Today, Palestine will ask the UN General Assembly to vote on a resolution to enhance its status to that of Observer State. This step will be a milestone in realigning international efforts to achieve peace in the region, within the framework of international law and the values embodied in the UN Charter. There should be no doubt: Supporting this initiative will create a new, positive, and effective momentum for a just path to peace in our region.
Some are questioning what Palestine’s oft-termed “UN bid” represents. The enhancement of Palestine’s status at the UN is our sovereign right, anchored in the spirit and letter of international law. Self-determination is an inalienable right, enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sixty-five years ago, Israel was admitted to the UN based on its commitment to implement General Assembly resolutions 181 and 194. Palestine’s admission has been awaiting implementation for well over half a century.
The enhancement of Palestine’s status is a step towards ending the status quo and the entrenchment of Israeli occupation, colonization and apartheid policies which severely oppress the Palestinian population, denying them their most basic human rights, and quickly rendering the two-state solution unviable.
The enhancement of Palestine’s status is a way to protect the internationally-agreed upon formula for peace: The two-state solution on the 1967 border. The ultimate objective, as declared by the entire international community, is that of two independent states living side by side in peace. This necessarily requires that Palestine is recognized as a state. Supporting this step will therefore contribute towards safeguarding the two-state solution. It is a serious attempt to end a 15 year impasse in the peace process imposed by Israel, while it continues to gobble up our land through its regime of colonization, segregation and control. Our attempt is an investment in peace, a release from severe political deadlock and a way to prevent the erosion of the two-state solution.
There have also been misleading suggestions as to what Palestine’s UN bid represents, which should be clarified. To begin with, the enhancement of Palestine’s status is not a unilateral step. While the declaration of independence by any country is inherently a sovereign and unilateral decision, going to the United Nations to seek recognition as a state among its 193 members is, on the contrary, a multilateral step par excellence.
The enhancement of Palestine’s status is not an attempt to bypass negotiations. Statehood, and indeed the recognition of statehood, is a sovereign right which has never been negotiated bilaterally and is not a final status issue. Independence and statehood have never been negotiable. The notion that Israel should approve the Palestinians’ inalienable right to self-determination is simply illogical, immoral, and totally unacceptable. Palestine is not seceding from a greater Israel; it is struggling to end peacefully its illegal occupation. The Palestinian leadership remains committed to the political process whereby all final status issues will be resolved through direct negotiations. However, the success of negotiations is contingent upon the existence of a credible and serious Israeli peace partner that is ready to commit to ending the occupation based on the parameters clearly outlined in previous negotiations, international law, and relevant UN resolutions. To be a credible negotiating partner, Israel must implement previously signed agreements, which Israel categorically ignores. Selective implementation by the occupier is no implementation at all. It creates nothing but distrust.
The enhancement of Palestine’s status is not an attempt to delegitimize Israel. We continue to honor our commitment to recognize the State of Israel on the borders of 1967. It is a step designed to legitimize the State of Palestine, to work towards its freedom and independence, and thus allow for a peaceful solution to this conflict. While this step may seek to expose the illegitimacy of the policies of colonization and apartheid being entrenched through the occupation, and the impunity and unaccountability of Israel, it is in no way an attempt to isolate Israel.
A number of obligations must be fulfilled. Firstly, Palestine has an obligation to its people. The PLO will use every peaceful and diplomatic tool within the framework of international law, in order to achieve freedom and independence for its people. This means ending an occupation which has oppressed and humiliated Palestinians for almost half a century, the last twenty of which we were engaged in a “peace process”, and finding a just and agreed-upon resolution for its refugees, who have now spent over 65 years in exile. Enhanced status at the UN will facilitate the achievement of these goals. It will also provide a glimmer of light at the end of this long dark tunnel, alleviating the state of frustration prevailing among our people and allowing us to continue our peaceful, non-violent struggle.
Israel has an obligation to cease its repeated and flagrant violations of international law. In the twenty years since the Peace Process began, the number of Israeli settlers has more than doubled, the illegal Wall continues to be built on Palestinian land despite an unequivocal advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against it, and East Jerusalem has been unlawfully and unilaterally annexed. Moreover, Israel has a moral obligation to end the suffering of Palestinians; to take responsibility for causing and perpetuating the refugee issue; and to hold those who commit brutal acts of terror against Palestinians, attacks which are increasing at an alarming rate, accountable for their actions.
The international community has a clear moral and legal obligation to support the Palestinians in their quest for self-determination. Those who voted in favor of partition, those who have promised us a state for 65 years, those who have witnessed the appalling policies of the Israeli occupation, owe it to the Palestinians to endorse this step. Moreover, in 2004, the ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Wall made it patently clear that fulfilling the Palestinians’ right to self-determination is a right erga omnes i.e. the concern of all states.
To date, 132 countries, a combined total of 75% of the world’s population, have formally recognized the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders. We are now calling on those countries, and all those who have not yet recognized us, to support the enhancement of our status in the UN General Assembly. If the international community is serious about the two-state solution, as it purports to be, then each member country needs to make good on their word by voting with Palestine, today, on November 29th. Palestine has been the exception to the UN promise for far too long. The time to act is now.
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Dr. Nabil Shaath is a member of the State of Palestine delegation to the UN, currently accompanying the Palestinian delegation in New York for the vote, is the Fatah Foreign Relations Commissioner and former Palestinian foreign minister. He was a member of the Madrid Peace Delegation and later was involved in negotiations with Israel that led to the signing of the Oslo Agreements. From 1993-1995, he served as the head of the Palestinian negotiation team, participating in the talks at Camp David (2000) and Taba (2001). He has also represented Palestine at the World Economic Forum.