Inside Story

Palestine: The meaning of a status upgrade

While US and Israel oppose Palestinian bid for non-member statehood at UN, we ask how move could affect peace efforts.
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2012 10:16

There was a great show of support for the Palestinians as they bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations. But the move was also strongly opposed by Israel and the United States.
After years of long, inconclusive negotiations, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, asked the UN General Assembly to recognise the non-member state of Palestine in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Abbas has been leading the campaign to win support for the resolution, and over a dozen European governments have offered him their support.

"We Palestinians are taking the Israelis all the way with us, for the world to recognise Israeli borders of 1967, because Israel never ever admitted its borders. [The bid] is to keep safe and alive what is left of the two-state solution before it is too late, and it's to awaken the Israeli public [asking them] 'how can you cope with an apartheid system with endless occupation?'"

- Mahdi Abdel Hadi, Palestinian Academic Society

The non-member observer state falls short of full UN membership. But a successful bid means the Palestinians would be allowed access to the International Criminal Court, where they could seek action against Israel on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Over the past 60 years, there have been many attempts to achieve Palestinian statehood.

In 1947, the partition resolution was adopted by the General Assembly, supporting an independent Jewish State and an independent Arab State; that was rejected by the Arabs.

But In 1974, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was granted observer status at the UN - which it holds to this day - allowing it to take part in General Assembly sessions, without the right to vote.

Then in 1988, the PLO unilaterally declared a State of Palestine at a meeting in Algeria.

And in 1993 the Oslo Accord was signed in Washington; that created the Palestinian Authority and granted limited autonomy to the Palestinian territories.

In 2003, the so-called Road Map was drafted by the Middle East quartet, stipulating the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

"[Palestinians] are trying to impose on Israel something that Israelis cannot accept in terms of Israeli security, and also they are not willing to recognise that on the other side of the border there will be a Jewish state."

- Dan Schueftan, University of Haifa

And in September 2011, President Abbas submitted an application to join the UN as a full member state. But the bid failed because of a lack of support in the UN Security Council.

Both Israel and the US have rejected the most recent bid by Palestine to be recognised as a non-member observer state. Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, said the bid is a "virtual move without any substance", while Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said it would serve no purpose.  .

So, how would a new status at the UN help the Palestinians? How would they use their newfound status? And how would it affect future peace efforts?

To discuss this Inside Story, with presenter Ghida Fakhry, is joined guests: Mahdi Abdel Hadi, the chairman of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs; Dan Schueftan, the director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, and a visiting professor at Georgetown University; and Alexandre Vautravers, a professor of international relations at Webster University.

"The Palestinians must recognise the Jewish State, and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all. None of these vital interests, these vital interests of peace, none of them appear in the resolution that will be put forward before the General Assembly today. And that is why Israel cannot accept it. The only way to achieve peace is through agreements that are reached by the parties directly; through direct negotiations between themselves, and not through UN resolutions that completely ignore Israel's vital security and national interests. And because this resolution is so one-sided, it doesn't advance peace, it pushes it backwards."

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, explaining his government's rejection of the Palestinian bid


  • Bid was made to change Palestine’s status at UN to "non-member observer state"
  • Palestinians have been permanent observers at the UN since 1974 
  • Permanent observer status includes right to co-sponsor resolutions 
  • France, Spain and Portugal said they would back Palestinian bid at the UN
  • Last year the Palestinian authority sought full member status at UNSC 
  • Last year's bid failed because the US threatened to veto it 
  • A simple majority is needed at the UN General Assembly to pass bid 
  • US and Israel have warned against bid to change Palestine’s status 
  • US: Path to two states lies through talks not through UN
  • Israel says issues of statehood should be part of bilateral talks 
  • Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been stalled since September 2010 
  • Palestinians want UN to accept state based on 1967 borders 
  • Israel opposes negotiations based on 1967 borders


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