Palestinian Authority Achieves Observer Status at the UN

November 29th is redolent with history in Palestine-Israel relations. It was on that day in November 1947 that the Special Committee on Palestine of the UN General Assembly passed the momentous resolution partitioning British Mandatory Palestine between a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state. Israel and the Arabs have gone to war four times, not including the two intifadas or the two Israeli incursions into Gaza in 2008 and the one most recently. It was therefore appropriate that the General Assembly, which had partitioned Palestine and thereby provoked war between the Israelis and the Palestinians was the same body that overwhelmingly approved a resolution, piloted by the Palestinian Authority (PA), requesting the UN to grant it non-member observer status. The Vatican is the only other state which has this status. It allows the receipient to join the specialized agencies of the UN and other organs, such the International Criminal Court. This last named facility is the one that caused immense concern in Israel because it would enable the PA to take Israel to Court for its alleged actions in the Occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Despite furious lobbying by Israel and on its behalf, by the United States, the vote revealed that only two major countries, the US and Canada, voted against the resolution. It is perhaps the first time that the US and Israel have been isolated to this extent in the General Assembly. While it is definitely a victory for the PA, it remains for the time being largely a symbolic triumph, which already the Israelis and the United States have treated with disdain. However in the long run, both Israel and its chief benefactor and supporter, the United States, will have to take into account the changed geopolitical realities in the Israel-Palestine region. The abominable status quo of occupation obviously cannot exist indefinitely and the UN resolution may perhaps mark the first loosening of the architecture which has permitted the Israelis to not only hold on to the pre-1967 territories that it conquered in war, but also to build settlements which are now populated, according to some estimates, at around half a million. With Israel’s petulant response of further building in an occupied area called E1, the chances of a two-state solution, which were already waning owing to the suspension of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, has dwindled to almost zero. The UN Secretary General has acknowledged as much in one of his recent statements. The difference however is that the status quo not only affects the Palestinians hugely negatively, but also now increasingly seems to isolate Israel from its previous friends. In the long run, the Israeli stance of obduracy towards a two-state solution could prove highly counterproductive, if not catastrophic.


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