News / Middle East

Analysts Examine Alternatives to Palestinian Bid for UN Statehood

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hands application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Sept. 23, 2011.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hands application to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Sept. 23, 2011.

As the United Nations Security Council considerers Palestine's bid for full membership in the world body, some analysts say there might be another method to enhance their position with the institution.

Represented at the U.N. by the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, Palestinians currently possess "Observer Organization" status. Their official application for full U.N. membership -- a process that could take the Security Council weeks or months -- would, if accepted, make them the U.N.’s 194th member state after South Sudan, which joined in July.

But analysts say that bid is bound to fail because U.S. diplomats have repeatedly said they will veto any attempt at Palestinian statehood in the Security Council, explaining that Washington believes the only way to achieve a two-state solution and lasting peace is through direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

But some analysts have pointed to an alternative route.

"The other option is to be in this kind of ante-chamber, in-between position, which can be conferred by the General Assembly of the U.N. and not the Security Council, which is the status of Non-Member state," says Daniel Levy, a Mideast expert with the New America Foundation and former Israeli negotiator. "In other words, for U.N. purposes they would be recognized as a state, but they would not be a member of the U.N."

It would be the same status, he says, currently conferred on the Vatican.

"The Vatican option makes it sound like not a real country option, so it’s worth remembering that this is the status that Switzerland had for many years before a Swiss referendum decided that they wanted to join the U.N.," he says. "It’s a status, for geo-political reasons, that West Germany or South Korea also had for many years."

Analysts say the Palestinians have the necessary votes in the General Assembly to upgrade their status from "Observer Organization" to observer state. However that status falls short of the full membership request being discussed in the Security Council.

But according to Khaled Elgindy, former adviser to the Palestinian leadership on negotiations with Israel, the enhanced status would give Palestinians more clout internationally.

"If they get the approval of the General Assembly, and they are recognized as a non-member state, then that opens up possible access to international forums like the International Criminal Court [ICC], other types of international forums that they could advance their interests," says Elgindy. "That would give them leverage."

Former British U.N. diplomat Carne Ross, Director of the non-profit advisory group 'Independent Diplomat', agrees. "That increases the possibility that the ICC will exercise its jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories, which means the possibility of raising indictments for war crimes committed in the occupied territories by all parties and that includes Hamas, as well as Israel and the PLO," he says. "The Palestinians see this and they hope that this will be a deterrent against attacks and possible war crimes against them in the occupied territories."

By going to the General Assembly, he adds, the Palestinians will show the world there is extensive support for the establishment of a state.

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