PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD

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The Palestinian people’s struggle for independence dates back to at least the early 19th Century, when Palestinian Arabs became pioneer members of the Arab national movement that advocated freedom and independence from the Ottoman Empire. During the British Mandate years, opposition to Zionist immigration and the British rule acted as a powerful catalyst in the consolidation of Palestinian national consciousness and the development of a specific Palestinian nationalist movement. Palestinian nationalism resurged after the War of 1948/An-Naqba, leading to the establishment of various nationalist political parties and resistance groups as well as, in 1964, the PLO as an umbrella organization and policymaking body. Collapse of popular faith in pan-Arabism following the disastrous 1967 Six-Day War and subsequent occupation by Israeli forces of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip (in addition to the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and the Syrian Golan Heights) contributed further to the ‘Palestinization’ of the liberation struggle. Throughout the 1970s, the PLO started developing an institutional infrastructure to support the future Palestinian state and slowly began to gain international recognition throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1988, King Hussein renounced Jordan’s claims to the West Bank and the PLO subsequently assumed responsibility for the OPT (even declaring an independent state of Palestine in November that year) and implicitly recognized the right of Israel to exist. This paved the way for the Oslo peace process starting in 1993, which led to Israeli recognition of the PLO, the allocation of a limited political autonomy to the Palestinians, and further international recognition of their national aspirations. The failure of Oslo and the Camp David Summit together with the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000 made the international community increasingly realize that Palestinian statehood was necessary to achieve peace. However, Israel continued to create “facts on the ground” to make Palestinian statehood as remote as possible - a strategy that spoiled all subsequent peace talks and initiatives. Nevertheless, Palestinian institution-building efforts were successful in laying down the foundations of a sustainable de facto state and were praised by the international community. This, in combination with the collapse of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2010, encouraged the Palestinian leadership to work on an alternative plan for statehood that would bypass the stalemate of the peace process by seeking collective recognition at the UN. In May 2011, President Abbas publicly confirmed this aim and a campaign was launched to gain the support from UN member states. Criticizing this new Palestinian approach, Israel and the US organized a counter-campaign aimed at persuading UN members to block the Palestinian bid. Although it had become clear that Palestine was losing the diplomatic battle when the EU shifted towards the US-Israeli position, Abbas submitted, on 23 September 2011, the official application for the admission of Palestine as a full member of the UN on the basis of the 4 June 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital. According to the UN rules of admission the bid needed the support of the UNSC before it could go to a vote in the UNGA. However, unless Palestine got the support of at least nine UNSC members, a US veto would certainly block the UNGA vote, and it could be deduced from previous official announcements and media reports that the Palestinian bid was only supported by eight UNSC members. Therefore, the Palestinian leadership eventually agreed not to go to a vote at the UNSC, missing an opportunity, according to detractors, to confront US-biased support for Israel. However, it did not abandon its objective and, realizing that time was running out and that the institution-building achievements towards an independent state could be jeopardized by the persistence of the status quo, decided to apply for non-member state status at the UN. Although the idea behind the PA strategy was that this limited form of UN recognition would still place Palestinian negotiators on a par with their Israeli counterparts during future talks and would allow Palestine to join international treaties and organizations, the Palestinian public was largely skeptical about the potential benefits of the new strategy. As with the 2011 bid for full UN membership, the PA’s lobby campaign for their non-member state bid was being countered by US and Israeli efforts. However, the Palestinians gained increasing international support for their UN bid, especially after Israel launched ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ on the Gaza Strip in November 2012. When the Palestinian application for UN non-member observer state status was eventually brought to the UNGA on 29 November 2012, the vote succeeded, with 138 UN members voting in favor, 41 abstaining and only 9 states voting against. Consequently, 65 years after the UN Partition Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947, the international community officially recognized Palestine as a state - albeit still a state under occupation whose prospects for achieving true independence are still remote considering Israel’s ongoing colonization and subjugation of Palestinian lands and rights. While the status upgrade has largely symbolic value, it does provide Palestine with leverage against Israel, since it now has the possibility to join the International Criminal Court, where it could file a case to legally challenge Israel’s presence in the OPT.