header image
Jul 20, 2011 at 01:10 PM

1.    Strategy:

On May 17th, 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority wrote in the New York Times advising that “this September (2011), at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 Border and that our State be admitted as a full member of the United Nations”.

Thus Abbas proposes a two point strategy:

  1. Request recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders.
  2. The State to be admitted as a full time member of the United Nations.

Will this strategy hurt or help the Palestinians in their struggle for equality and basic human rights and what exactly does it all mean?

2. History:

In 1947 the UN partition plan called for the establishment of a Jewish State and an Arab state. Israel was established in 1948 and admitted to the UN in 1949, but an Arab state was never formed.

From 1974 to 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had observer status at the United Nations as a non-state entity. In 1988, the PLO declared that Palestine was a state and United Nations General Assembly acknowledged the proclamation and voted to use the designation “Palestine” instead of PLO.

Since 1988, the state of Palestine has been “recognized” by between 100 and 112 other states and a number of Palestinian “embassies” have been established in different countries. However, the PLO until recently has not referred to the 1988 declaration and many European and North American countries do not recognize the Palestinian state. In spite of the 1988 Palestinian proclamation, the PLO does not participate at the UN in its capacity as the state of Palestine government. Since 1988, the PLO is seated at the United Nations General Assembly immediately after non-members states. Thus Palestine has never been admitted to the United Nations as a member state.


Now many European countries and international organizations agree that Palestine has developed the attributes and institutions for statehood but is blocked by the occupation and its lack of independence .

3. Law and Policy:

What are the PLO’s choices in September 2011 at the UN?

  1. The PLO could declare political independence within specified borders i.e. the 1967 Border, and then submit an application to the Secretary General of the United Nations for admission to the United Nations as a member state. The Secretary General would then bring the application to the Security Council. If the Security Council voted 9/15 with no vetos by the 5 major powers in favour of the application then it would go to the United Nations General Assembly, which would have to pass it by 2/3 vote. A successful vote would admit Palestine to the United Nations as a member state.
  2. The PLO could go to the General Assembly directly and ask for collective recognition as a state (anticipating a US veto and bypassing the Security Council) If 150 states recognized “Palestine” as a state, then the PLO could use this overwhelming recognition to get admitted to other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court. Although this would not lead to full UN membership,it might lead to a UN upgrade from the Palestinian current position of permanent observer. While all members of the UN are states ,not all states are members of the UN, for example Taiwan and Kosovo are considered independent states by much of the world but are not members of the UN because of opposition from China and Russia. This second scenario could lead to a similar status for Palestine
  3. Abbas under pressure from the United States and other countries could abandon the path of seeking recognition and go to a bargaining conference or table sponsored by the United States and other countries.

4.  Why is the Palestinian Authority adopting the strategy of going to the United Nations and what are the possibilities of success?

  1. Abbas has stated that he would prefer to negotiate with Israel rather than go to the United Nations to get “recognition”. But in fact Abbas cannot go back to the negotiating table because the Israelis will not agree to stop settlement expansion and will not agree to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders. Thus Abbas is using the United Nations September vote strategy as a bargaining chip.
  2. However, the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to mobilize its natural allies in this campaign i.e. Palestinians in the Diaspora, the Arab peoples, progressive opinion in the Western world. Thus he is relying almost entirely on diplomacy and foreign governments.

See Jeff Halper

5. The American and Israeli reaction to the September UN vote:

The Americans and the Israelis are engaged in a huge campaign to prevent and discourage Abbas from making an application to the United Nations for full Palestinian membership. The Americans, in particular will feel obliged to veto this application at the Security Council, but it does not want to be put in this position because it will undermine their diplomatic and political ties to the Arab Spring.

The American Israeli position is that Palestinian statehood can only come about through bi- lateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Thus the United States Senate and Congress have overwhelming passed resolutions threatening to withdraw aide to the Palestine Authority if they proceed to the United Nations and both houses are asking President Obama to veto this application in any event.

Meanwhile both the United States and Israel are pressing their allies to oppose the Palestinian bid and therefore to vote against if the United Nations oppose the Palestinian bid.

The European position is sliding into line

As is Canada which is also lobbying some of the smaller counties to vote no to Palestinian statehood at the UN.

