Why Palestine Already Is a State

Palestinian officials have appealed for membership at the United Nations, prompting angry retorts from Israel and a veto threat from the Obama administration. But the UN issue is membership, not statehood, which Joe Lauria writes is already a de facto reality.

By Joe Lauria

A combination of mistakes — whether through ignorance or design — and significant omissions of fact have left the American public misinformed about why the Palestinians have gone to the United Nations and what they are trying to achieve.

The biggest error repeated across the media in hundreds of headlines and stories is that the Palestinians are seeking statehood at the U.N. In fact, Palestine is already legally a sovereign state and is seeking membership of the United Nations, not statehood.

The United Nations does not grant or recognize statehood. Only states can recognize other states bilaterally. The U.N. can only confer membership or non-member observer state status to already existing states. The U.N. Charter is clear. Article 4 says that only existing states may apply for U.N. membership.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accepted an application for U.N. membership from PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sept. 23. Ban sent the application to the Security Council, which began deliberating last week.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

The very act of the Secretary General accepting the membership application is an acknowledgement from the U.N. that Palestine is already a state, since only states can apply.

The Montevideo Convention of 1933 lays out the requirements for statehood: a population living on a defined territory with a government that can enter into relations with other governments. The Palestinians have all three.

Though its borders with Israel are not set, other countries with border disputes have been admitted as U.N. members, such as Pakistan and India. Trygve Lie, the first U.N. Secretary-General, also wrote a 1950 memo that states do not need universal recognition to apply.

Palestine declared its independence on Nov. 15, 1988, a fact found nowhere in the American mainstream reporting of the past week. A Palestinian walked out of the Al Asqa Mosque that day in Al Quds/Jerusalem and read the declaration aloud, much as someone read the American Declaration of Independence to a crowd in the courtyard of the Philadelphia State House on July 4, 1776.

Almost immediately one hundred nations recognized an independent Palestinian state. Since then 30 more nations have recognized Palestine, some having opened Palestinian embassies in their capitals. This crucial fact too was not reported in the U.S. media. For Palestinians and those countries that recognize them, Israeli troops are occupying a sovereign nation.

It was the same as when Morocco and then France and other nations recognized an independent United States years before the war against Britain was won. For Americans and those nations recognizing America , British troops became an occupation force, not an army defending British territory.

The problem for the Americans then and for the Palestinians now is that the occupying nation and the world’s biggest power are not among the 130 who’ve recognized them.

If there were a United Nations in 1777 the Americans could have applied for membership. And if Britain had a veto on the Security Council then as it does now, it would have blocked that membership.

Today neither the occupying power, Israel, nor the world’s biggest power, the U.S., recognizes Palestinian statehood. Thus the U.S. has vowed to veto the Palestinians’ membership resolution in the Security Council.

The U.S. had furiously lobbied to prevent the Palestinians from coming to the U.N. at all, including Congress threatening to cut off all aid. Having failed, Washington is now trying to delay a vote as long as possible while lobbying the several non-permanent members of the Security Council to abstain, or vote against.

But the Palestinians knew from the start the U.N. process would take weeks and have so far not backtracked on their plan one inch.

Membership in the U.N. requires a recommendation from the 15-member Security Council, secured with nine votes in favor and no vetoes. If the recommendation passes, the 193-seat General Assembly must approve with a two-thirds majority. Eight votes in favor or less would kill the Security Council membership resolution, sparing the U.S. from a veto that would cost them dearly on the Arab street.

Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Lebanon are among the Security Council members who have formally recognized Palestine and are firm about voting in favor. The U.S. isn’t bothering with them. But Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia and Gabon have also recognized Palestine and are under extreme American, and in the case of Gabon, French pressure to at least abstain.

Falling short of eight votes would be an embarrassment for the Palestinians, but the Security Council route is only the first step. After a sure defeat in the Security Council (since the United States has vowed to use its veto if necessary), two options in the General Assembly remain.

President Abbas told reporters on his plane back home from New York that the Palestinians are willing to wait two weeks for the Security Council to act before going to the next step for membership. That step is to try to circumvent either a U.S. veto or less than nine votes in the Security Council in the General Assembly, employing a Cold War-era resolution known as Uniting for Peace.

