Politics

A State of Palestine: The Case for UN Recognition and Membership

Al-Shabaka Policy Brief

Overview

Is the strategy of seeking international recognition from and membership of the United Nations (UN) this September for the State of Palestine a meaningful move or just a gimmick? What benefits would UN membership bring given that Israel may still retain de facto control over the occupied Palestinian territories? What would the impact be on the growing movement for a one-state solution? In this policy brief, Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Victor Kattan tackles these and other questions below and finds that on balance UN membership for a State of Palestine would be a strategic asset to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, although there are risks involved.

The Strategy in Question

Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and President of the Palestinian National Authority (PA), affirmed in the New York Times on 17 May 2011 that “this September, at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.”1

Although this announcement has provoked a storm of indignation amongst certain constituencies in the United States, it will not come as a complete surprise to those who have been following developments closely. In the past six months several Latin American countries have recognized the state of Palestine, bringing the total number of countries to have done so since 1988 to over 100.2 In addition, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom have upgraded the Palestine General Delegations in their capitals to diplomatic missions and embassies—a status normally reserved for states.

From Abbas’s op-ed it would appear that there are two prongs to this strategy: international recognition of Palestine as a state, and membership of the UN.3

Recognition

Although the Palestinian strategy has not been fully articulated, it appears that the PLO hopes to use the opening plenary of the UN General Assembly in September as a forum to call upon other states to recognize it. In other words it will seek collective recognition.

According to Riyad al-Maliki, the PA Foreign Minister, some 150 countries have said that they will recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in September.4 If this number is achieved it could be significant, especially if it includes recognition from some of the countries in the European Union (EU.) This is because if recognition of a Palestinian state is viewed as constitutive (the argument that statehood is a matter of recognition only) then the number and quality of states that recognize Palestine is important. If, however, recognition of a Palestinian state is viewed as declaratory (the argument that recognition alone cannot confer statehood but must be accompanied by other factors, independence being particularly important) then there is of course a problem if Israel retains control over the occupied territories.