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Analysis: Why the president was right
Published Thursday 13/10/2011 (updated) 14/10/2011 12:02
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President Mahmoud Abbas holds up a copy of the letter that he had just
delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon requesting full UN representation
for a Palestinian state, during his address before the 66th UN General Assembly
at UN headquarters in New York, Sept. 23. (Reuters/Mike Segar)
By John Quigley and Gabi Fahel

President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to request UN membership for Palestine at the Security Council is the right decision.

It is the right decision if you believe in two states. It is the right decision if you believe in one state. It is the wrong decision if you believe in the status quo.

The status quo is the continuing occupation of Palestine and its people, daily human rights violations, denial of access to Jerusalem and Palestinian holy sites, as well as settlement construction without end. The status quo also means no tangible remedy for Palestinian refugees.

Abbas has clearly exhausted every bilateral avenue to responsibly move the peace process forward and he has now prudently reached the conclusion that international consensus is not enough. He has concluded that it is now time for active international engagement beyond the confines of the bilateral negotiations box.

Even if one believes in one state in historic Palestine, the initiative at the United Nations for membership must first be exhausted before a credible case can be made for one state. Therefore, the attempt at UN membership is a necessary step for achieving a two-state or one-state solution.

Today there are at least 127 states recognizing the sovereignty of Palestine. The initiative to seek bilateral recognitions from South America was the first warning to an otherwise unresponsive Israeli administration that Abbas was not going "to come down from the tree."

The response in diplomatic circles was that the president was not serious: "The Palestinian leadership will do as the Americans tell them, and they will buckle as they always do." This assumption was an incorrect one.

Moreover, the Israelis were now dealing with a president who publicly announced that he was not seeking re-election. Abbas was empowering the Palestine national cause as his legacy. With the Arab Spring and other political shifts in the region, it was time for Israel, at a minimum, to come down from its tree with a settlement freeze in line with the international consensus on that issue reflected in the 2003 Roadmap. It did not.

The next warning signal came in May. The president announced that Palestine was planning on going to the United Nations. Again, diplomats did not take Abbas seriously: "The Palestinian leadership will do as the Americans tell them, and they will buckle as they always do." Again, that assumption was incorrect.

Up until September, relevant capitals were still not taking the president's determination to seek Palestine's membership seriously. Public statements and backroom negotiations were taking place to persuade Abbas not to proceed, without proposing any meaningful alternatives to persuade Israel to implement a genuine settlement freeze.

The Palestine membership application may not proceed to a vote in the Security Council any time soon. The US is likely to play an obstructionist role. Palestine's membership application may be "studied" by a Security Council committee for months if not years.

If it is sent to a vote, the US may succeed in ensuring that no favorable recommendation is made to the General Assembly for Palestine’s admission to membership. At that point, the General Assembly may take time to study the Security Council action and may then seek clarification from the Security Council on why Palestine does not meet the requirements for membership.

What will become very clear is that US opposition at the Security Council is contrary to international law and contrary to international political consensus. When this is made clear, it becomes debatable whether the General Assembly may ignore the Security Council's recommendation and admit Palestine as a member state.

While Palestine's membership application may take time to make its way through the Security Council and General Assembly, Palestine could benefit by securing Observer State status for its UN mission. The General Assembly has the power to confer such status and would be likely to vote overwhelmingly in favor. Only a simple majority vote is required for an upgrade.

An upgrade to Observer State status for Palestine will make clear, if it is not so already, that the General Assembly considers Palestine qualified for UN membership on the criterion of statehood. This will make it more difficult for Security Council members to assert that Palestine is not a state.

And if the Security Council fails to adopt a favorable recommendation, the upgrade to Observer State status will pre-determine that issue when the membership application reaches the General Assembly, thereby arguably making it easier for the General Assembly to admit Palestine in the face of no favorable recommendation from the Security Council.

By obtaining an upgrade to Observer State, Palestine could advance permanent status issues in international venues, especially in the face of Israel's refusal to negotiate bilaterally in good faith. Prominently, the maintenance of settlements in occupied territory -- one of the sticking points in the final status negotiations -- is a war crime. Confirmation by the General Assembly of Palestine's statehood would make it clear to the International Criminal Court that Palestine’s 2009 declaration conferring jurisdiction on the Court is valid.

