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The Palestinian bid for UN membership

In their recent article in the New York Times, entitled “Ten Reasons for a European ‘Yes’”, Martti Ahtisaari (former president of Finland and U.N. mediator, and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate) and Javier Solana (distinguished senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, former secretary general of NATO and EU high representative for common foreign and security policy) provided their ten reasons why a bid for UN membership for Palestine to be presented my Mahmoud Abbas to the General Assembly these days should be supported and why the European Union should seize this opportunity to confirm their commitment to the peace process and a two-state solution. As Ahtisaari and Solana stated:

The first reason why the E.U. 27 should vote “yes” is that the U.N. resolution is an attempt to keep the two-state solution alive. This solution is under attack from the steady expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that the conflict should now be accepted as “insoluble.” As a result this vote is not a meaningless distraction, but a reaffirmation that the peace process is meaningful.

The Palestinian bid is anything but provocative, in view of the deplorable status of the peace process between Israel and Palestine. What will be the status of Palestine after this bid for UN membership and eventual recognition of its statehood by the organized community of States? Will Palestine get an observer State status by the General Assembly? Will it get full membership at the UN? And does it matter? Although it has been said that statehood does not depend on being a full member of the UN, membership in the UN offers many advantages, political and legal, which Palestine needs. While it seems unlikely that Palestine will get full UN membership at this stage, the door should remain open for her inclusion in the very near future. Blocking UN membership for Palestine sends the wrong message in a region troubled by conflicts, where there has been a recent popular awakening and search for better governance and more individual freedoms.

There has been a detailed discussion of this issue in our blog here by Valentina Azarova. Interesting discussions can also be found here and here (in YaleGlobal) and in a recent ASIL insight by John Cerone. I’d like to simply reiterate some points. According to Daniel Bethlehem, principal legal adviser of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office from 2006 to 2011 and now a senior fellow at Columbia Law School, a balance of dignity between the parties is a necessary step towards a more durable accommodation (YaleGlobal). Palestine has been searching for statehood designation and a seat at the UN for over 60 years now. There were a few moments during this long period when a solution through brokered negotiations of this long-lasting conflict was impending, but things went awry at the last moment. Maybe it is time to acknowledge that the peace process has to be carried out under a different format and conditions.

Throughout these years Israel and Palestine have not been negotiating from an equal position, even formally. A peace process in which both Israel and Palestine sit on the negotiation table as equal sovereigns can have a good, healthy impact upon the Palestinian-Israeli relationship. The existing status quo is unsustainable and many States have openly expressed their support for statehood for Palestine.  However, this is not the moment for States to choose sides and dig in their heels. The long overdue recognition of Palestine as a State is simply a recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and their right to have a seat as full member at the UN. It is time for the weighty members of the international community of States together with the concerned parties to steer the process of achieving Palestinian statehood towards a durable solution of this protracted conflict. Obviously, the Palestinian statehood process should promote dialogue over continued protracted conflict, human security for both Israeli and Palestinians, sustainable peace between the two peoples over the decades-long of division and hatred.

Before concluding, it is noteworthy to recall a paragraph from the 2004 advisory opinion on the Wall by the International Court of Justice (para. 162):

Since 1947, the year when General Assembly resolution 181 (II) was adopted and the Mandate for Palestine was terminated, there has been a succession of armed conflicts, acts of indiscriminate violence and repressive measures on the former mandated territory. The Court would emphasize that both Israel and Palestine are under an obligation scrupulously to observe the rules of international humanitarian law, one of the paramount purposes of which is to protect civilian life. Illegal actions and unilateral decisions have been taken on all sides, whereas, in the Court’s view, this tragic situation can be brought to an end only through implementation in good faith of all relevant Security Council resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The “Roadmap” approved by Security Council resolution 1515 (2003) represents the most recent of efforts to initiate negotiations to this end. The Court considers that it has a duty to draw the attention of the General Assembly, to which the present Opinion is addressed, to the need for these efforts to be encouraged with a view to achieving as soon as possible, on the basis of international law, a negotiated solution to the outstanding problems and the establishment of a Palestinian State, existing side by side with Israel and its other neighbours, with peace and security for all in the region. (emphasis added)

The UN member States should make good on their obligation to assist in the establishment of a Palestinian State by offering Palestine full membership to the UN, while at the same time reassuring Israel that its security and existence shall be forcefully protected against any threats by organized armed groups or States.


  1. Gentian Zyberi Gentian Zyberi Post author | 24 September 2011

    Doubtful at this stage, but not unthinkable.

  2. Mihai Martoiu Ticu Mihai Martoiu Ticu 24 September 2011

    There is at least a precedent of the president bluffing about what he’s going to do: “In contrast to the position taken by the British Government, the President of the United States, Harry Truman, recognised ‘the Provisional Government [of Israel] as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel’ on 15 May, to the shock and consternation of his own diplomats who were completely unaware of this development.”7, V. Kattan, From coexistence to conquest : international law and the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, 1891-1949. London; New York: Pluto Press, 2009, p.233.
    And in the endnote 7: “On the reaction of US diplomats see Philip C. Jessup, The Birth of Nations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 289.”

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