Global Policy Forum

Palestinian Statehood: The UN and Beyond


GPF Perspectives

Israel/Palestine Conflict - Interview with Richard Falk (June 2, 2011)

This is an interview, undertaken at the beginning of June 2011 between Global Policy Forum associate Harpreet Paul and UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk. Falk calls the unlawful Israeli blockade of Gaza "a very explicit form of collective punishment that is unconditionally prohibited by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention." He also talks about the role of the UN in the conflict, the expected Palestinian declaration of unilateral statehood and the role of civil society action in demanding a just resolution to the conflict. (Global Policy Forum)


Welcoming Palestine to UNESCO (November 2, 2011)

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights Richard Falk analyzes Palestine’s admission to membership in UNESCO from the perspective of the Palestinian path to self-determination. Despite the threat of withdrawal of US funding for UNESCO (which amounts to 22 percent of the organization’s annual budget), 107 states voted in favor of Palestinian membership, securing the necessary two thirds majority. Falk calls for a new diplomacy that is responsive to the conflict and structured in a way that reflects the new realities of an emerging mulitpolarity skewed toward the non-West. (Al Jazeera)

Palestinians Aim to Join UN Bodies (October 13, 2011)

Palestinians plan to apply for full membership of as many UN agencies as possible to strengthen their position in the international system and secure their human rights. Though their application for full UN membership appears bound to fail due to US opposition, the Palestinians can still secure full membership of some international agencies as an “observer entity.” Palestinians’ application for full UNESCO membership, the first since President Abbas went to the UN in September, demonstrates further readiness to ignore US objections and challenge the status quo. Acceptance of their application for UNESCO membership would prompt an automatic cutoff in US funding for the agency under US law. (Reuters)

The Audacity of Vetoing Hope (October 10, 2011)

In this open letter to President Obama, legal scholar Karima Bennoune, advises against vetoing the Palestinian request for UN membership. The Palestinian Authority is trying to use the UN as it was intended: a venue for peaceful change to settle an international dispute.  If Obama vetoes the Palestinian bid, he will send a message that the UN is simply an expression of big power politics and not the legitimate forum for international conflict resolution. Bennoune also discusses the danger of applying double standards in the Palestinian legal case for self-determination in comparison with South Sudan and Kosovo. (Al Jazeera)

Reflections on the Abbas Statehood Speech (October 4, 2011)

Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, analyzes Mahmoud Abbas’ historic speech at the General Assembly. Using straightforward language, Abbas referred directly to Israel’s colonial occupation policies in violation of fundamental rules of international humanitarian law. However, he could have linked the statehood bid with a demand for a new framework for negotiations, including the halting of settlement expansion and selection of an unbiased regional organization (as opposed to the US-dominated Quartet) to provide support for the talks. Israel will never have a more moderate partner for sustainable peace than the Ramallah leadership, and undermining the PA’s viability will not ultimately serve Israel’s national interests. (Al Jazeera)

Palestine’s Application for Admission to the UN (September 23, 2011)

This Security Council Report sets out the precedents of Security Council action on states application for UN membership. It provides a rich background of information from which to assess Palestine’s application for UN membership. This move has triggered criticisms from the US and other Council members, who regret this initiative and its long-term consequences for the Palestinians and the entire region. It remains to be seen how the Security Council will respond to Palestine’s bid for full membership. (Security Council Report)

State of Recognition (September 15, 2011)

The Palestinian Authority will be asking for UN recognition of Palestine as a member state or as an observer state. The Palestinian Authority believes this would be the best way to challenge Israel legally and put an end to the occupation. However, the author argues that whatever the outcome, this move would be counter-productive and serve Israeli’s interests. It could threaten the refugees’ right to return, jeopardize the recent reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority while Israel may eventually ask that the size of the Palestinian state be reduced. (Al Jazeera

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot at the UN (September 8, 2011)

A Media Matters Action Network article argues that US opposition to any Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood is not only immoral but also alienating and a threat to US security. The decision to send Dennis Ross to the region in a last-ditch attempt to avert a UN vote further demonstrates that the Obama administration is not dedicated to advancing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, but rather placating the Israel lobby. Standing with Netanyahu at the General Assembly will further damage international perceptions of US motivations in the Middle East. (Media Matters Action Network)

Palestinian Statehood Must Come about by the Democratic Will of the People (September 6, 2011)

In August 2011, Oxford Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, international refugee law expert, authored a legal opinion highlighting how recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN might affect popular representation of the Palestinian people. According to Goodwin-Gill, if the PLO cedes its seat to the state of Palestine, Palestinians will then have two representatives—the state at the UN for those under the PA and the PLO for Palestinians outside 1967 borders.  This fragmentation will have serious consequences on the Palestinian right to return and self-determination. The opinion provoked vigorous debate, prompting Goodwin-Gill to write another paper framing the issues of sovereignty and statehood into the wider context of democratic accountability and ultimately calling for free and fair Palestinian elections. (Guardian)