The settlement issue would no longer be solely a matter of bilateral negotiation. Beyond negotiating with Palestine, Israeli officials might have to negotiate their way out of potential criminal liability.

Another example: Last year the Minister of Tourism and Palestine’s Ambassador to UNESCO began the process for membership in UNESCO. Accession to UNESCO prior to Palestine’s admission to the U.N. would require a two-thirds majority in a vote of the UNESCO membership, but that would not be a problem.

Accession to UNESCO would allow for the internationalization of issues relating to Jerusalem. Israel would have to negotiate with an international body, under clear international rules, over its illegal excavations and construction in one of the world's most important heritage sites.

Palestine would also be able to seek world heritage recognition and protection for additional sites in Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus.

A confirmation of Palestine statehood via an upgrade to Observer State would also improve Palestine’s chances for membership in the International Telecommunications Union. Like UNESCO membership, ITU membership for Palestine would require a two-thirds majority in a vote, but again this would not be a problem.

Participation in the ITU would mean international regulation of Palestine's airwaves and frequencies. That regulation would be legally wrested from Israel's control. The electromagnetic sphere is a natural resource being exploited by Israel's mobile companies and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and tax revenues.

Once the ITU regulates Palestine's frequencies, Israel will no longer be able to demand legal control over Palestine’s airwaves at the negotiation table and share prices for Israel's mobile companies would likely be reassessed.

Beyond these few examples, a confirmation of Palestine statehood could advance Palestinian access to dozens of international organizations governing such rights and responsibilities as human rights protection, underground water, fiscal and monetary matters, maritime boundaries, natural gas off-shore Gaza, international post, agriculture, transportation, health, among many others.

Pursuing these international avenues will not only maintain momentum behind the President's UN initiative, but will also give new momentum to Salam Fayyad's government's state-building plan in Palestine.

In addition, such international efforts have the potential to create a serious challenge to an otherwise cost-free Israeli policy to continue its occupation and settlement enterprise.

And Israel's allies could also be taken to task to reassess whether any good-will created during the Arab Spring should be used to extinguish Israel's diplomatic flare ups every few months at numerous international organizations.

So is Abbas on the right side of history for seeking Palestine's international engagement? Absolutely.

John Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Gabi Fahel is an international lawyer and former advisor to Palestinian ministers and negotiators on issues concerning Palestine's membership of international organizations.
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1 ) Right & / Wrong
13/10/2011 15:12

[1] "The president was right" that he can NOT get a deal that he wants,
( E. Jerusalem, 1967 borders (aka 1949 Armistice lines), or refugee return) from negotiations, BUT
[2] THE PRESIDENT IS WRONG THAT HE CAN GET A STATE,
BY AVOIDING NEGOTIATIONS WITH ISRAEL.


2 ) southparkbear / usa
14/10/2011 04:33
simple, he is a genious. to the word no no and no he added the word never

3 ) Tony B? / ME
14/10/2011 21:12
Its neither a right decision or a wrong decision. It is a mute decision made by a nobody who represents nothing. He is an unelected president of a country and people that never existed and never will exist. But I suppose he's got to be seen to be doing something for all that aid money he's salting away in Saudi banks.

4 ) Chris Smith / US
14/10/2011 22:17
Where will the borders of the state be defined? Will it still be effectively balkanised by the criss-cross of settlements and Jewish/Israeli-only roads and areas? How, or even is, Abbas planning to remove the settlers from the Palestinian state - or will they be welcomed to stay? The only just solution is the one state solution in the end, but Israel cannot, by definition, accept that. But personally, I would not accept anything less than one-state-one-man-one-vote were I a Palestinian.

5 ) Ismail and Isaac / Palestine
16/10/2011 00:18
Dear Chris Smith from the US, We wholeheartedly agree with you. One Democratic State is our ultimate goal, and it will not be at the expense of any single Jewish person. Zionism as a parasitic entity, however, will be greatly disturbed. -Sons of Abraham

6 ) God / Everywhere
16/10/2011 20:33
5. Ismail, I gave you 90% of the Middle East. Why can't you allow your little brother Isaac that tiny piece of land you didn't give a damn about before he rested his feet? You threw him out of your lands in '48 to a land of desert and swamps. You expected him to die there, but he drained the swamps and watered the desert. Don't you think there is enough land for you both to live in peace?

