(Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday he would request recognition of a fully-fledged Palestinian state at the United Nations when he goes to the world body next week, defying fierce opposition from Israel and the United States.
Here are some of the reasons behind the push as well as some of the possible consequences.
Abbas says 20 years of U.S.-led peace talks have got nowhere and wants a vote in the United Nations to bestow the Palestinians with the cherished mantle of statehood. However, he recognizes that negotiations with Israel will still be needed to establish a properly functioning state.
Justifying the move, the Palestinians point to the success of a Western-backed, two-year plan to build institutions ready for statehood which they say is now finished.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) says placing their state firmly in the context of territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war will provide clear terms of reference and mean Israel will no longer be able to call the land “disputed.” Instead, it will make clear it is occupied. Israel fears this will enable Palestinians to start legal proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against some 500,000 Israelis who live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Countries seeking to join the United Nations usually present an application to the U.N. secretary-general, who passes it to the Security Council to assess and vote on. If the 15-nation council approves the membership request, it is passed to the General Assembly for approval. A membership request needs a two-thirds majority, or 129 votes, for approval.
A country cannot join the United Nations unless both the Security Council and General Assembly approve its application.
In theory, yes. But Washington has made clear it would veto such a request, meaning it has no chance of success. Even if the Palestinians secured a two-thirds majority of votes in the General Assembly, there is no getting around the need for prior approval of the Security Council.
IS “NON-MEMBER STATE” STATUS AN OPTION?
In addition to applying to become a full U.N. member state, the Palestinians could also seek upgraded observer status as a non-member state. That is what the Vatican has. Such status, U.N. envoys say, could be interpreted as implicit U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood because the assembly would be acknowledging that the Palestinians control an actual state.
The advantage of this option is that it would require only a simple majority of the 193-nation General Assembly, not a two-thirds majority. Abbas said on Friday that more than 126 states already recognize the state of Palestine, meaning he could probably win such a vote with ease.
Besides granting them the all-important title “state,” diplomats say it might enable the Palestinians to join the ICC, from which it could pursue legal cases against Israel over the partial blockade of Gaza or the settlements.
There are potential pitfalls. For example, Israel could counter sue the Palestinians in the ICC over missiles fired at it out of Gaza, which is run by the Hamas Islamist group.
Some critics have warned of legal consequences for the Palestinians themselves, arguing the move could jeopardize the rights of refugees in the Palestinian diaspora and the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Others have dismissed those arguments.
Also, the U.N. vote will not change things on the ground in the Palestinian territories — a reality which could further undermine the standing of the Palestinian leadership when the dust settles. Some Israelis have warned disappointment could fuel anti-Israeli violence and even spark a new Intifada. PA officials have dismissed that prospect.
Israeli officials have suggested a range of possible measures, including limiting travel privileges for Palestinian leaders seeking to exit the West Bank, halting the transfer of crucial tax revenues to the Palestinians and even annexing West Bank settlement blocs to try to sidestep ICC legal action. Some U.S. officials have warned that they might cut their annual aid to the Palestinian Authority, which runs to some $450 million. It is far from clear if they will enact these threats. Depriving the PA of funds, for example, would rapidly push it to financial collapse, which would provoke instability. In the case of bankruptcy, some leading Palestinians argue that the PA should hand over the keys of the big West Bank cities to Israel and tell it to pay for the on-going occupation.
Writing by Crispian Balmer and Lou Charbonneau