New Palestinian Strategy Document Will Make It Difficult for US to Oppose UN Vote (August 30, 2011)

According to the author, Fatah’s wording of the UN proposal for recognizing Palestinian statehood will make it difficult for the US, and even Israel, to explain their votes against the resolution. The draft states that permanent borders will be determined in negotiations with Israel based on the 1967 borders. This approach made it possible to elicit support from leading Hamas moderates, who claim that recognition of 1967 borders before signing a formal deal means waiving claims to the right of return. Leading up to September negotiations, the long-standing political tensions between factions of the Palestinian leadership are giving way to “strategic unity,” stressed in the Palestine Strategy Group’s new position paper. (Ha’aretz)

Palestinian Youth in Gaza Skeptical about PA’s UN Bid (August 19, 2011)

According to Mohammed Rabah Suliman, Palestinian student and activist living in Gaza, a large segment of young Palestinians criticize the Palestinian Authority’s bid for international recognition at the UN. Weary of the PA’s symbolic acts and doubtful of UN credibility, they believe that a declaration of statehood will not effectively establish a sovereign Palestinian state or alter facts on the ground. Some question the functionality of a state in the besieged Gaza Strip and colonized West Bank, a state completely dependent on foreign aid. Increasingly, Palestinian youth believe the only path to equality lies in a one-state solution. Opposing the PA bid, they emphasize universal rights, real liberation and the right of refugees to return over “statehood at any price.”  (Electronic Intifada)

The UN Vote and a Viable Two-State Solution (August 9, 2011)

Farid Abdel-Nour, Director for the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies at San Diego State University suggests that there are two dominant Palestinian narratives of the two-state vision. It can represent surrender and accommodation of overwhelming Israeli power, legitimating terms of Palestinian dispossession in 1948. Alternatively, it could embody the verdict of a global moral consensus, associated with justice, international law, and Palestinian pride and dignity. This meaning is rooted in the political mobilization of the first intifada in 1987, in which the Palestinian people demanded the two-state solution, reflecting an international consensus in the aftermath of the 1967 war. According to Abdel-Nour, the symbolic power of Palestine’s admission to UN membership would increase the two-state vision’s admittedly meager chance of being realized. (Dissent)


Although the right of return is central to Palestinian national identity, Palestinian pollsters have documented that most refugees do not in fact anticipate or want to return. Half fled within Palestine and became internally displaced persons, and those living in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon (the main populations expected to return) total less than one million. The realization of right of return represents a far from insurmountable challenge for a new state of Palestine. Policy approaches to foster stable reintegration should focus on formulating plans for monetary compensation and on redefining the issue of return to mean return to a national homeland as opposed to return inside the green line. (World Politics Review)

The Economics of Palestinian Statehood (September 13, 2011)

The Israeli occupation continues to stifle economic development in the Palestinian territories. The current economic climate, characterized by high unemployment and dependence on external aid, should not be seen as indicative of a Palestinian state’s economic potential after independence, but rather as symptomatic of the absence of Palestinian sovereignty. In administration, economic policy, sustainability, and growth potential, an independent Palestine would match or surpass many existing developing countries. The West Bank and Gaza are in a better position in these respects than were East Timor or, most recently, South Sudan when the UN recognized the independence of these states. (World Politics Review)

State-Building and Political Change: Options for Palestine 2011 (March 2011)

This paper analyzes four sets of options for political action in August and September of 2011, as the Palestinian Authority’s state-building plan reaches its deadline and Palestine is expected to seek membership at the UN. (1) A “business-as-usual” response to conclusion of PM Fayyad’s institution-building plan would weaken the link between institutional reform and political progress, possibly spurring Palestinians to seek direct-action alternatives. (2) Pushing for broader recognition at the Security Council, General Assembly, or outside the UN framework may also prove disappointing to many Palestinians. International recognition of Palestine in 2011 is unlikely to lead to establishment of a sovereign state that monopolizes the legitimate use of force within the territory claimed by the PLO. (3) A riskier option, dissolution of the PA, would return direct responsibility for administration of the territory to Israel, making the reality of the occupation abundantly clear. After discussing these options, the author suggests (4) the PA focus on “political deliverables” that would broaden its scope, reduce the occupation’s impact, and indicate to Palestinians that their government’s approach is helping them toward statehood. (NYU Center on International Cooperation)

Links and Resources on Palestinian Statehood

Palestinian Statehood at the UN: Resource from the Quaker UN Office (August 18, 2011)

These pages offer resources on the current discussions around the question of Palestinian statehood at the UN. They provide background information, alternative scenarios, recent developments, broad discussions, and opinion pieces from a range of political perspectives. These pages also include papers on specific issues such as Resolution 377, Uniting for Peace, theories and legal technicalities of statehood, the role of the ICJ and ICC, and the history of Palestinian status at the UN. (Quaker UN Office)

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