IMEU, Sep 8, 2011
This paper seeks to provide answers to some frequently asked questions surrounding the Palestine Liberation Organization's actions before the United Nations during its September 2011 meeting.
1. What is the Palestinian Authority planning to do in September?
The Palestinian Authority had earlier announced its intention to issue a unilateral declaration of statehood for the State of Palestine encompassing the entirety of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These areas have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967 despite UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel's occupation, and despite an advisory opinion ruling by the International Court of Justice. The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, laid out this plan in August 2009 in a document titled, Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State and later in the follow-up report in 2010 titled, Homestretch to Freedom.
The plan to issue a unilateral declaration was changed, however, to instead focus on attaining Palestine's membership as a state in the United Nations.
2. What is Palestine's status currently before the United Nations?
In 1974, the Arab League passed a resolution declaring the Palestine Liberation Organization the "sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian
people." That same year, following a UN debate, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution inviting the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate in the session and the work of the General Assembly, and in all international conferences convened by the General Assembly or other organs of the United Nations.
This status was changed in name only in 1988. Following the Palestinian declaration of independence, the General Assembly adopted a resolution determining that "the designation 'Palestine' should be used in place of the designation 'Palestine Liberation Organization' in the United Nations system." Nonetheless, 'Palestine' remains solely as an observer entity in the United Nations. While there are no uniform rules governing the rights and privileges of observer missions, Palestine has the right to speak at UN General Assembly meetings but cannot vote on resolutions or other substantive matters. Over the years, Palestine has steadily been granted additional rights within the UN. These include the right to participate in the general debate held at the start of each session of the General Assembly; the right to cosponsor resolutions and the right to raise points of order on Palestinian and Middle East issues. It cannot, however, vote on resolutions.
3. Why does Palestine want to seek admission as a member state of the United Nations?
In his opinion piece in the New York Times, the de facto President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, indicated that, "Palestine's admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice."
Being admitted as a member state of the UN will also pave the way for Palestinians to seek redress before the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the State of Palestine.
4. What is the procedure for admission to the UN as a member state?
Membership to the United Nations, is, governed by Article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations which provides that membership "is open to all peace-loving States that accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able to carry out these obligations." States are admitted to membership in the United Nations by decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
The procedure is briefly as follows:
The procedure for admission can be a lengthy one. For example, in the case of Israel, it was admitted six months after it submitted it application because the Security Council was concerned that it was not a "peace-loving State." In some cases, admission is granted automatically such as the recent admission of South Sudan in July 2011.
If the Council recommends admission, the recommendation is presented to the General Assembly for consideration. A two-thirds majority vote is necessary in the Assembly for admission of a new State and membership becomes effective the date the resolution for admission is adopted.
Given that the United Nations is neither a state nor a government, it does not have the ability to "recognize" a state or government; recognition is an act that other states and governments grant or withhold. As a result, while a State may be admitted as a member, it does automatically provide for recognition by all member states around the world. Similarly, not attaining membership as a state in the UN does not negate or detract from existing recognition. For example, in the case of Palestine, there are already 122 countries that recognize Palestine or have some form of diplomatic ties with the country. Similarly, 36 countries do not recognize Israel and do not have diplomatic ties with it.
5. But can it be said that Palestine is a "state"? Does it meet the requirements for statehood?
In order to meet the requirements of statehood, legal scholars indicate that there must be four elements present: (i) a clearly-defined territory; (ii) a permanent population that lives in that territory; (iii) the presence of a government that can control that population and (iv) the capacity to enter into international relations. When the PLO declared its independence in 1988, it did not meet those requirements as they neither set out a clearly defined territory and there was no government present in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Today, these arguments cannot be made. In April 2011, the IMF and the World Bank determined that the Palestinian Authority has the institutions and economic policies required of a well functioning state. In addition, the Palestinian Authority maintains diplomatic and economic ties with individual groups and States and has done so for many years.