It was introduced by the U.S. in 1950 to get around repeated Soviet vetoes on the Korean War. Francis Boyle, a legal adviser to Abbas, told me he has advised the Palestinian president to take this step.

But the Palestinians would have to convince two-thirds of voting Assembly members that Palestinian membership would be a response to a “threat to peace, breach of the peace or an act of aggression” from Israel.

The U.S. and Israel would fight to keep this off the General Assembly agenda. But Boyle, who cautioned that he does not speak for the Palestinians, told me he thinks the Palestinians have the votes to overcome this.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a split in the PLO leadership on whether to use Uniting for Peace. Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO executive committee member, says it is still a viable option. But the Palestinians’ U.N. observer, Riyad Mansour, believes any membership bid must legally go through the Security Council first and there’s no getting around it.

Abbas’ position on this is not clear. It will be interesting to see if the Palestinians try to use Uniting for Peace and what happens if they do.

If they decide against it or fail, their third option is to try to become a non-member observer state, which needs only a simple majority of 97 votes in the General Assembly which the Palestinians clearly have.

Becoming an observer state would be more than symbolic. It could reshape the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. As an observer state, Palestine could participate in Assembly debates, but could not vote, sponsor resolutions or field candidates for Assembly committees.

But more importantly, it would allow Palestine to accede to treaties and join specialized U.N. agencies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Law of the Sea Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), officials said.

Switzerland joined the ICAO in 1947 when it was still an observer state before becoming a U.N. member in 2002. Denis Changnon, an ICAO spokesman in Montreal, told me the treaty gives members full sovereign rights over air space, a contentious issue with Israel, which currently controls the airspace above the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians could bring claims of violation of its air space to the International Court of Justice.

If Palestine joins the Law of the Sea Treaty it would gain control of its national waters off Gaza, a highly contentious move as those waters are currently under an Israeli naval blockade. Boyle said he has advised Abbas to accede to treaties, including the Law of the Sea. If they do, the Palestinians could challenge the Israeli blockade at the ICJ as well as claim a gas field off Gaza, currently claimed by Israel.

Even more troubling for Israel and the U.S. would be Palestine joining the International Criminal Court.

Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, president of ICC Assembly of State Parties, said in an interview a Palestine observer state could join the ICC and ask the court to investigate any alleged war crimes and other charges against Israel committed on Palestinian territory after July 2002, including Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead war against Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinian civilians.

Ashrawi says Israeli settlements in Palestine can be challenged as war crimes in the court as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Palestinians know they must still negotiate borders, refugees, settlements, the occupation and Jerusalem. Abbas said pushing for U.N. membership did not mean he no longer wants to negotiate. Rather gaining membership or observer state status would give the Palestinians more leverage in those talks, he said.

In an effort to upstage and derail the Palestinians’ membership drive, just minutes after Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had finished addressing the General Assembly last Friday the so-called Quartet — the U.S., U.K., Russia and the U.N. — announced its vision of a one-year plan for a comprehensive settlement.

The Quartet dropped its repeated call for a settlement freeze and called for no preconditions for talks. The Palestinians, who are demanding a freeze before negotiations based on the pre-occupation 1967 borders, rejected the Quartet’s plan. Israel then announced 1,100 new settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.

The Quartet has failed again. Westerners cannot solve this problem. Maybe it’s time to make it the Quintet by adding the Arab League — to give voice to the Palestinians. How to get the U.S. media to become interested in more accurately reporting the Palestinian’s side of the story is another matter.

Joe Lauria has been a freelance journalist based at the U.N. since 1990, writing for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette and other newspapers. This article originally appeared on Sibel Edmond’s BoilingFrogsPost.com.

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8 comments on “Why Palestine Already Is a State

  1. Palestinian State Will Not Accept Palestinian Refugees
    by David Meir-Levi, FrontPage Magazine, September 26, 2011

    In his op-ed to The New York Times on May 16, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the world in no uncertain terms that Palestinian statehood and UN recognition would not end the conflict:

    Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

    But no one seemed to notice that this admission contradicts the core argument for Palestinian statehood: The Palestinians are fighting for their state, so they have told the world, for their political self-determination, for their national self-realization; so the creation of a Palestinian state is the way to end the conflict.

