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Palestinian Statehood

Palestinian Statehood

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Published by Alexander Mette

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Published by: Alexander Mette on Jul 15, 2012
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12/29/2012

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THE PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD BID
Context, Political Impact, and Legal Ramifications
By: Alex Mette
espite so far having fallen short of full fledged statehood, The Palestinian bid for aseat at the UN has made significant progress in gaining public attention for thePalestinian people's cause. While the final outcome of Abbas and the PLO's actionsremain to be seen, it’s clear that the implications are primarily political thoughthere are some important legal elements that will be discussed as well. The two are very much connected, especially in that the legal implications of an upgrade to observer status may provide the Palestinians with some new leverage and an impetus on both sides to resumenegotiations. In terms of popular support, the move has helped improve public opinion of Abbasand added new life to the Palestinian issue internationally.
D
 While highly contested by the United States and Israel, widespread support for a Palestinian state was seen throughout the world, namely in China and South America. In fact, it is extremely likely that a vote in the General Assembly would lead to an upgrade in the Palestinian's status, a fact thatfurther highlights the unpopularity of Washington's position. The move also helped inform thedebate surrounding the role of the United States in the region, especially in light of the ArabSpring. Most recently, Palestine successfully became a member of UNESCO, gaining an importantfoothold that has the potential to lead to membership in other UN bodies but has thus far yieldedsignificant financial loss as a result of economic actions taken by the US and Israel. Mostimportantly, the movement for Palestinian statehood stands as an example of a unilateral move by the Palestinians to break the status quo and put forward an issue around which internationalsupport can coalesce.The implications of the statehood bid are primarily abstract as it is widely recognized that theUnited States will veto any vote in the Security Council for a Palestinian state. Instead, the movehas increased awareness of the unequal status of the Palestinian people in the internationalcommunity and forced Washington's hand during a pivotal time in the Middle East. Despite thefact that Palestine will unlikely be unable to achieve full statehood in the immediate term, severaloptions remain going forward that will help further the cause of the Palestinian people includingpotential membership at other UN bodies, most important being recognition by the InternationalCriminal Court, and an upgrade to non-member status following a vote by the general assembly. While the US has continued to demonstrate its unwavering commitment to the Israeli position, thesimple fact that the Palestinians were able to bypass the traditional venues for negotiations – venues that have continually failed to yield a successful peace deal or even halt illegal settlements and give new impetus to their cause, is a sign of optimism. Another positive development is the peace deal between Hamas and Fatah and ongoing unity talks, which despite the negative spin in the US and Israel, are welcome news for the Palestinians and willgive future negotiations a better chance at success. Further, the reconciliation process, though stillat an early stage, has already shown signs of a changing Hamas. Due in part to the drive for unity  with Fatah as well as developments outside of Palestine, Hamas appears to be distancing itself from
 
some of its traditional backers. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to a position of overtpolitical power with an accompanying shift away from Syria and Iran is a welcome change for the West given the moderate character of the Brotherhood compared with Damascus and Tehran.Further, while still not recognizing Israel's right to exist, a stance that makes recognition of thegroup impossible for the US, Hamas has committed itself to “peaceful resistance acceptable to the international community.”
 Palestinian Statehood and the Arab Spring
The Palestinian statehood bid comes at a time when Washington finds itself in an extremely difficult position vis a vis the changing nature of the Arab world. The upheaval caused by therevolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya as well as the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, andBahrain in particular have put the US in an awkward position with regard to the rhetorical if notpopular domestic desire to promote democracy and Washington's relationships with undemocraticregimes.In terms of the Palestinian issue, the US was slow to condemn Mubarak for fear that it would senda message to regional allies, namely Saudi Arabia, that the US would support the public in a pro-democracy revolution and to Israel who feared a new government would not uphold Camp David. Washington's position contributed to a loss of legitimacy in Egypt as well as the broader MiddleEast as the Obama administration has offered contradictory messages for countries such asBahrain and Libya. The Palestinian's were able to take advantage of the unique opportunity presented by the Arab Spring and force the United States to address the question of a potential vetoat the Security Council, preceded by a flurry of diplomatic activity as the US and Israel lobbied world powers not to support the Palestinians. By forcing the US to face this possibility Abbas brought Palestine into the forefront during a time when Washington was extremely sensitive topublic opinion in the Middle East and was undergoing a dramatic shift in policy perspective in theregion. In a more abstract sense, by capitalizing on the energy of the Arab Spring in a way that isrelevant to the position of the Palestinians, the PLO gained needed popular support and preventedthe feeling of a missed opportunity to bring new life to their cause during a time of high politicalengagement and energy. Further, the success of popular uprisings to bring about change in theregion has contributed to a growing belief among Palestinian youth in the power of non-violence.The Arab Spring started a debate in the US that continues today about the sustainability of ourrelationships with undemocratic regimes. Further, our national security interests are being viewedincreasingly through a pragmatic, rather than ideological lens. The prominence of domestic,mainly economic issues and fear of a nuclear armed Iran in the run-up to the presidential electionhas meant that the Israel-Palestine issue has seen little attention outside of the statehood debate.This has helped to raise questions in the US among politicians and American citizens about thenature of our relationship with Israel and whether continuing to prevent the advancement of thePalestinian case is justifiable in terms of a further loss of legitimacy in the highly engaged andinvigorated political climate in the Middle East today and more fundamentally, whether it’s even inour interest to oppose a movement that is largely symbolic. Further, in terms of economic issues,several Republican candidatesstated they would categorically reassess and even zero out our foreign aid and in some cases, included Israel in that equation, a clear example of economicpragmatism outweighing traditional politics.
 
