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Palestine at the United Nations: An Opening for New Rights at the International Level

Translated Sunday 2 December 2012, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Bill Scoble

The status of non-member observer state, obtained by the Palestinians during the night of Thursday to Friday at the UN, opens new paths for action on the world stage.

Last year, the Palestinian Authority (PA) placed before the Security Council of the United Nations their first application for recognition of a Palestinian State in due form - in the pre-1967 borders. The request was de facto stillborn, upon the announcement of a U.S. veto. This year, the Palestinian Authority put the task back on the table, but with one notable difference: the new Palestinian request was submitted by the PA President Mahmoud Abbas to the General Assembly (GA), the Parliament of the United Nations in which sit all members of the organization. And every country, big or small, has only one voice (without veto). However, at the UN, a majority decision of the GA alone, if not subsequently approved by the Security Council, allows the creation only of an intermediate status, that of a state observer, not member.

Status like that of the Vatican

A precedent already exists with the Vatican’s Pontifical State. Without all the prerogatives of a member state of the UN, it is still constitutes statehood on the international scene. For Palestinians, being an observer state is a breakthrough: it is still a much more formal status than that of "entity" or "territories" which they had up until now (especially since the Oslo peace accords in 1993, now well dead). And they are not wrong in thinking so, if we judge by the fierce resistance put up by Israel and its main ally, the United States. Israel has threatened to cut off all contact with the PA, and even to block its assets and taxes. As for the USA, they also brandished the menace of halting all financial assistance (President Obama managed to obtain only a postponement of the filing of the Palestinian request until after the U.S. elections on November 6) .

International Justice

In fact, after running through a series of bilateral recognitions (with a hundred countries), the Palestinians now believe that the status of an observer State opens to them a much wider range of possibilities of presence and action on the international scene. As a State, they may participate fully in the deliberations of the UN, and also hold seats on its various agencies. Moreover, and this is a point of great importance for the Palestinians, the new status (which Abbas and the PA hope to obtain with a large majority in the GA) could allow them to bring cases before the International Criminal Court (ICC), which, according to its statutes, agrees to open proceedings on request from the United Nations or from states recognized by that organization. The ICC had refused, in January 2009, to recognize this power for a referral by the Palestinian Authority ... However, whether concerning the question of the legality of the Israeli West Bank settlements or of war crimes committed in the Gaza operations, Palestinians count on relying on arbitration by the international court.

This is also one of the major concerns of Israel and its allies. This has led some (like the UK) to offer to trade a positive vote at the GA for a guarantee by the PA do not try to bring these issues before the ICC. These issues, they say, must be resolved by political decisions ...

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