    Now we have a new iteration of this rather awkward contradiction in the words of the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Lebanon in an interview with the Lebanese English language newspaper, the Daily Star:

    When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.

    And still no one seems to notice the contradiction here.

    But in addition to telling the world that even after the so-called Palestinian people have their state they will continue the conflict, Ambassador Abdullah Abdullah went on to say that:

    …Palestinian refugees would not become citizens of the sought for U.N.-recognized Palestinian state, an issue that has been much discussed. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” he says. “But … they are not automatically citizens.”

    This would not only apply to refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan or the other 132 countries where Abdullah says Palestinians reside. Abdullah said that “even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”

    The Palestinian Liberation Organization would remain responsible for refugees, and Abdullah says that UNRWA would continue its work as usual.

    What an incredible irony. For years, the world has supported the concept of a Palestinian state, and forgiven the endless relentless Palestinian terrorism, on the grounds that Palestinians are stateless people who deserve a country of their own. And now, a senior Palestinian official has announced that once they have received a state, most Palestinians will still be stateless – even those who actually live in “Palestine.” Moreover, the new state won’t provide these residents with any services: It expects UNRWA – or, more accurately, the American and European taxpayers, who provide the bulk of that organization’s funding – to continue providing their schooling, healthcare, welfare allowances, etc. So almost half of all the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will not be citizens of the state that demands to be created in order for these same people to have a state.

    It is beyond incredible that a senior Palestinian Authority official feels free to express openly this utterly transparent hypocrisy. The leaders of the Palestinian Authority are abrogating their own supposedly “sacred right of return” (haq el-auwda), their hitherto uncompromisable demand, canonized in the UN umpteen times since 1949, for the end to the statelessness of the so-called “Palestinian refugees.” That which they have demanded for the last 60 years as a non-negotiable concession from Israel they now nullify with one sentence, and with no explanation, by refusing to offer it to their own.

    Even the most obdurately blind to the real intentions of the Palestinian Authority cannot close their eyes to the transparent intentions expressed in this Machiavellian statement of rejection.

    Palestinian leaders are not demanding a state so that they can have their “long-denied homeland” for their poor suffering “Palestinian refugees,” all those millions of people who languish in the exile of their so-called “Palestinian Diaspora.” If they were, they could not now deny to some that right that they have so vociferously and self-righteously demanded from Israel.

    Rather, they are demanding a state so that they can more effectively and efficiently pursue their war against Israel.

    If they were to use their resources to resettle immigrants, to build a viable economy, to create employment for the supposed millions of “Palestinians” who will presumably return joyously from exile and flock to their newly recognized homeland, to construct housing projects, schools, hospitals, infrastructure, etc., there might then be fewer resources to devote to their endless, relentless war against Israel: The political war in the UN, the violent terror war, the PR war in the world’s media, the legal war of lawfare in the West, and the academicians’ war played out on college campuses. The repatriated “refugees” would be a distraction.

    If they were to drain the refugee camps of their “refugees” and resettle them and offer them the opportunities for constructive work and education and a normal life, they would soon have fewer desperately poor oppressed people from whom to recruit their suicide bombers and terrorist operatives; and they would lose the PR value of the heart-rending and gut-wrenching image of the hopeless, hapless, helpless, homeless refugee languishing in the “Palestinian Diaspora,” longing desperately for his ancient homeland. The rehabilitated “refugees” would become a PR liability.

    Lastly, when one considers the resources available to the nascent “Palestinian state” from Arab oil-rich countries, it is obvious that these “Palestinian state” allies ought to be happy to offer aid and loans and political and economic cooperation to the new brethren Muslim Arab state in order to make sure that its launch is successful and that it has the resources needed to solve its “refugee problem” – if they really cared a whit about the “refugees.” Yet no one has reacted to this astonishingly hypocritical rejection of citizenship for the “refugees.” How could this be, unless these Arab states share the same goal of continued conflict until victory, and victory means the destruction of Israel?

