Friday October 24, 2014
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24.10.2014
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Dr. Emmanuel Navon

A tempest in a teacup

This week's expected vote in the United Nations over recognition of a Palestinian state will not be a "diplomatic tsunami," as Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it, but rather a tempest in a teacup. According to the U.N. charter, any country that seeks to be accepted into the organization must ask the secretary-general, who then submits the request to the Security Council; but one has to be a country in the first place. Not only did Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not declare statehood, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not meet the statehood criteria of international law: a permanent population, defined territory, a government, and the ability to conduct foreign affairs.

The PA does not have defined territory, but rather disputed territory: There has never been a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank or Gaza. Nor has there ever been a border between Israel and the West Bank, but just a temporary cease-fire line explicitly defined as such in the Israel–Egypt Armistice Agreement signed in Rhodes in 1949. Nor does U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, adopted unanimously in 1967, require that Israel withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines. The PA is actually two governments: the PLO in Ramallah and a Hamas government in Gaza. As you may remember, Abbas' attempt to form a unity government with Hamas failed.

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The Security Council will not accept the Palestinian petition because the United States will veto it and potentially even recruit a majority to oppose it. If the Palestinians petition the General Assembly, as it appears they intend to do, they will gain a majority, but with no practical import. General Assembly decisions are only recommendations and do not necessitate practical steps. Contrary to mistaken popular opinion, the General Assembly vote on Nov. 29, 1947 did not establish the Jewish state. The General Assembly does not have the power to found a state. On Nov. 29, the General Assembly formally stated that it accepts the recommendation of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to divide the British Mandate territory into two countries, one Jewish and the other Arab.

In fact, the General Assembly has already recognized a Palestinian state that doesn't exist. In a vote on Sept. 15, 1988, the General Assembly recognized, by a significant majority (104 for, 2 against, 36 abstained), the state that Yasser Arafat declared in Algeria the preceding month. In addition to the U.N. vote, 55 countries, among them the Soviet Union, China and India, officially recognized the Palestinian state in 1988.

The U.S. Congress has already decided, by a landslide majority, that it would cut off financial aid to the PA (which totalled $600 million in 2010) if it unilaterally declared a state. Under such circumstances, Israel, for its part, would likely also discontinue funelling tax revenues from borders and ports to the PA.

Therefore, the anticipated vote in the U.N. General Assembly will be yet another empty declaration, and the Palestinians are likely to pay a heavy price for it.

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