But not all allies are supporting the US position –see the Saudi position

6. The Pros and Cons of Abbas Strategy: The positions of Palestinian human rights activists

1. A number of commentators such as Palestinian lawyer and activist Victor Kattan support the Abbas initiative although they say that it is not without risks . (see also Michael Sfard and Adam Keller below)

Successful recognition by up to 150 states of Palestinian statehood even if Palestine is not admitted to the United Nations would level the plain field between Israel and Palestine on the diplomatic front, it would enable Palestine to formerly join in the International Community and such organizations as the World Health Organization. It would enable Palestine to ratify International treaties such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and perhaps even persuading the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of war crimes against Israel etc. It would increase International pressures on Israel and make it more difficult for Israeli troops and forces to invade different parts of the Palestinian territory. http://www.victorkattan.com/blogDetail.php?72

2. Other activists such as Ali Abunimah are totally opposed to this initaitive. He says that the effort to seek diplomatic recognition for an imaginary Palestinian state on a fraction of historic Palestine is a strategy of desperation from a Palestinian leadership that has lost its legitimacy, and become a serious obstacle in the way of Palestinians regaining their rights.

He goes on to say that relying heavily on diplomatic forums and the goodwill of the International Community has also been tried before and produced no results and he references the 2004 Advisory Ruling from the International Court of Justice. Beyond obtaining the ruling, according the Abuniaimah the Palestinian Authority had absolutely no strategy to mobilize Palestinians and their allies to pressure the world to actually implement the decision.

He also notes that Lebanon’s or Syria’s UN membership have not prevented Israeli occupation of parts of their territory.

He states that rather than fetishing statehood the PLO should support “the boycott/ divestment/ sanctions campaign” which focuses on rights and realities such as calling for an end to Israel’s occupation full equality for Palestinian citizens and refugee rights.

Haider Eid concurs with Abunimah and states that “ultimately, what this intended “Declaration of Independence” offers the Palestinian people is a mirage, an “independent homeland” that is a Bantustan in disguise.

3. Other organizations and activists have a more mixed view of this strategy:

The Palestine Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign:

“welcomes the recognition of a great majority of states around the world that the Palestinian right to statehood and freedom from Israeli occupation are long overdue. However recognition of Palestinian statehood is clearly insufficient on its own in bringing about a real end to Israel’s occupational and colonial rule. For it to go beyond symbolism this international recognition must be prelude to an effective and sustained sanctions against Israel aimed at bringing about its full compliance with its obligations under International Law.”

Ahmad Khalidi notes how the Palestinian activists living in Palestine have been influenced by the recent Arab protest movements. He says that the goal of statehood has lost most if not all of its glitter and resonance in the new popular Palestine mood.

“While UN recognition will undoubtedly mark an important stage in the Palestinian struggle there is clear and growing realization that it won’t fulfill Palestinian National aspirations. For those under occupation in the West Bank or besieged in Gaza this declaration will have no noticeable effect.

What is emerging in Palestinian society is a new common identity which means including the struggle for civil rights in Israel, ending the West Bank occupation, healing the split with Gaza and safeguarding refugee rights including the right to live free in Palestine. It will be primarily expressed by popular and mass protest and the appeal to universal values instead of a narrow appeal to West Bank statehood.”

Jeff Halper ,the Israeli activist, states that whatever our view of the Palestinian strategy if the Palestinian authority is going to pursue admission to the UN, Palestinian activists must do everything we can in order for it to succeed. 


There will be tremendous pressure on Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to abandon this initiative and give the “peace process” one last chance because the Americans simply do not want to be put in the position of having to veto the application in the Security Council. The pressure will continue even if the PA takes the first steps on this road at the UN. Without mobilizing its allies , the PA will have a very difficult time resisting this pressure.

If the Palestinians do not succumb to American pressure and continue their application for UN membership and recognition they stand to make some diplomatic and political gains but the Israeli occupation and control of Palestinian life will continue nonetheless and thus the struggle for Palestinian human rights and international law will remain in the forefront.

<Previous   Next>
A Statement to the Press from the Free Gaza Movement
Forty-six international human rights workers are now sailing to Gaza through international waters with one overriding goal: to break the Israeli siege that Israel has imposed on the civilian population of Gaza.  Any action designed to harm civilians constitutes collective punishment (in the Palestinians’ case, for voting the “wrong” way) and is both illegal under international law and profoundly immoral.  Our mission is to expose the illegality of Israel’s actions, and to break through the siege in order to express our solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza (and of the occupied Palestinian territory as a whole) and to create a free and regular channel between Gaza and the outside world.
Who's Online
We have 31 guests online