    And indeed, it seems very likely that the reason for these seemingly contradictory statements, these hypocritical pronouncements, is because Palestinian Authority leadership recognizes the need to reassure its allies in the Arab and broader Muslim world that Palestinian statehood will not mean accommodation with the accursed Zionists. No, statehood will merely make the implementation of the great final jihad more efficient, and thus bring nearer the day when Israel can be wiped off the face of the earth.

    What better reason to deny statehood than the recognition that such status for the PLO/Fatah/Hamas, the leaders of the future state, will actually contribute to continued war and terrorism and suffering, and will assist these terrorists to achieve their goal of genocide?

    This admission clarifies beyond rational doubt that support for a Palestinian state is support for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of its Jews.

    • A.nonymous on said:

      Well, Israel accepted Resolution 194 (III) during the process of admission to the UN. So, she is obliged to allow for the Palestinian return — or to pay compensation for everything the Palestinians were deprived of. More than 400 vilages, more than 7,000 workshops including goods, tools and equipment, warehouses, tens of thousands of bank accounts …

  2. WHIL.E diplomaticall. y inconvenient for
    the Western powers, Palestinian Authority
    President Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt
    to get the United Nations to unilaterally declare
    a Palestinian state has elicited widespread
    - sympathy. After all, what choice
    did he have? According to the
    accepted narrative, Middle East
    peace is made impossible by a
    hard-line Likud-Ied Israel that refuses
    to accept a Palestinian state
    and continues to build settlements.
    It is remarkable how this gross
    inversion of the truth has become
    conventional wisdom. In fact,
    3enjamin Netanyahu brought his Likud-Ied coalidon
    to open recognition of a Palestinian state,
    thereby creating Israel’s first national consensus for
    two-state solution. He is also the only prime minister
    to agree to a settlement freeze – 10 months -
    something no Labor or Kadima government has
    ever done.
    To which Abbas responded by boycotting the
    talks for nine months, showing up in the 10th, then
    walking out when the freeze expired. Last week he
    reiterated that he will continue to boycott peace
    talks unless Israel gives up – in advance – claim to
    any territory beyond the 1967 lines. Meaning for example, that the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem, is Palestinian territory.

    This is not just absurd. It violates every prior peace agreement. They all stipulate that such demands are to be the subject of negotiations, not their precondition.

    Abbas unwaveringly insists on the so-called “right of return,” which would demographically destroy Israel by swamping it with millions of Arabs, thereby turning the world’s only Jewish state into the worlds’s 23rd Arab state.

    Nor is this new. It is perfectly consistent with the long history of Palestinian rejectionism. Consider:

    . CAMP DAVID 2000
    At a U.S. sponsored summit, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offers Yasser Arafat a Palestinian state on the West Band and Gaza – and, astonishingly, the previously inconceivable division of Jerusalem. Arafat refuses – and makes no conteroffer, thereby demonstrating his unseriousness about making any deal. Instead, within two months, he launches a savage terror war.

    .TABA 2001
    An even sweeter deal – the Clinton Parameters – is offered. Arafat walks away again.

    .ISRAEL 2008
    Prime Minister Ehud Olmert makes the ultimate capitulation to Palestinian demands – 100% fo the West Bank (with land swaps), Palestinian statehood, the division of Jerusalem with the Muslim parts becoming the capital of the new Palestine. And incredibly, he offers to turn over the city’s holy places, including the Western Wall – Juaism’s most sacred site, its Kaaka – to an international body on which sit Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

    Did Abbas accept? Of course not. If he had, the conflict would be over and Palestine would already be a member of the United Nations.

    This is not ancient history. All three peace talks occured over the past decade. And each one completely contradicts the current mindless narrative of Israeli “intransigence” as the obstacle to peace.

    Settlements? Every settlement remaining within the new Palestine would be destroyed and emptied, precisely as happened in Gaza.

    So why did the Palestinians say no? Because saying yes would have required them to sign a final peace agreement that accepted a Jewish state on what they consider the Muslim patrimony.

    The key word here is “final”. The Palestinians are quite prepared to sign interim agreements, like Oslo. framework agreements, like Annapolis. Cease-fires, like the 1949 armistice.
    Anything but a final deal. Anything but a final peace. Anything but a treaty that ends the conflict once and for all- while leaving a Jewish state still standing.

