Palestine Goes to the UN

Understanding the New Statehood Strategy

Courtesy Reuters

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), plans to call on the United Nations in September to recognize a Palestinian state and admit it as a full member of the organization. This strategy marks a dramatic shift in the Palestinians' approach to the conflict with Israel: they are not seeking to revive the moribund peace process; they are seeking to bypass it altogether.

Following the collapse of direct negotiations last fall, Abbas and his Fatah-dominated leadership launched an aggressive diplomatic campaign to secure broad international recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders as a prelude to applying for formal UN membership this fall. If the Palestinian bid to get full UN membership in September is defeated in the UN Security Council -- a U.S. veto is all but assured -- the PA says it is prepared to take the matter to the General Assembly. Initially, the plan was to seek a two-thirds majority vote there to obtain a nonbinding resolution under the "Uniting for Peace" procedure, which allows the General Assembly to act when a lack of unanimity on the Security Council prevents it from fulfilling its "primary responsibility" of maintaining "international peace and security." The PA has since backed away from this option and is now planning to seek a simple majority in the General Assembly, which would allow Palestine to be recognized as a "nonmember state" of the UN, alongside Kosovo, Taiwan, and Vatican City.

The Palestinians' UN strategy has been buttressed by two ongoing developments, both of which have now become essential to its success. The first is Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's so-called state-building plan, which he launched in August 2009 with the aim of laying the institutional foundations of a future Palestinian state within two years. Although it was not envisaged as a diplomatic initiative, the plan has given Abbas certain strategic advantages, including an internationally endorsed deadline and specific criteria for statehood. The second, more

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