 Legal Implications
The likely legal implications of the current movement for statehood are limited but important,mostly in that they further the Palestinian cause without compromising on key issues. However,the short-term results of the move, especially economically, will likely be negative (a reality that is widely understood by Palestinians). The most significant concrete change that could be seen asresulting from an upgrade in the Palestinian's status would be a potential decision on the 2008 ICCcase. This case remains undecided as Luis Moreno-Ocampo is thought to be waiting for a decisionfrom the General Assembly on Palestine's status before proceeding. If brought before the ICC, thiscase would not only assess possible war crimes committed on both sides but would set a precedentfor hearing cases by a non-member (Palestine) and a non-signatory (Israel) and could set the stagefor addressing questions more relevant to the statehood issue and more importantly to the peaceprocess.Critics of Abbas' decision to submit an application for membership to the UN have raised twoquestions regarding whether the impact of the move harms the interests of the Palestinian people.First, would recognition of a Palestinian state signify agreement, or even a position on borders? And second, would it eliminate the PLO as the legitimate representative of all the Palestinianpeople? The first question is based on the definition of eligibility for statehood put forth in theMontevideo Convention that requires a clearly defined territory. However, a contradictory line of legal thought holds that recognition of a state is
de facto
rather than relying on the specific criteria.Simply put, if other states recognize Palestine, then it has the legal basis for statehood. Further, while full membership in the UN may be the hallmark of statehood, it is not the sole arbiter of statehood, much less of membership in the international community. Secondly, critics of thestatehood bid fear that it will compromise the right of return and result in the disenfranchisementof refugees and Israeli Arabs. If the PLO is replaced by the Palestinian State, they hold, it will meanthat the PLO is no longer the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and no longerable to exercise sovereignty over all the Palestinians. Further, some hold that the creation of aPalestinian state would support Israel's claim of a Jewish state thereby threatening its non-Jewishpopulation as well as the majority of Palestinians living outside of the West Bank or Gaza.However, the statehood question does not deal explicitly with borders or recognize a Jewish state by virtue of the existence of a Palestinian state. Further, because the creation of a state would seethe accompanying development of a state government, the PLO and its role would indeed change –most likely in order to take on a complementary role to the Palestinian State – but not necessarily to the detriment of the millions of Palestinians living outside of the OPT.On the most fundamental level, the statehood bid is changing the terms of the debate. ThePalestinians are seeking to counter the argument that the preconditions set out by Montevideo arethe sole, much less most important, criteria for determining status as a state. By emphasizing the widespread international recognition of the Palestinian State and historical legitimacy of thePalestinian's governing bodies they are advocating the de facto view of statehood while generatingmomentum domestically and internationally for their cause. Further, the issue raises awareness of the Palestinian's unequal status under international law and inability to have their voice heard inorganizations such as the ICC. By pursuing a seat at the UN the Palestinians have invoked astrategy  that
 
“amounts to a demand for inclusion within an international society of states as a stateunder occupation rather than as a territory yet to achieve independence.”

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