But, while Palestine may meet the legal definition of statehood, the determination of whether an entity is a "state" is, however, a political matter. For example, states that exert less control, such as the Marshall Islands, are considered "states" and are members of the UN. For some European countries their objection to Palestinian statehood rests from the fact that Palestine remains under Israeli military control and prefer to see an end to that control before it recognizes Palestine as a state.
6. Will the US vote against Palestine's application for membership? If so, why? Has the US threatened action against Palestine?
President Obama, in his speech on 19 May 2011 alluded to the US position on Palestine's bid for statehood by stating, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state." In addition, Congress has introduced a number of bills and resolutions aimed at cutting off assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it unilaterally declares statehood and to the UN if the UN admits Palestine as a member state. In June, the US Senate also passed a resolution calling upon President Obama to announce that the US will not support any resolution on Palestinian statehood and to consider restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority should it continue with its bid to become a member state of the UN.
7. There has been some talk about upgrading Palestine's status before the UN. What will this do?
Given the obstacles that the United States will undoubtedly place to Palestine's admission to the UN, it has been suggested that the Palestinians seek a UN General Assembly resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood and upgrading Palestine's status within the General Assembly.
While the passage of such a resolution will both highlight the world's support for Palestinian freedom (with more than 124 countries representing 75 percent of the world's population standing in support), its effect will be largely symbolic owing to the fact that, according to the rules of the United Nations, membership into the UN requires the support of the UN Security Council.
In addition, given that the UN does not have any specific rules regarding non-state observer status - with currently only the Holy See holding such status - it is unclear whether an upgrading of Palestine's status before the UN will grant to it more privileges within the UN system, particularly given the unprecedented and wide privileges it already holds. For example, the Holy See, holds observer status within the UN and like the PLO (Palestine) mission, does not have the right to vote in UN sessions.
8. Aren't negotiations a better route?
Negotiations to end Israel's control over Palestinians and their land commenced more than 18 years ago. Yet, despite the years of negotiations and countless negotiations sessions Israel's control over Palestinians has intensified, rather than eased. For example, today the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem number over 500,000, more than double the number that were present prior to the start of the negotiations process. Moreover, Palestinian-Israeli negotiations remain stalled owing to Israel's continued construction and expansion of illegal settlements in violation of international law, stated US foreign policy, and UN resolutions. In August alone, Israel approved the construction of an additional 5,200 new housing units while also stating that these settlements will remain an integral part of Israel and will not be evacuated.
Moreover, Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes with over 387 structures demolished in July alone.
9. What will Israel do if Palestine pursues admission to the UN?
Israel has threatened a number of actions against Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority should the Palestinian Authority seek Palestine's admission to the UN. The measures include: threatening to withhold the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority; threatening to illegally annex parts of the West Bank, thereby enlarging the state of Israel and threatening to cancel the Oslo Agreements thereby raising questions as to whether Palestinians will be able to travel (as they must cross Israeli-controlled borders that are governed by the Agreements); obtain building permits; obtain birth certificates; apply for family reunification; jeopardize Palestinian import and exports and further harm Palestinian access to shared water. It is also believed that Israel will continue to maintain the illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip.
10. Will Palestine's admission to the UN change anything on the ground for Palestinians?
No. Israel will remain in occupation of Palestine and continue to control the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even if Palestine is admitted to the United Nations as a member state. Just as Israel remains in occupation of parts of Lebanon and Syria despite the fact that both are member states of the United Nations, without international intervention (such as was authorized during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait) Israel will continue to remain in occupation of Palestine, will continue to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland in what is now Israel and will continue to maintain control over the lives of millions of Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority, in February 2009, presented a declaration to the ICC accepting the Court's jurisdiction for acts committed on the occupied Palestinian territory since the ICC's jurisdiction began on 1 July 2002. However, owing to the fact that Palestine is not recognized as a "state" prosecutions for such crimes have not yet been determined.
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