The long series of disappointments suffered by the Palestinian negotiator, the obstacles facing the peace process, the absence of international reference and the need for any achievement, at least a moral one, were behind the idea of the resort to the UN to declare the Palestinian State and attain full membership.
To achieve this goal, it was necessary to end the state of division in the Palestinian arena without pursuing any steps which might trigger the Israeli or American anger. If the Palestinian leadership could withstand the Israeli and American pressures and proceed with the resort to the UN, it will face there the US veto and other obstacles which might hinder the declaration of the state.
Apparently, such a declaration might face many scenarios which might end in partial or total success, or even in total failure. However, this would not change the fact that Israel remains above the law for the time being.
Over two decades of negotiations, the Palestinian negotiator was exposed to a long and successive series of disappointments due to the failure in achieving tangible success in the peace process. On the other hand, Israel continued to establish facts on the ground and proceeded with the Judaization and settlement building projects in the West Bank in general and Jerusalem in particular. In addition, the Palestinian negotiator has faced the Israeli rejection for the freeze of settlement building, which led to thwarting the peace process. Moreover, the Netanyahu government has sought to urge the Palestinian side to recognize the “Jewishness of Israel.” Faced with this situation, the Palestinian negotiator has become in dire need to achieve any success, at least a moral one, especially in light of the Arab uprisings which may extend to the Palestinian arena where the Palestinian people has been tired of the futile negotiations.
Facing these challenges, the Palestinian leadership proposed the resort to the UN to declare the Palestinian State within the ’67 lines and obtain full membership, which has been known as the September 2011 entitlement. This issue has triggered much argument around the world and different analyses regarding the feasibility of such a step. This assessment is dedicated to discussing the different possible scenarios and implications of such a move.
The Palestinians have sought independence since the British occupation of Palestine. On 1/10/1948, and during the 1948 war, they declared the independence of Palestine. However, the Israeli control over 77% of the land of Palestine besides the annexation of the West Bank by Jordan and placing the Gaza Strip under the Egyptian administration prevented the establishment of the Palestinian State. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created and it underwent different stages which could be summarized as follows:
1. The PLO was founded in order to liberate Palestine. This objective confirmed in its National Charter which was adopted in 1968.
2. In 1974, the PLO adopted the Phased Plan based on the establishment of the Palestinian State on any liberated Palestinian land. This shift paved the way for granting the PLO observer status by resolution 3237 (XXIX), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 22/11/1974.
3. On 15/11/1988, the PLO declared the independence of the State of Palestine and announced its acceptance of the two-state solution. The UN recognized the declaration of independence in Resolution 43/177 of 15/12/1988, while the UNGA decided the designation “Palestine” should be used in place of the designation “Palestine Liberation Organization” in the United Nations system.
4. In 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Agreement and recognized Israel.
5. In 1994, the PA was established according to the Oslo Agreement.
6. In 1996, the Palestinian National Council approved the cancellation of all the provisions of the Palestinian National Charter which are inconsistent with the Oslo Agreement, including armed struggle. The Council confirmed the cancellation of such provisions in its meeting in 1998 in presence of the US President Bill Clinton.
7. In 1998, Resolution 52/250 was passed in the 52nd session of the UNGA, thus granting Palestine the privilege to participate as an observer in the sessions and work of all international conferences convened under the auspices of the UNGA or other organs of the UN.
The Palestinian Conduct
Although the PLO leadership recognized the failure of the peace process and the absence of an Israeli partner, the resort to negotiations remained its primary strategic choice. In this context, the Palestinian leadership has considered its move in September 2011 a step complementary to the peace process rather than a unilateral action as perceived by Israel and the US. President ‘Abbas has realized that the success of joining the UN is strongly related to the unity of the Palestinian people. Thus, it was important to put the Palestinian political house in order by signing the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, on 3/5/2011.
It is clear that the Palestinian resistance forces would not oppose the full membership in the UN as long as it does not entail a concession of the Palestinian rights. Such forces consider the success of the Palestinian conciliation and its implication on the September entitlement as strongly related to the ability of the PLO leadership to escape the Israeli and American pressures. It is also dependent on putting national interest above partisan and personal interests, the implementation of the conciliation agreement—including the reform of the PLO— and the formulation of an integrated project in addition to establishing a Palestinian national agenda.
Likely Palestinian Steps
1. Proceeding with the diplomatic campaign to gain recognition of the largest number of countries around the world and mobilize support in the UNGA to ensure the quorum of two-thirds. Till the drafting of these lines, 123 out of 193 countries have agreed to recognize the Palestinian State, which means that only 6 more members are needed to achieve the quorum.
2. Trying to draft the resolution to join the UN in a way that guarantees the widest possible international acceptance and to avoid the American veto.
3. Maintaining the Palestinian conciliation without any change in the Palestinian status which might instigate the Israelis and the Americans or create conditions which would not help to declare the state in the UN. This might include avoiding the formation of a new Palestinian government in which Hamas plays a key role in choosing its members. It might also include avoiding decisions related to the reform of the Palestinian security forces, the release of the detainees and the freedom of the Hamas-related institutions working in the West Bank.
The Israeli Conduct
It was clear that the right-wing government was unable to present a political initiative which could be accepted by the Palestinian and Arab sides or bring the Palestinian negotiator back to the table of negotiations. Despite the opportunism of the Israeli opposition, different political forces are still trying to mobilize international public opinion against the recognition of the Palestinian State within the borders of 4/6/1967. Thus, the determinants of the Israeli position could be summarized in the following:
1. The implicit agreement among Israeli parties to manage negotiations in a way that guarantees the imposition of the Israeli perception of a peace settlement (which includes the three famous nays: no for the return to the ‘67 lines, no for the return of Jerusalem, and no for the return of the refugees), in addition to prolonging the negotiations indefinitely and proceeding with establishing facts on the ground.
