Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Blog

The United Nations General Assembly is currently deliberating the upgrade of Palestine’s status at the UN from “observer” to “non-member state,” a move that is very likely to pass the 193-nation body. Despite strong opposition from the US and Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has held firm in his determination to seek international recognition, citing the lack of progress toward a negotiated settlement on the ground.

Though the vote will not directly affect the situation on the ground – the occupation will still be present, violence will likely continue, and negotiations will remain stalled – it does have important ramifications for all players involved.

The Palestinian Authority

The PA has suffered an acute legitimacy crisis in the past few years, exacerbated by an energized Arab Spring, deep financial woes, and growing popular disillusionment of a negotiated two-state solution. The PA’s UN resolution, which has over 60 co-sponsors, is likely to pass with an overwhelming majority, demonstrating the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause, and the popular global perception that the Palestinian people deserve a state. The PA stands to gain substantial international legitimacy from the move, effectively providing a mandate for their representation of the Palestinian people within ’67 borders. It will also provide a forum for the PA and their allies to denounce Israeli actions and express the plight of the Palestinian people, a responsibility they are hard-pressed to accomplish at home.


Palestinian Diaspora

Though the upgrade will bolster the position of the Palestinian Authority to represent Palestinians within the borders of a future Palestinian state, it implicitly sidelines the millions of Palestinian refugees who do not fall under the PA’s jurisdictional mandate. Though the PLO as a whole is tasked with representing the Palestinian people inside and outside of Palestine, its continued blurring with the PA has effectively sidelined PLO authority in areas outside of PA interest, and the UN vote will likely further that process. So, even as the vote bolsters the Palestinian bargaining position vis-à-vis Israel, it brushes aside the question of who will represent the Palestinian refugee population after the PA’s ascension, leaving many with effectively no political representation.



Riding a wave of new-found popularity – and power – after the latest conflict with Israel, Hamas has successfully turned around its steadily-eroding legitimacy in Gaza, as events in the past few weeks have overshadowed the group’s widespread mismanagement and restrictive governance. Though Hamas has publicly supported the UN bid for recognition, the success of the vote will be tied directly to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, and its success would directly undermine the violent resistance model preached by Hamas leaders, at least in the short-term. However, if the vote passes, but little is actually accomplished, it may well serve Hamas is the long-run.



Israel’s attempts to derail the vote have come to naught, and the government has noticeably shifted to a position of downplaying the importance of the vote. Though they are technically correct, and the vote will hardly change the reality of the situation as it exists, it will doubtless serve as a loud reminder of global derision of the Israeli occupation, which is all-too-often muted by US vetoes in the Security Council. After a lackluster performance in the assault on Gaza earlier this month, the UN vote will likely serve as a further blow to Israel’s legitimacy in the international community. The vote could also potentially – though by no means necessarily – open a pathway for the prosecution of Israeli war crimes in international bodies like the International Criminal Court.


The United States

US opposition to the vote – one of only a handful of “no” votes – will once again demonstrate the double standards of US policy concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after a list-ditch attempt to derail the vote, is quoted as saying, “the path to a two-state solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York…The only way to get a lasting solution is to commence direct negotiations.” The assessment is a fair one, but belies the fact that the US has done little to foster equitable negotiations, and failed to pressure Israeli interlocutors to compromise on core issues such as settlement construction, the annexation of East Jerusalem, and the continuing military violence against the Palestinian people. The vote will likely further undermine the US role as a fair and balanced mediator for both sides.

To make matters even worse, Congress is already attempting to punish the PA for its unilateral actions. Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Lee (R-UT), and Inhofe (R-OK) introduced an amendment to the controversial National Defense Authorization Act that aims to “provide for restrictions on foreign assistance related to the status of the Palestinian mission to the United Nations.” If passed, the amendment will cut in half any U.S. assistance to the PA, the UN, and any country that votes for Palestinian statehood. Such a move is reminiscent of the widely-derided defunding of UNESCO after a similar membership bid last year, and will likely produce the same result: global enmity and little else. 

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