow it to join the court.[3] If Palestine’s application to join ICC is successful, Palestine will be able to request to investigate acts by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank and accused Israel for committing war crime. Generally, the recognition of statehood will assist Palestine to utilize the international arena to score political points and to pressure Israel.

Has Israel lost Europe?

The surprise of this upgrade does not come from the endorsement of the resolution, but from lack of oppositions from key European countries. Normally staunchly pro-Israeli governments of Britain and Germany’s voted “abstain” and France voted “yes”, with Czech Republic as the only European country that joined the U.S. and Israel in voting for opposition.[2] Part of the reason is the support of Palestine in European local politics, considering that the polls in most Europeans cities overwhelmingly support Palestinians and take a dim view of Israel.[3] Also, the eight days of conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians earlier this month gave many European countries the feeling that Abbas needed to be bolstered after either days of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians earlier this month. What’s more, the relationships between European countries and Israel may not be as strong as it seem. One example that disproves Germany’s claim to be Israel’s strongest ally in Europe is its seek to convince U.S. envoys to weaken Washington’s opposition to the U.N. Goldstone Report in 2009, which alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza during that year’s Operation Cast Lead.[2] Also, France’s relations with Israel have been uneasy for more than a decade, best proved by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s famous hot-mic fiasco at 2011 G-20 meeting, telling U.S. President Barack Obama that he couldn’t stand Netanyahu.[2]

Future membership?

However, it would be too optimistic to assume too much in the positive indications for Palestinian statehood in this upgrade. Regarding Palestine’s goal of obtaining member state status in the U.N., it still needs unanimous votes from the five permanent members of the Security Council, where a consensus on the statehood is not likely to be reached due to the U.S.’s veto power.




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