2. Stripping the Palestinian side of any international cover and thwarting its recourse to the UN as a reference for negotiations while imposing the Israeli conditions in the peace process.
3. The Palestinian move to join the UN requires ensuring recognition from the largest number of states. Israel considers such success a diplomatic improvement which serves the Palestinian cause.
4. The Palestinian accession to the UN reaffirms that the territories occupied in 1967, and which Israel considers as disputed territory, are in fact under the Israeli occupation as affirmed by the UN. This would enhance Palestinian and international measures against Israel.
5. Israel fears that the declaration of the Palestinian State would further dedicate its isolation and increase international public opinion opposed to the Israeli practices.
6. The Palestinian success to join the UN with full membership might not change the situation in the West Bank because of the Israeli occupation. Yet, it might be an opportunity to ease the Gaza siege.
Since the revelation of the Palestinian inclination to resort to the UN to attain full membership, the Israeli diplomacy has been pursuing tactical moves while threatening with a probable war and the cancellation of the Oslo Accords.
It is clear that Israel is heading towards a serious predicament since its ability to formulate convincing arguments to disrupt the peace process has deteriorated. In addition, the support for its repressive practices has declined compared to the increased popular support for the Palestinian cause around the world. Thus, the Israeli moves are a mere attempt to buy time and establish more facts on the ground.
The Possible Israeli Steps
1. Proceeding with the diplomatic campaign to thwart the Palestinian move before September and mobilizing international public opinion against the recognition of the Palestinian State.
2. Assuming punitive measures against the PA as a means of pressure.
3. Employing the stick and carrot strategy with the PLO and the PA including the employment of pressure tools in the West Bank or presenting some inducements to return to the negotiations table.
4. Investing its influence on the American administration to increase the pressure on the PA to reverse its move or adjust it.
The most notable aspect on the international level is the position of the UN Security Council permanent members which could affect the Palestinian accession to the UN and even prevent it by the resort to veto power. Equally important is the stance of some European countries, which are influential on the international arena. Whereas China and Russia recognize the Palestinian State, the US, France and England, which maintain diplomatic relations with the PLO, do not recognize it. The European Union on the other hand has called for bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PA regarding the September entitlement as a cover for the disagreement among the EU countries.
The US has shown a blunt supportive stance towards the Israeli position and launched threats in this respect. The Congress passed a decision which supported the use of veto against any resolution which supports the recognition of the Palestinian State. In addition, it vowed to cut off US aid to the PA, which contradicts President Obama’s previous position in the September 2010 UNGA meeting, where he expressed his support for a Palestinian State by September 2011. Apparently, Obama will not take any serious steps in light of the pressure of the Israeli lobby, the inclinations of the Congress and the approaching presidential elections.
1. The declaration of the Palestinian State as a state member to the UN would not carry practical implications in light of the continued Israeli occupation, its reliance on the language of force and American support in addition to the international approach to Israel as a state above the law. However, it might lead to further isolation of Israel and decline of international support compared to increase in the support for the Palestinian issue.
2. The failure of the Palestinian leadership to join the UN would make the peace process more vulnerable, while giving rise to the forces of resistance.
3. The Palestinian challenge to American pressures and presenting the draft to the UN might expose it to hard economic sanctions. In this context, the US congress passed a draft resolution to halt the annual aid to the PA estimated at around $500 million.
4. Using the American veto to foil the Palestinian move will be new evidence on the American bias to Israel. It will confirm that the US does not fit as an honest peace process broker.
5. Some analysts believe that the full membership based on Resolution 181 might pave the way for devoting the “Jewishness of Israel” and the internationalization of Jerusalem as stipulated in the UN resolution.
1. The PLO would request full membership. The UN Secretary General would refer the request to the UN Security Council leading to a recommendation of the accession of the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders and its capital East Jerusalem. Consequently, the UNGA would accept the application.
2. The PLO would proceed with its request for full membership and the request would be referred to the UN Security Council. Yet, it would face the American veto and the Palestinian step would consequently be thwarted.
3. The PLO would request full membership and the request would be referred to the UN Security Council. Here it is possible to defer the decision on the request for many reasons including: raising a point of order or proposing amendments to be resolved. Accordingly, the declaration would be postponed or thwarted.
4. Going directly to the UNGA to attain partial membership. However, this would not make core change except in the form of Palestinian representation in the UN and changing its status from observer to non-member observer state.
5. Postponing the resort to the UN in case Israel presented a list of inducements such as including excerpts from Obama’s speech regarding the Palestinian State in an Israeli initiative.
Apparently, the scenarios would become clearer depending on the way the PA proceeds with the request. It is clear that the PLO would face the American veto thus making the second scenario more likely while excluding the first. Thus, the PLO would resort to the fourth scenario to avoid confrontation with the American administration and to achieve victory, at least a moral one, in a way that keeps the door open for a future return to the UN to request full membership.
1. Promoting national unity and implementing the terms of the reconciliation agreement, then putting the Palestinian house in order to strengthen the Palestinian stance on the international arena.
2. Perceiving negotiations as one among other options and giving way to all other available options. This will allow the Palestinian people to exercise its right to self-determination including the promotion of the resistance option.
3. Benefiting from the diplomatic move to recognize the Palestinian State in order to increase Israeli isolation and lift the Gaza siege.
4. Activating international resolutions relevant to the Palestinian cause. These include Resolution 194 on the return of the Palestinian refugees to their home villages and towns and compensating them.
This Strategic Assessment was authored by Wael Sa‘ad, the researcher at al-Zaytouna Centre.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 8/8/2011