Eclectic Rant: Palestinian Statehood to be Decided by UN?

By Ralph E. Stone
Tuesday December 21, 2010 - 09:37:00 PM

On November 15, 1988, the State of Palestine was unilaterally declared in Algiers when the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s National Council adopted the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. The independent State of Palestine is widely recognized by over 100 United Nations member countries, although oftentimes in equivocal terms. Although an independent state, it has no universally recognized borders. In 1993, the Palestinian Authority recognized the state of Israel. Now it is the time for Israel and the world to recognize Palestine as an independent state in the 1967 borders. 

The last thing Israel wants is for the issue to end up in the UN. But why not the UN? Consider that at the creation of Israel in 1947, the UN partitioned the land, allotting the Jews 55 percent of Palestine. The Arabs did not agree to this partition. The action of the UN conflicted with the basic principles for which the world organization was established, namely, to uphold the right of all peoples to self-determination. By denying the Palestine Arabs, who formed a two-thirds majority of the country, the right to decide for themselves, the UN had violated its own charter. Now is the chance for the UN to rectify its 1947 action and give the Palestinians a chance, denied them in 1947, to have a say in their future. 

Why the 1967 borders? In the war of 1967, Egypt did not attack Israel. Rather, Israel conducted a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. After the war, the remaining Palestinian territory was captured by Israel. Out of this captured land, Israel created the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by chopping up the land into isolated enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements and Israeli occupation forces. The Palestinians lost 78 percent of their land to Israel and are left with 22 percent. Under the UN Charter there can lawfully be no territorial gains from war, even if a state acted in self-defense. Therefore, even if Israel’s action were to be considered defensive, its retention of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is unlawful. 

A group of prominent former political leaders in Europe – foreign ministers, prime ministers, and other luminaries – has urged the European Union (EU) and its member states to explore the Palestinian statehood issue. In early December 2010, this group addressed an open letter (VIP letter) to the EU. The VIP letter makes reference to the twelve “Council resolutions on the Middle East peace process”, which the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted on December 8, 2009. Since then, they write, “we appear to be no closer to a resolution” and the reason is that “developments on the ground, primarily Israel’s continuation of settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem, pose an existential threat to the prospects of establishing a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian state also embracing Gaza, and therefore pose a commensurate threat to a two-state solution to the conflict.” 

The VIP letter further states: “We believe the EU should at the December 2010 Council meeting set a date at which it will take further action. It should, for example, say that if there is no progress by its next meeting scheduled for April 2011, this will leave the Council with no alternative but to refer the matter to the international community [the UN] to enable the latter to lead efforts to define a vision and a strategy for a resolution of this conflict.” 

Further, the VIP letter quotes from the EU Council’s 2009 document to the effect that the EU “will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.” In response to unilateral measures by Israel, “we recommend that the EU reiterate its position that it will not recognize any changes to the June 1967 boundaries, and clarify that a Palestinian state should be in sovereign control over territory equivalent to 100% of the territory occupied in 1967, including its capital in East Jerusalem.” 

The White House had, prior to the VIP letter’s publication, acknowledged Israel’s refusal to stop settlements. 

It is unclear what effect the VIP letter had or will have on the EU. But on December 16, 2010, Palestinian Authority negotiator Nabil Shaath asked the EU and several member states to recognize a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. Faced with this formal request from the Palestinian Authority and citing growing frustration with the Israeli settlement expansions, the EU warned that it is seriously considering recognizing an independent Palestine along the 1967 borders. 

The move by the EU would follow high profile recognitions by Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay in early December. Other Mercosur members and associate members may follow. (Mecosur is an economic and political agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay founded in 1991. Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela currently have associate member status.) In addition, Norway declared its support. 

Predictably, the Israelis are outraged. An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement said, “Recognition of a Palestinian state is a violation of the interim agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1995, which established that the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be discussed and solved through negotiations.” He also claimed that such a stance violated provisions in the Oslo Accords and the Road Map. But really, has the Netanyahu government ever respected the provisions of those agreements. Israel’s continued building of settlements is one glaring example. And why should Israel have the final say on the borders of a Palestinian state? 

What would happen if the Mideast conflict landed back to the UN? In the General Assembly an overwhelming majority would probably vote to recognize a sovereign, independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. But what about the Security Council? How would the U.S. vote? 

In this regard, on December 15, the lame-duck Congress passed Res. 1765 by a voice vote. Presented by U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D. Cal) — a self-described Zionist — the resolution states that the Palestinians are “pursuing a coordinated strategy of seeking recognition of a Palestinian state within the United Nations, in other international forums, and from a number of foreign governments;” and some Latin American governments are moving in that direction; and, on the other, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said only negotiations can lead to a Palestinian state, a position endorsed by Israel; the Congress therefore opposes any such recognition strategy, calls on Palestinians to cease and desist from such efforts, and rather return to negotiations. The resolution ends with a call on the Administration to “affirm that the United States would deny recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state and veto any resolution by the United Nations Security Council to establish or recognize a Palestinian state outside of an agreement by the two parties.” 

What will President Obama do in the face of this biased resolution? 

Clearly, pressure is being applied on Israel by the international community. The U.S. cannot continue to be treated like a doormat by Israel. The credibility of the UN, the EU, and the U.S. is at stake. As more and more countries recognize the Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, the matter may ultimately have to be debated and decided in the UN.