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The UN Vote and Palestinian Statehood
Why the Move is an Unnecessary Gamble
ROBERT M. DANIN is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council.See more by this author
The Palestinians' effort to attain international statehood recognition at the United Nations in September is aimed at enhancing their leverage in future negotiations with Israel. In a candid May 16 op-ed in the New York Times, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), acknowledged as much. "Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another," he said, "and not as a vanquished people."
Ironically, this effort, if successful, could achieve the very position Palestine could have attained long ago at a much lower price. Phase II of the 2003 Quartet Roadmap for Peace offered the option of creating "an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders" as a stepping stone to a negotiated permanent final-status agreement. The Palestinian leadership long rejected this option, fearing that that establishing a state prior to resolving all outstanding final status issues with Israel would leave them unresolved in perpetuity. Now they have effectively reversed course, hoping for just such an outcome. Only now, the Palestinians are pursuing this goal outside of any international diplomatic effort, rather than within one.
To be sure, attaining some form of UN membership for Palestine could indeed enhance the Palestinian leadership's leverage in final status negotiations with Israel. They would be negotiating on behalf of a state, not a provisional body and non-state entity. As a UN member, Palestine could resort to legal recourse at the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and possibly the International Criminal Court. Moreover, attaining UN membership would arguably enhance the Palestinians' claim to the pre-1967 armistice line, since that line will have been recognized internationally. Of course, U.S. President Barack Obama already enshrined the 1967 line as the basis for negotiations over a final border in his May 19 State Department address on the Middle East.