A primer on Palestinian statehood

A primer on Palestinian statehood

Israeli soldiers scuffle with Palestinians during a demonstration near the west bank village of Beit Omar on Aug. 13. Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash 90

The Palestinian Authority in mid-September is expected to ask the U.N. Security Council to formally recognize it as a state.

Some analysts warn that such a request will set off a new paroxysm of violence in the west bank and Gaza, and perhaps even on Israel’s streets.

Here is a guide to what might happen, and what it might mean.

Q. What do the Palestinians want the United Nations to recognize?

A. The Palestinians want recognition of a “State of Palestine” in all of the west bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem. The west bank is part of the area originally designated for a “Palestinian Arab” state in the Nov. 29, 1947, U.N. partition resolution. It was seized by Jordan during Israel’s War of Independence and held by it until it was captured by Israel in the June 1967 Six-Day War. Today, it includes lands on which Jewish settlements now sit. The two halves of Jerusalem were effectively annexed by Israel, but the international community views it as occupied territory. (Jerusalem, under the 1947 resolution, was to be an international city, belonging to no individual state.) In total, more than 600,000 Jews reside in eastern Jerusalem and the west bank.

Q. What’s the legal process for becoming a state?

A. The U.N. Security Council’s approval is required to become a U.N. member state. The United States, which is one of the 15-member council’s five permanent, veto-wielding members, has promised to veto a Palestinian statehood resolution.

Q. Is there a way for the Palestinians to overcome a U.S. veto?

A. The Palestinians still could seek statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly. While a General Assembly vote in favor of Palestinian statehood would not carry the force of law, the passage of such a resolution would be highly symbolic and represent a significant public relations defeat for Israel.

Q. Is there any benefit short of full statehood recognition that the Palestinians can obtain at the United Nations?

A. Yes. The Palestinians already have non-member permanent observer status at the United Nations, which they obtained in 1974.

This time, the General Assembly could vote to recognize “Palestine” as a non-member U.N. state, which would put Palestinian U.N. membership on par with that of the Vatican. While being a non-member state would not give the Palestinians much more than they have now as a non-state observer, it would be another symbolic victory.

If the Palestinians can get a two-thirds majority in support of statehood in the General Assembly, they also could put forward a so-called Uniting for Peace resolution. This nonbinding, advisory resolution would provide legal cover to nations wanting to treat Palestine as a state ““ for example, allowing sanctions and lawsuits against Israel to go forward. The Uniting for Peace option was first used to circumvent a Soviet veto in the Security Council against action during the Korean War, and it was employed during the 1980s to protect countries that sanctioned apartheid South Africa from being sued under international trade laws.

Q. Why are the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations rather than negotiating directly with Israel?

A. The Palestinian leadership has eschewed renewed peace talks with Israel, either because Abbas believes that talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not produce desired results, or because Abbas believes he has more to gain by going to the international arena ““ or both.

Abbas essentially is gambling that the U.N. move will give him more leverage vis-à-vis Israel, making it more difficult for the Israelis to stick to their current negotiating positions and establishing the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations.

[Editor’s note: The question of whether to set the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations is semantic, not substantive. In fact, the lines are the starting point for all sides in the peace talks. Israel wants to see the lines redrawn to better accommodate its security needs. This would include retaining control over established west bank settlements. The Palestinians want the lines to remain what they were before the start of the Six-Day War.]

Q. What tools does Israel have to respond to the Palestinian bid?

A. Israel’s strategy now is trying to persuade as many nations as possible ““ as well as the Palestinians ““ that a U.N. vote favoring Palestinian statehood would set back the peace track. The argument is that it would make it less likely that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would succeed, forcing Israel to dig in its heels.

Beyond that, Israeli experts have warned, Israel may consider the unilateral Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition an abrogation of the Oslo Accords, which stipulated that the framework for resolution of the conflict would be negotiations between the two parties. If the Oslo Accords, which provides the basis for the limited autonomy the Palestinians currently have in the west bank, are nullified, Israel may re-occupy portions of the west bank from which its forces have withdrawn, end security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money it collects on behalf of the PA.

Q. What are some of the other possible negative consequences for the Palestinians of statehood recognition?

A. The U.S. Congress has threatened to ban assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it pursues recognition of statehood at the United Nations. That could cost the Palestinians as much as $500 million annually, potentially crippling the Palestinian government.

Q. What happens on the day after the U.N. vote?

A. This is not clear. The Palestinian leadership does not seem to have a plan. The Palestinian public is expected to stage mass demonstrations. Israel is preparing for a host of worst-case scenarios, including violence.

If the United Nations does endorse Palestinian statehood in some form, it will be seen as a public relations victory for the Palestinians. In the absence of progress on the ground, however, a U.N. vote could set off popular Palestinian protests against Israel that could escalate into another Palestinian intifada.

It is possible that a favorable U.N. vote will send Palestinians marching on Israeli settlements and military positions much like Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon marched on Israel’s borders in mid-May.

It is also possible a vote on statehood would unleash a wave of violence in the Palestinian street not seen since the second intifada waned in 2004.

Such violence, however, could come at a high cost. The relative absence of Palestinian terrorism in recent years has enabled the Palestinians to rally considerable support to their cause, raise their GDP, and improve the quality of life in the west bank. All this could be lost.

That may leave the Palestinians and Israel back where they began: at a standstill. JTA Wire Service

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