Palestinians begin unilateral search for int'l recognition of statehood

08:30, November 16, 2009      

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The Palestinian National Authority is considering to ask the UN Security Council for full membership in the UN, according to a report in Saturday's edition of the London-based daily Al-Hayyat.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appeared on Israel Army Radio on Sunday to confirm the earlier report. The Palestinians feel that Israel is not a negotiating partner and now the Palestinians may have little choice other than to go it alone.

While a seat at the UN would not be the same as statehood in legal terms, it would go a long way in the Palestinians' attempt to seek international recognition of their state.

It is not the first time the Palestinians have talked up this idea, but on previous occasions it proved to be something of an idle threat which eventually petered out.

WHY NOW?

The idea that the Security Council recommends UN membership comes at a time when the Palestinians have seen American support shift somewhat in Israel's favor.

Until last month, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama appeared committed to the Palestinian demand that before Israeli-Palestinian negotiations begin Israel implement a total freeze in construction in its settlements.

However, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Israel at the end of October, she made an apparent U-turn and suggested that the freeze had never been a precondition to talks. She also praised what had been done thus far by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This left the Palestinians feeling very frustrated as it came after reports that American and European pressure forced the Palestinian leadership to push for a delay in the international adoption of the Goldstone report on Israel's behavior during last winter's military operation in the Gaza Strip. The report said Israel was possibly guilty of war crimes.

"The course that the U.S. is driving, which is the attempt to get the parties back to negotiations, is a dead end. There is zero chance of a bilateral, negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement in the foreseeable future," said Gershon Baskin, the Israeli chief executive and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

Baskin is one of the loudest proponents of this unilateral route to statehood.

HOW IT WILL WORK

In Baskin's version of the process, first the international community would grant "Palestine" full UN membership. At that point, Israel would be considered to be breaching the UN charter by occupying the territories of a UN member. Then the UN Security Council would initiate a mechanism to guarantee Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian territories.

However, there are key legal hurdles to dog this process.

In theory, there has been a Palestinian state for exactly 21 years. On Nov. 15 of 1988, the Palestinians declared "the Palestine National Council, in the name of God, and in the name of the Palestinian Arab people, hereby proclaims the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem."

However, since then few countries have fully recognized the "State of Palestine," while others have granted it partial recognition. The world's leading states do not recognize "Palestine."

Ruth Lapidoth, a professor emeritus of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the reason for the failure to recognize "Palestine" is that four key criteria need to be met for statehood to legally take effect.

In accordance with accepted international law, a state exists when it has territory, a population, an effective government and the ability to conduct international relations.

CHANCES OF SUCCESS

In Lapidoth's judgment, the Palestinian failure to have effective government has prevented and will continue to thwart Palestinian attempts at statehood.

As far as the West Bank is concerned, Israel's control of security means the Palestinians do not enjoy full governmental control. The ongoing standoff between Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip also means there is no effective internal governance.

Lapidoth said Palestinian moves at the UN would not guarantee any form of legitimate Palestinian statehood because the legal demands have not been met.

All the UN could do is to accept "Palestine" as a member of its General Assembly, something that would require approval at the Security Council and then a two-thirds majority in the assembly itself.

"Admission to the UN means the admitted state has status within the UN but it does not mean recognition by all the member states," said Lapidoth.

Because of this, Lapidoth thinks the Palestinian comments regarding unilateralism in the last two days are "a little bit of propaganda."

Baskin, however, said he is more optimistic that this could still work given the current stalemate in the peace process.

For it to succeed it will certainly take the backing of the U.S. administration, he said.

Baskin, recently back to Israel after a trip to Washington, said there are increasing voices being made there in favor of unilateralism, but it is still unclear how much support this has in the White House and State Department.

"The Palestinians are testing the waters right now, but what the Americans need to do is to understand that we are dead-ended and that they need to make a course change," he said.

Going down the route of full UN membership may not change reality for the Palestinians, but it would change the perception of reality. "In changing the perception of reality, you can hope to change reality," Baskin said.

Source: Xinhua
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