Palestinian Authority to Seek Non-Member Observer State Status from UN General Assembly November 26, 2012
In September 2011, the Palestinian Authority, led by its president, Mahmoud Abbas, made a bid to the UN Security Council to be accepted as a non-member observer state. The U.S., Israel and a number of European and other countries opposed this attempt, which ultimately failed in the Security Council.
This Thursday, on the historically significant date of November 29th (the anniversary of the 1947 UN vote on the Partition Plan that formally called for the establishment of a Jewish state), Abbas is returning to New York, this time to seek non-member observer state status from the UN’s General Assembly.
The Palestinian Authority has an “automatic majority” in the General Assembly, almost always gaining the support of the multitude of non-democratic and non-Western states across the globe. Unlike in the Security Council, the U.S. does not hold veto power in the General Assembly.
Israel, the U.S. and others argue that the status of a Palestinian entity must be determined by direct negotiations between the two sides, and not by unilateral actions such as this UN bid. They also argue that the bid is in material breach of the Oslo II Interim Agreement from 1995 that forbids either side from taking steps that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations.
Legal Perspective From a legal perspective, the Palestinian bid is problematic. Among other points, under international law, a “state” must have control over its territory and population. Since Hamas is in control in Gaza and Israel still exercises considerable authority in the West Bank, it is clear that the state bid does not comply with international law. Read about the legal implications of a bid in this Washington Post article.
At the same time, Israel is also concerned with the legal implications of a successful bid, which could, in theory, pave the way for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to claim jurisdiction and attempt to prosecute Israeli military and political leaders.
Israeli Government Messages The Israeli government is pushing the message that “President Abbas’ efforts at the UN are reckless and hinder the peace process. We ask President Abbas to instead join us at the negotiating table. The negotiating table is our only path to peace.” Another important point is the fact that this attempt potentially poses a danger to stability in the region. See this video clip put out by Israel’s embassy in Washington.
Other Governments Similarly, the U.S. government has consistently condemned the Palestinian bid and is actively working to prevent it. President Obama has stated: “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.”
The Mid-East Quartet (comprised of Russia, the EU, the UN and the U.S.), also opposes the bid, as expressed on September 23, 2011: "The Quartet reiterated its urgent appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions."
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working to ensure that many of the more important Western and democratic countries either oppose the bid or abstain from voting, which may deny the Palestinian bid a moral victory, even if they ultimately easily have the numbers.
Depending on developments after Thursday, we will follow up with additional information and any suggestions for activity or action. For questions on the UN vote, please contact JFNA’s Dani Wassner.
As always, the Israel Action Network is also available to provide assistance and consult with communities as needed. For additional information, materials or questions, please contact IAN’s Director of Community Strategy Noam Gilboord at (646)525-3600.