7 ) Colin Wright / USA
16/10/2011 21:11
To Ismail and Isaac #5: 'One Democratic State is our ultimate goal, and it will not be at the expense of any single Jewish person.' The irony is that if the Jews of Israel assented to this rather obviously just formula now, they would retain effective power. They'd have a slight majority, be far better organized and far wealthier than any other bloc, and presumably retain control of the military and all other levers of power. But they won't assent, and this will be their undoing.

8 ) Chris Smith / US
16/10/2011 23:31
Reply to 6: It's a nice myth that you are propagating. My suggestion is to watch the movie "Al Nakba" on google videos and also to watch some lectures given by the Israeli historian Illan Pappe who crushes the "Land without a people for a people without a land" myth as well as the "Exile in the desert" myth. Fact is that most Jewish Israelis came from and come from other nations to that land - they are not the descendants of people who ever lived there.

9 ) Tony B? / ME
17/10/2011 11:11
8. You are going to upset Colin Wright with words like that. He has been trying to convince us that Pal Muslims are all Jewish converts. Maybe the two of you should co-ordinate before you each post your next pieces of garbage.

10 ) @ Colin #7 / Goals
17/10/2011 14:25

It may be your goal "'One Democratic State", but it is NOT the PLO or Hamas goal, any more than it Assad's goal in Syria, or was Gadhafi's goal in Lybia !!!

The PLO or Hamas goal is too destroy Israel completely, and never to recognize a Jewish state, and they will never stop trying, so until they are strong enough to do it by force, PALESTINE WILL NEVER EXIST.


11 ) southparkbear / usa
17/10/2011 22:29
there is 1 democratic state called israel. there are 22 arab states non is democratic. there are 57 islamic states non is a democratic state. there is gaza and area C both under different entities, none is democratic. now tell me why on earth smart jews living in a democratic developed state would agree to go back and live under the same people who killed their parents and grand parents?

12 ) Chris Smith / US
19/10/2011 03:02
Reply to 11 southparkbear: Israeli is not a democracy. Israel is an Ethnocracy.

13 ) Wrong or / Right
20/10/2011 15:09
[1] Further Palestinian Terror will lead to a TOTAL LOSS of world support,

[2] Further Palestinian Attacks will lead to a TOTAL DISTRUCTION of Palestinian areas, through Israeli "deterrent" strikes,

[3] Further attempts at the UN will NEVER lead to Palestinian statehood, so

[4] Palestinian are being pushed, but NOT "down a doomed UN path",
but instead leaving them with ONLY the option of going further down
THE PATH OF NEGOTIATIONS and compromise with Israel !!!!


14 ) southparkbear / usa
20/10/2011 22:46
chris i love seeing someone making at effort to impress with words from dictionary even if they have no link to the subject.

15 ) Carlos / USA
21/10/2011 18:38
Great article! The Israeli comment betray thier prejudice and hatred of Palestinians. Thier comments show why Israel is always willing to kill a few innocent civilians. Evidence is in comment "It is a mute decision made by a nobody who represents nothing." Mr Abbas is a nobody. Just like the residents of Deir Yassin were nobody and it was ok to murder all residents including children. Just like the residents of Sabra and Shatilla were nobody. Tony B, You disgust me.

16 ) Tony B? / ME
23/10/2011 13:25
15. How about the thousands of Pals who were murdered by the Hashemite government of Jordan? Or those more recently in Q8. Or all those Lebanese murdered by Hezbollah. What about the flying lessons given PA members by Hamas, or the PA retaliation. And that is just what they are doing to each other. I won't mention their murders of Israelis because I know you wouldn't care about them. It is your refusal to acknowledge the truth that is truly disgusting.

17 ) Carlos / USA
25/10/2011 04:43
Tony B, Israel has murdered untold thousands and thousands. Your support of the ongoing murders shows what kind of a criminal you yearn to be. Syria is only now starting to reach the level of butchery which Israel has inflicted on innocents. Israel shot down Algerian Airliner, massacred thousands of Egyptian prisoners of war, massacred thousands of Egyptian civilians, massacred thousands of Palestinians, murdered 9 turks last year, murdered 34 US Navy on USS Liberty and wounded hundreds.

18 ) Ismail and Isaac / Palestine
25/10/2011 06:29
God is One. The truth is simple. The devil is many. Lies are complicated.

19 ) Tony B? / ME
25/10/2011 12:41
17) Hey Carlos, you forgot to tell us they killed Bambi's mother.
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