UN Upgrades Palestine to Non-Member Observer State
The United Nations (UN) approved a resolution upgrading Palestine to “Non-Member Observer State” in the UN’s General Assembly (GA). The application was brought before the GA by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Nov. 29, the 65th anniversary of the 1947 UN “partition plan” vote recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states.
Palestine was the only “Non-Member Entity Permanent Observer” at the UN – having assumed the role in 1974 – and was not allowed to vote in the GA. The change to “Non-Member State Permanent Observer” – a status formerly held only by the Vatican – was granted via a majority vote of the GA, but does not automatically give the Palestinians any additional rights or responsibilities in the UN. Palestine withdrew its bid for full UN membership in 2011 after the US threatened to use its Security Council veto. The US and Israel withheld millions of dollars from the Palestinian Authority after Palestine sought and received full membership to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Oct. 31, 2011.
According to J Street, a US non-governmental organization that lobbies in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recognition by the UN General Assembly as a non-member state “could be viewed as de facto evidence of statehood by other international institutions, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) … If the ICC were to accept a new attempt by Palestine to submit to its jurisdiction, it is likely that cases would be brought against current and former Israeli officials for war crimes and human rights violations, rendering such officials vulnerable to arrest in many countries around the world.” In Jan. 2009, the PA asked the ICC to “extend its jurisdiction to the Palestinian territories and investigate crimes allegedly committed by Israel,” which was denied because Palestine was not a non-member state, according to the Heritage Foundation.
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in a Nov. 12 statement that the Palestinian application is a “flagrant violation of the Oslo [Accords]” because it would preempt final status peace negotiations between Israel and the PA. According to The Independent, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel would “retaliate by withholding about $100 million monthly in taxes and customs duties which it collects on the PA’s behalf – about one-third of the Palestinian budget,” and Israeli officials announced immediately after the vote that the government would begin construction on 3,396 new settlement units east of Jerusalem in the West Bank.
US President Barack Obama spoke by phone to President Abbas on Nov. 11, stating his “opposition to unilateral efforts at the United Nations.” According to an official White House statement, “President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to Middle East peace and his strong support for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with the objective of two states living side by side in peace and security.”
President Abbas said in a statement that he told the US and Israel that “when we obtain the status of non-member in the UN, we would be prepared to discuss the peace negotiations, to talk about six or seven core issues… We do not want to clash with anyone, neither with America nor with Israel nor with anyone else… Why is going to the UN a unilateral act, when there are more than 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention?”
The most recent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended on Jan. 25, 2012 in Jordan without progress made towards a final-status peace agreement.
Israel Hayom, “Abbas Ready for Negotiations After UN Statehood Bid,” israelhayom.com, Nov. 13, 2012
Jon Grabelle Herrmann, “Local Leadership Discussion on Palestinian UN Bid,” jstreet.org, Nov. 12, 2012
Aaron Kalman, “Moshe Ya’alon Threatens Unilateral Moves by Israel in Response to PA Application for UN Nonmember Status,” timesofisrael.com, Nov. 11, 2012
Matthew Kalman, “Israel Threatens Sanctions on Palestinian Authority If It Goes Ahead With Plans to Seek UN ‘Non-Member State’ Status,” independent.co.uk, Nov. 13, 2012
Tovah Lazaroff, “Council to Debate E1 Construction Plan Amid International Objection,” jpost.com, Dec. 5, 2012
Brett D. Schaefer, “The US Must Oppose the Palestinian Statehood Effort at the UN,” heritage.org, Sep. 28, 2012
Khaled Abu Toameh, “PA Fails to Bag Joint EU-Arab League Endorsement of UN Bid,” jpost.com, Nov. 13, 2012
United Nations, “Non-Member States and Entities,” un.org (accessed Nov. 13, 2012)