The UN and the State of Palestine
On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution according Palestine a "non-member observer state", instead of the "observer status," which it had enjoyed since 1974.
An immediate result of the upgrade would be to grant Palestine more visibility and a few privileges within the UN, including an office at the main UN building. It may also get a tad more resources from the UN, but in the face of the United States' threats to reduce or delay its funding of the UN, the organization may resort to asking some member states to foot the bill, as it usually does in such cases.
Another possible outcome is to enable Palestine to appeal to the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In a statement issued on Friday, the ICC Prosecutor's Office said that it "will consider the legal implications of this resolution."
In April, ICC prosecutors rejected a Palestinian request to get the court to investigate war crimes committed during the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008. The Palestinian Authority attempted to empower the court to investigate those crimes by unilaterally recognizing its jurisdiction, but prosecutors said then only internationally recognized states could accept jurisdiction, which Palestine was not. This may now change.
Although Thursday's UN resolution is certainly too little and way too late, it is probably the most significant step the United Nations has taken since 1947 to help Palestine exercise its rights as a state. In 1947, the UN partitioned Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Since then, it has done everything to help the Jewish state (Israel) exercise its full rights as a UN member, but has done very little to enable the Arab state (Palestine) to do the same.
Some analysts, confused by President Abbas reference to a birth certificate, have said that the new resolution establishes Palestine as a state, but in fact that was done long time ago and has been reaffirmed since then. For starters, the 1947 Palestine Partition Plan, which the UN General Assembly adopted as Resolution 181 (29 November 1947), divided Palestine into two "independent Arab and Jewish states", which should come into existence in Palestine "not later than Oct. 1, 1948." The partition plan set in detail the boundaries of the two states, allocating to the Arab state 45 percent of Palestine's territory.
The fact that the UN 1947 resolution conferred or reaffirmed the state status of Palestine is not in dispute, although legal scholars may differ on the finer points of this recognition. By contrast, for Israel it was the first, and to date the most important, decision conferring some legitimacy to carving out part of historical Palestine for the new Jewish state. Israel recognized the resolution's significance, as is clear from the way its declaration of independence of May 14, 1948 referred to it.
For the Palestinians it was more obvious. After all, the 1947 resolution referred to "Palestinian citizens," who then carried passports issued by the Government of Palestine, run then by the British mandatory authorities, which recognized them as such.
In addition, Palestinians had lived in the territory of Palestine since time immemorial and as such it was quite clear that the part the UN allocated to them was a state to come in practical existence no later than October 1948, as the resolution stipulated. It was the Jewish part that needed recognition, since it was a newly carved part of Palestine.
At the time, Palestinians, and many others, rejected the 1947 resolution not because they disputed the status of the State of Palestine, but because it carved out 55 percent of their land to a new Jewish state that had not existed hitherto.
As was established by the UN Special Committee that drafted the Partition Plan, Palestinians constituted 67 percent of the population, while Jews accounted for only 33 percent. More to the point, in the land allocated to the Jewish state, Palestinians constituted 45 percent of its population of 900,000. Land ownership was even more skewed as Jews owned about a mere 5 percent of the land.
As it happened, the Palestinian state established in the 1947 Partition Plan was prevented from exercising control over any part of its territory until 1993.
Since 1993, the Palestinian state has regained control over parts of its historical territory in the West Bank and Gaza. The State of Palestine has now been recognized by 132 countries, more than those countries recognizing Israel.
The overwhelming majority with which the UN resolution was passed on Thursday is another example of the world's recognition of the State of Palestine. 138 countries voted for the resolution. Besides Israel and the United States, only seven countries voted against it: Canada, Czech Republic, Panama, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. The fact that you probably had never heard of most of these countries is indicative of how isolated Israel has become. Palau, Nauru, Micronesia and Marshall Islands have a combined population of 180,000 people, and all rely on US aid for survival. Panama is the only country in South or Central America to vote against the resolution. Czech Republic is the only European country to vote against it!
The resolution makes it clear that there is an overwhelming desire on part of the international community to right the historical wrongs that were visited on the Palestinians. The only power that stands in the way is the United States, where domestic politics has prevented it from taking the right decisions.
The resolution called on the Security Council to accept the application submitted on Sept. 23, 2011 by the State of Palestine for admission to full membership in the United Nations. As such, 65 years after the original resolution creating the two states, and 63 years after accepting Israel as a UN member, the UN has yet to confer the same status on Palestine! Whether the UNSC will heed this call will be a measure of how serious the UN is in righting a historical wrong of its own creation.