Months of anticipation and speculation about Palestinian statehood bid at the UN have now ended with the formal submission of an application of Palestine for admission into full membership in the UN by Mahmoud Abbas in the capacity of the President of the Palestine Authority and also the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He indeed received thunderous applause from the members of the UN when he displayed the application while addressing the session of the General Assembly on 23 September, 2011.
The above application which was unavoidable in view of Palestinians’ desperation over the lack of progress in peace process has been defended by Mr. Abbas on the basis of his people’s natural, legal and historic rights. He has further recalled relevant resolutions of UN General Assembly and Security Council passed over the period of more than six decades since the birth of Israel.
The foremost of them is General Assembly resolution 181(ii) adopted on 29 November, 1947 which contains the UN’s partition plan of mandated territories of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. This is the prelude to decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict considered to be the most intractable so far. Additionally, the President of Palestinian Authority has enclosed the much-quoted Declaration of the State of Palestine of 15 November, 1988 in support of the UN full membership application. This has historical significance as it marks the real beginning of the acceptance of Israel’s inalienable right to existence within secure and recognized boundaries by the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Therefore, the UN General Assembly through its resolution (43/88) of 15 December, 1988 has endorsed the PLO Declaration issued at Algiers.
In the recent years starting from the Clinton presidency in late 1990s, successive U.S. administrations have tried to support two-state vision with regard to the resolution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This approach which provides for both Israeli and Palestinian states to exist side by side, has received broader endorsement from the international community reflected in various resolutions of the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
President Obama reiterated his backing of this two-state solution during his September, 2010 annual address to the sixty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly and he even mentioned then that he would like to see a new Palestine state within a year. It had raised a lot of optimism among the Palestinians at first but their expectations were soon turned into disappointment when the peace process could not advance due to Israeli intransigence.
The reason why the Palestinians became disenchanted with the Middle East peace process was the failure of the U.S. government to obtain a settlement freeze from the Israelis. That settlement moratorium on the part of Netanyahu government last fall was the minimum demand from the Palestinians in order to create congenial environment for peace negotiations. At Israel’s insistence on this point the peace process almost fell apart as no negotiations either direct or proximity have taken place since September, 2010. The situation on the ground became so hopeless that the Foreign Minister of Palestine Authority, Mr. Riyad al-Malki announced in March, 2011 that “the current peace process, as it has been conducted so far, is over”.
Surprisingly, the Obama administration which in its inception had raised hopes for reviving the Middle East peace process, dealt a severe blow to Palestinians’ desire for peace when it decided to veto a resolution of the UN Security Council in February, 2011 which condemned Israeli settlements. Nevertheless, president Obama in his 19 May, 2011 public address on Middle East peace had indicated that he would be constructively engaged in restarting stalled negotiations. He even proclaimed that peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians should be based on 1967 lines for border resolution. But his retraction a week later supposedly due to pressure from American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from pledges that 1967 lines should be the starting point of border resolution between Israel and Palestinians, questioned the credibility of his administration.
Any independent analyst would concur that the Palestinians have attempted to follow the same path of seeking UN recognition of their statehood which Israelis did in 1947. It was General Assembly resolution 181 (ii) that offered an opportunity to Israel to become an independent state.
President Mahmaud Abbas has rightfully recalled the instructions contained in above General Assembly resolution of 1947 that “sympathetic consideration’ be given to the application of the State of Palestine for admission to the UN. His defense of full UN membership is also buttressed by the Quartet involving U.S., Russia, EU and UN that has been in vogue since 2002 for facilitating Middle East peace negotiations as this group has endorsed two-state vision. Moreover, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion of 9 July, 2004 on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories lends credence to the Palestinian UN initiative.
The claim of the U.S. administration that it would either resort to No Action Vote in the UN Security Council to prevent Palestine membership resolution from being decided or alternatively exercise veto to kill the proposal has made it clear that the possibility of recommending UN membership to the General Assembly is almost zero.
Against this hard reality the UN General Assembly may take action to upgrade the observer status of Palestinian Authority which is at the moment is not akin to non-member observer status enjoyed by the Vatican, Kosovo and Taiwan. Even this will require the world body to vote for decision and it is likely that such vote would be easily won by the Palestinians considering overwhelming support in their favor in the General Assembly, where no exercise of veto is permitted.
In conformity with Nepal’s historical position of supporting UN Security Council resolutions and the 1967 resolution (242) in particular, which upholds the inalienable rights of the Palestinians and the Israelis to live in secure and recognized boundaries, Prime Minister Babu Ram Bhattarai’s recent announcement that we will support the Palestinians’ UN bid looks no less prudent.