The Palestinian Authority’s UN statehood bid: an exercise in futility?

Last week I attended a discussion on the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid at the UN by Susan Akram, a Boston University School of Law professor who is a leading expert on refugee issues and international law. Akram delivered a withering assessment of the PA’s statehood campaign at the UN. She focused her lecture on contrasting the PA’s strategy with Namibia’s, demonstrating how Nambia managed to achieve independence despite its initial designation by the UN to be one of the least likely colonial mandates to attain the status necessary for statehood, and despite a prolonged occupation by apartheid South Africa. Nambia and its supporters filed a steady stream of submissions to the International Court of Justice, winning decisions that confirmed the illegality of South Africa’s occupation while demanding sanctions on South Africa. Thus Nambia established a legal framework guaranteeing that any UN resolution granting it statehood would also establish its full independence.

In contrast, the PLO and PA accepted the formula of a negotiated land for peace, allowing the UN Security Council to relegate Resolution 194, the right of return resolution that guarantees individual, inalienable Palestinian rights, to “final status” talks (the UN’s acceptance of Israel as a member state in 1949 was contingent on its fulfillment of Res 194). Since Israel’s occupation of Palestine began, the Palestinian Authority has made only one request for an advisory opinion from the ICJ, when in 2004 it challenged Israel’s right to build the separation wall across the Green Line. Though the PA received a favorable ruling, it did nothing to enforce the ruling — no mobilization of civil society or demand for sanctions. In fact, despite the ICJ’s recommendation, the PA rejected the Palestinian civil society call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel.

Akram said the PA’s failure to enact a strategy of “soft and hard law” had left an array of questions about the upcoming Palestinian statehood resolution unresolved, casting serious doubt on the whole endeavor. She enumerated some the key unresolved issues:

1. What do the 150 UN member states who vote for the resolution do with the recommendation? Do they afford Palestine full representation or representative status? Where will their embassies be? Since Israel will refuse to allow foreign embassies in East Jerusalem, will they instead be in Ramallah, and if so, does that mean that Ramallah is the future capitol of a Palestinian state? Will passports be issued to Palestinians and will they receive full consular intervention if they require it abroad?

2. What will be the recognized population of Palestine? Will it include Palestinians in the diaspora? In the West Bank and Gaza? Inside Israel? The refugees? If it does not include the refugees, do they then lose the legal right to return to their property and land confiscated by the state of Israel? None of these questions have been answered and the consequences are enormous.

3. If Palestine will be considered a legitimate state on the diplomatic front, it will not have relations with states that refused to recognize it. That means it would not have relations with the United States. How does that impact Palestine’s status at the International Court of Justice or the UN, where the US and Israel could prevent its admission to the Human Rights Council?

4. What can Palestine do to enforce the withdrawal of Israeli settlements and its territorial integrity in the absence of Israeli withdrawal and the backing of the US? The issue of enforcement has not been addressed through the statehood resolution.

5. Even if new avenues open for legal recourse against the Israeli occupation, Israel does not recognize the International Court of Justice’s authority and the United States will block any efforts to bring Israeli defendants to the ICJ for crimes they committed against Palestinians. So in real terms, what can Palestine do? Further, if Palestine becomes a member of the UN, it could table and introduce resolutions, but does this represent a change in the observer status the PLO has enjoyed since 1974? It does not.

6. Do Palestine’s security forces become a legitimate military force with all the benefits that it entails? Can they purchase arms as all state military forces do? If Israel refuses to accept members of the Palestinian military as legitimate soldiers than the status quo of captured Palestinian soldiers being treated as terrorists remains.

The consequences of statehood without real independence are enormous, Akram said. In the absence of a strategy based on hard and soft law, the PA’s statehood resolution bid could be an exercise in futility. While Namibia relied on a protracted legal battle for 40 years along with armed struggle and a political/media strategy to lay the foundation for its independence, Akram warned that the outcome for Palestine is highly uncertain.

3 thoughts on “The Palestinian Authority’s UN statehood bid: an exercise in futility?

  1. chayma100

    Akram’s assertions make sense. This bid for statehood without real independence will only further muddy the waters, and bring nothing of value. Point number 2, about the refugees, can really only be determined by mutual consent and by Security Council approval, and the same with point 4, the settlers, in the event that a population exchange occurs, or whether they stay as Palestinian citizens, will only complicate negotiations if there is extra red tape to consider. As if there is already not enough!

    If it does come about this statehood bid at the UN may prove to be phyrric victory even if it does come about. I hope the Palestinians get it right. With the lousy leadership they have, we can only pray, matters do not go from bad to worse if it does become a reality.


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  2. Real Jew

    The odds are certainly stacked against the PA either way you look at it. Attempting to unify two separate governments, Fatah and faithfully stubborn Hamas, while simultaneously rallying for independence on an international stage is insanely challenging. In addition, the PA and Hamas are displaying considerable amounts of division and indecision

    Regardless of which way the UN vote in September concludes its unlikely the results will garner any significant changes. And an American veto will unequivocally and inevitably show its ugly face AGAIN.

    The PA’s intentions for the push for statehood is prob more to bring the plight of the Palestinians to the international arena rather then their belief that they will actually win. However, win or lose they will succeed in motivating Western/European countries to apply pressure on Israel to end this despicable occupation.

    Cuz one thing is for sure, Israel will never end the occupation, the settlements, and the land theft on her own. While some major players in the West sit on their hands and some (US) even perpetuating the misery, international pressure and boycott is the only realistic option the Palestinians have at this point.

  3. Joel

    Actually, Mr. Blumenthal, UN Resolution 194 was primarily concerned with reaching a truce agreement between the Arabs and Jews and that only one of the resolution’s 15 paragraphs dealt with the refugee crisis created by the conflict.

    Resolution 194 attempted to create the tools required to reach a truce in the region and the Resolution’s “refugee clause” is not a standalone item, and, for that matter does it pertain specifically to Palestinian Arab refugees but was aimed at all refugees, both Jewish and Arab.

    Contrary to Mediator Bernadotte’s recommendations, this UN resolution did not guarantee a Right of Return and certainly did not guarantee an unconditional Right of Return.

    The Arabs attack on Israel was the proximate cause of the refugee crisis and pursuant to Resolution 194, the Arabs would have to compensate and resettle many if not most of the local arab refugees. Arab culpability in causing the refugee crisis, along with the Arabs unwillingness to make peace with Israel are the reasons that the Arab States: Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen voted against Resolution 194.



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