    After all, why did abbas go to the United Nations last month? for nearly half a century, the US has pursued a Middle East settlement on the basis of the formula of land for peace. Land for peace produced the Israel-Egypt peace of 1979 and the Israel-Jordan peace of 1994. Israel has offered the Palestinians land for peace three times since. And been refused every time.

    Why? For exactly the same reason Abbas went to the UN last week to get land WITHOUT peace. Sovereignty with no reciprocal recognition of a Jewish state. Statehood without negotiations. An independent Palestine in a continued state of war with Israel.

    This is the reason that,regardless of who is governing Israel, there has never been peace. Territorial disputes are solvable, existential conflicts are not.

    Land for peace, yes. Land without peace is nothing but an invitation to suicide.

    Charles Krauthammer writes for the Washington Post.

    • A.nonymous on said:

      Barak did not offer anything written on a piece of paper. The Taba negotiations proved worthless because the Israeli government was in the state of transition and nobody on the Israeli side was authorized to sign anything.

      What WAS offered in Camp David has been made clear by Prof. Menachem Klein:

      “Israel presented a map to Yasir Abd Rabbo and then presented this orally in Stockholm and at Camp David. It was leaked to [the Israeli newspaper] Yediot Aharanot. It shows Israel controlling a Greater Jerusalem that goes to the Dead Sea and connects with the Jordan Valley where Israel would have sovereignty over a strip of land west of the River, and thereby keep control over the external borders of the Palestinian state.” (From: Michael Neumann, The Case Against Israel, pp. 146-7.)

      Prof. Klein was advisor to the Israeli delegation to the Camp David
      Summit in July 2000. He ought to know what happened there.

  3. All I know is that the majority of Israelis know “Bibi” is on the wrong road, just as the majority of Americans know the US is on the wrong road. The senseless foreign policy of both is isolating them from the rest of the world. For Israel to lean on America is to lean on a reed whose bruise is deepening and spreading.

  4. ProgressiveObserver on said:

    Somewhere along the line you bring up what seems like a fair point, assuming your information is even slightly accurate, about the right of return for all Palestinians, but you bury it in so much hyperbole and nonsense it is worthless and suspect. The use of words like war and genocide in a context where they are deliberately and obviously inflammatory does not strengthen your argument; it only makes it clear you don’t have one.

    Ending the conflict, to you and others means Palestinians abdicating their rights and taking whatever they are offered by a country that literally took that land from them by force and have held it by force for decades. Whether you think that was right or wrong that is what happened. There is no question anywhere the Palestinians are going to continue to press for their right to hold on to what they view as their land. The point is exactly to gain leverage in that difference of opinion, there is no contradiction.

    You can call that a war but since they are doing that instead of blowing people up your use of the word war says more about where you are coming from than where they are. The Palestinians are going this route instead of continuing an actual war. That is a good thing.

    As for the rest, allow the Palestinians to develop an economy so they can pay anyone and land that is controlled completely by a duly elected government, then judge them based on what they do; not what one person said. Whose fault is it that Palestine has no control over its economy and is reduced to beggar status? Who controls the air, the sea, the imports and exports?

    And, incidentally, this article goes to great lengths to explain that Palestine is already a state whether anyone likes it or not. Now that you’ve posted your diatribe you should consider reading it.

  5. Hillary on said:

    “This crucial fact too was not reported in the U.S. media. For Palestinians and those countries that recognize them, Israeli troops are occupying a sovereign nation.”

    So many facts fail to make it into the MSM that one has to wonder why !

    For example Netanyahu’s real name is Mileikowsky and his heritage is as an Ashkenazi Jew from Poland who has become the first and only Israeli prime minister born in Israel.

    These Eastern Europeans converted to Jedaism hundreds of years ago , are not semites but they continue to concoct a false history to connect themselves to Palestine & justify a claim to it.

    Like many Zionists Benjamin Netanyahu (Mileikowsky) continues to claim this false history UNCHALLENGED at every opportunity to gain the blind support from gullible people for Israel’s over 60 years of rurhless Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians.( both Christian and Muslim.)

  6. kristine on said:

    Joe Lauria’s piece is so informative, as are the comments to it. I’ve copied the whole and passed it all on. Thank you, Consortiumnews.