The Palestinian plan to declare statehood unilaterally at the U.N. is only a public relations exercise. If the outcome of the vote in the General Assembly is successful, as expected, it will benefit the Palestinians only within the confines of the U.N.
Everyone knows that a Palestinian state will not arise a day after the vote, even if the General Assembly passes it. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be cheered and declared a hero as he leaves the podium. But he will not continue as Palestinian Authority president and the person who replaces him will be forced to return to the negotiating table.
The U.N. decision will also not determine the borders between Israel and a Palestinian state. A Palestinian will wake up the next morning, try to travel to Jerusalem, and will not be allowed to enter the city. He will become frustrated, and this will lead to violence. Hamas will take advantage of the situation and use it to incite Palestinians against Fatah. Hamas is not in favor of Abbas making his statehood bid at the U.N., because, in their eyes, this translates to recognition of Israel.
As for Israeli politicians, they panicked and coined the phrase “political tsunami,” but apparently this was only for internal political purposes. The decision at the U.N. must be viewed in perspective. The decision will carry the same weight as the 25 other decisions made against Israel in the General Assembly each year, decisions that lead nowhere.
Assuming that the Americans will not be able to convince the Palestinians to climb down from their tree, the outcome will be an upgrade of the Palestinians' status at the U.N. from “observer” to “non-member state” (like the Vatican). This is just another attempt by the Palestinians to upgrade their status in U.N. organizations such as UNESCO and the World Health Organization.
The next step in their plan will most likely involve turning to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Palestinians will try to demand membership in the International Court as a state so that they will be able to file lawsuits against Israel, as only member states can do this. However, it is questionable whether the International Court would agree to grant the Palestinians the status of a state, solely on the basis of a non-binding resolution by the U.N. General Assembly.
Alan Baker was Israel's ambassador to Canada and the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Legal Advisor. He is currently the Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.