News / Middle East

Israelis, Palestinians Brace for UN Statehood Debate

Both are intently watching this week as Palestinian leaders in New York plan to press for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state.

Palestinians wave flags during a rally in support of the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 21, 2011.
Palestinians wave flags during a rally in support of the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 21, 2011.

It is market day in Ramallah, the West Bank. Shoppers are making their daily purchases. And as they shop, the Palestinian proposal to seek recognition at the United Nations is a major topic of discussion.

Palestinian Statehood Bid Breakdown

    The Process

  • Palestinians say they are seeking U.N. recognition after years of negotiations with Israel failed to deliver an independent state.
  • It is not clear if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will seek U.N. Security Council approval of U.N. member status for an independent Palestine, or instead seek "non-member status" within the world body.
  • The mechanism for recognizing statehood at the United Nations is specific.
  • First, a resolution declaring a State of Palestine as a full U.N. member is introduced. Then the resolution is sent to the Security Council, which studies it and takes a vote on sending the measure to the full General Assembly. It takes two thirds of the U.N.'s membership to approve voting-state status.
  • Achieving non-member status requires only a simple majority vote in the 193-member General Assembly. Palestinians currently hold observer status at the world body.
  • Non-voting U.N. membership would provide Palestinians with a status upgrade that would allow them to petition U.N. committees and entities such as the International Court of Justice.

    Why the Palestinian bid?

  • President Abbas backed out of U.S.-led peace talks last year in protest against Israel's decision to end a freeze in settlement building on land the Palestinians want for a future state. Palestinians say because the peace process has failed, they will unilaterally seek to establish a state. Abbas said the Palestinians are the only people in the world who remain under occupation.

    Why the Israelis oppose the move?

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Palestinians' plan to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations is "futile," and that only direct negotiations can lead to a peace agreement.
  • Netanyahu has accused the Palestinians of "consistently evading" negotiations. He called on the Palestinian Authority "to abandon unilateral steps" and said it would then "find Israel to be a genuine partner" for peace.
  • Israel leaders say that by bypassing talks and going to the U.N., the Palestinians are violating previous agreements, and that could result in Israeli sanctions.

    Why the U.S. promises to veto?

  • The Obama administration opposes the Palestinian move and says it will not help to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table. President Obama has called the proposal a "distraction" to attaining Mideast peace that he says can only be addressed through negotiations.
  • The U.S., one of five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, says it will veto a Palestinian membership bid in the Council if it comes to a vote.

Sabah Rajah, shopping for her family, says recognition is her wish in life.

She says recognition will change everything, the behavior of the people, the crossing points, the siege of Palestinian territories, and they will have a good life.

Shop owner Fareed Zaban says the Palestinians and Israelis have been negotiating for a long time but have little to show for it.

He says we want them to recognize us as a real state, not just a state in name. He says right now the Palestinian Authority is an illusion and that it has no control over anything, the crossings, the skies, the land.

Palestinian leaders say they are frustrated by the lack of progress in the peace negotiations with Israel. They hope U.N. recognition will add clout to their position.  

But on the streets of Jerusalem, Israelis like Yaakov Hadani believe this will hurt the talks. He says negotiating requires two partners. He says the Palestinians cannot conduct negotiations through the world instead of directly with us.

Assaf Haber, 22, has friends in the Israeli army. He is afraid it will bring more violence.

Haber says it is time for the Palestinians to have a state. He says any people that were under foreign control for a long time deserve to have a country. But not this way, he says. There should be cooperation between the two parties, not unilateral moves.

Hebrew University Professor Yaakov Bar Siman-Tov says a U.N. resolution is not likely to bring change to the streets of the Palestinian territories.

"If there is this kind of frustration between expectations and outcomes, in a very short time they will realize that we didn't achieve anything actually," Siman-Tov said. "It was a very nice declaration, etc., and then what?"

He says this could lead to demonstrations and possibly violence. He says it could also lead to Israeli sanctions.  Or, he says, it could lead to a return to negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government vehemently opposes the Palestinian push for U.N. recognition, urged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to return to direct talks.

"I'm going to the U.N.  And President Abbas, Abu Mazen, is going to the U.N. We could spare the trip. It's all of 10 minutes from here to Ramallah. Let's sit down and negotiate," Netanyahu said.

Palestinian leaders broke off direct talks a year ago after Israel's 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank expired.

Mr. Abbas, before heading to New York, indicated his willingness to resume negotiations but reiterated his desire for U.N. membership.

He says we will return to negotiate on all other issues but we want, God willing, to get a full membership from the U.N. Security Council.

Ramallah-based analyst Hani al-Masri says the Palestinian leader should be using other tactics.

He says this choice should be part of a new strategy and not the strategy itself. Those who advocate this tactic do not want Mr. Abbas to adopt the other tactics which, he says, are uniting the resistance, boycotting Israel and rebuilding Arab support throughout the region.

Palestinians are also split over the issue. The mainstream Fatah group backs recognition. Rival Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, opposes it saying it will legitimize Israel.  And with Israel strongly opposed to U.N. recognition, tensions are rising in Israel as well as in the Palestinian territories.

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