The current escalation of conflict between Israel and Gaza will no doubt enter discussions about the Palestinian bid for non-member observer state status at the United Nations that is expected on 29 November 2012.
Suggestions are that the current violence will negatively affect the bid.
Even prior to the current bout of violence, Israel and the U.S. adamantly opposed the possible recognition of Palestine as a state – the difference between permanent observer status (which it presently has) and non-member observer state status (to which Palestine currently aspires).
This bid for the Palestinian observer state status follows an unsuccessful bid to join the U.N. as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support for the bid by the Security Council. The process to gain non-member observer status is simpler: a vote by the U.N. General Assembly, therefore eliminating the possibility of a veto in the Security Council. For states to be admitted as full members in the U.N., an application makes it to the General Assembly for consideration only after the Security Council considers it. Any recommendation for admission as a full member must receive the affirmative votes of 9 of the 15 members of the Security Council, provided that none of the Security Council’s 5 permanent members with veto power (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) vote against the application. Before this escalation of violence, it was generally presumed that the Palestinian bid would be successful in the G.A. vote, despite the U.S. influence that was starting to provoke some back-peddling by countries such as France that had supported the bid but recently voiced concern about the risks of supporting it in the face of U.S. opposition.
This escalation of violence should be condemned but bear little relevance to the U.N. bid. A genuine desire for the resumption of peace negotiations that will truly work towards a long-term cessation of violence should be the guiding influence. The status quo, even in the absence of violence prior to this terrible escalation, is not peace and it is not sustainable. And, U.N. status is not granted and revoked as a prize or penalty for good or bad behaviour.
A stated reason for the U.S. and Israeli opposition to the success of the bid is both a carrot and a stick approach that posits that there should be no Palestinian state prior to successful peace talks. Despite previous refusals to talk while Israel continues its expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, Mahmoud Abbas claims that the Palestinians will return to negotiations if their U.N. bid is successful, thus possibly reopening peace talks that have been deadlocked for years.
Membership in the U.N. comes with obligations, and recognition of Palestinians as a sovereign people with rights and international obligations could hopefully be the impetus to revive true dialogue, promote diplomacy between peoples over violence, and provide greater options for condemnation of aggression. Recognition of statehood would not make significant changes on the ground, but could possibly jostle deadlocked conversation. Both sides, however, would have to be prepared to move forward. Israeli threats to topple Abbas’ government are not helpful. And, international eyes must remain focused on Palestinian movement. As Alon Ben-Meir reminds, “the Palestinians must keep in mind that their quest to become an observer state must be promoted as a vehicle to advance the peace process rather than as a tool to threaten or undermine Israel’s international standing”.
Arguably, one of the reasons that Israel and the U.S. are fighting against the success of the bid is that recognized statehood could open avenues to inviting investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and membership in other multilateral bodies. The importance of statehood was highlighted when, in January 2009, Palestine invited the ICC to investigate the possibility of commission of war crimes committed in Gaza. In April 2012, the Court declared a decision not to proceed with any investigation, based not on any assessment of evidence, but because the Court lacks jurisdiction to investigate because the Office of the Prosecutor does not have the jurisdiction “to make the legal determination whether Palestine qualifies as a state for the purpose of acceding to the Rome Statute and thereby enabling the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court under article 12(1)”.
Statehood is not a reward for good behaviour; nor is it authorization to avoid scrutiny or threaten neighbours.
Statehood could offer the use of non-violent political, diplomatic and legal tools, therefore opening doors for constructive communication and denying any claims that violence is the only option, a last resort. Denying statehood as a carrot or a stick as a means to end violence or promote peace has a dubious likelihood of success.