Frustrated with the lack of progress in direct negotiations with Israel, Palestinian officials have said they will ask the U.N. General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state in September. Their plan faces opposition from the United States, which wants to first see a resumption of direct talks. But even if a majority of countries recognize Palestine in the General Assembly, that does not mean it will be admitted to the United Nations.
The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, says his government has many options available to it to reach the goal of statehood and admission to the United Nations, currently it holds observer status.
One option being seriously considered is a push in the U.N. General Assembly to seek recognition from member states. Mansour told reporters Thursday that nearly 120 of the 192 U.N. members have said they would recognize a Palestinian state. That is still a bit short of the two-thirds majority required to adopt certain resolutions in the General Assembly.
And, as American University professor David Bosco explains, recognition does not equal U.N. membership.
"But they [the Palestinians] cannot, it is fairly clear from the U.N. Charter, that they actually cannot be admitted to the U.N. just on the basis of a General Assembly vote," said Bosco. "They cannot be admitted to the U.N. without the approval of the Security Council. The process the U.N. Charter lays out is that Security Council recommends and the General Assembly then approves. And without that Security Council recommendation, which can be vetoed, you cannot be formally admitted as a member."
And that recommendation is highly unlikely in the face of U.S. opposition. But Ambassador Mansour said he believes that the more states that recognize a Palestinian state, the harder it will be for the United States to veto its membership in the club of nations.
"We are working on having many countries to recognize the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders," Mansour said. "We need to cross the 130 and the 140 [mark]. If we reach more than two-thirds majority, and we are going to reach two-thirds majority of the General Assembly before September, then we want to know if there is opposition in the Security Council of depriving us of our natural right and legal right to join the community of nations as a state. What would be the argument [against recognition]?"
The Palestinians may also be counting on something known as the Uniting for Peace Resolution, which was adopted in the General Assembly in 1950. Professor Bosco, who has authored a book on the Security Council, says the United States proposed the resolution as a way to get around Soviet stalemates in the council at the time.
"They created this idea that in the case of a veto that was paralyzing the Security Council, the General Assembly could take up an issue and could make decisions on it," Bosco said. "That was always legally very suspect, and it is not clear anyway that the United States' view was that the General Assembly can make binding determinations that have the force of a Security Council resolution."
Unlike in the Security Council, General Assembly resolutions are non-binding. But Professor Bosco says they still carry weight.
"General Assembly resolutions, because they are not binding, in general are about international public opinion and international legitimacy," Bosco added. "That matters, that matters a great deal and that is why Israel is so worried about this and the U.S. is so worried about it, because they know it matters."
Israel's new U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor says both sides are working toward returning to direct negotiations and he believes any Palestinian unilateral action would not be constructive.
But the Palestinian envoy counters that Israel declared its own independence in 1948, so why shouldn't the Palestinians?
"Our independence is the total domain of the Palestinian people in exercising self-determination," said Mansour. "So that is not a unilateral action. We are willing and ready to negotiate with our neighbors the Israelis, the six final status issues: borders, security, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and water. Our independence is not one of these six final status issues."
If the Palestinian effort does win U.N. admission, the new state would be entitled to a vote in the General Assembly, it could run for one of the 10 rotating non-permanent seats on the Security Council and it would be assessed U.N. dues. But if the Palestinians succeed just in the General Assembly, Professor Bosco says the benefits to them are only in terms of legitimacy and political support.