Palestinians celebrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 29, 2012 after the General Assembly voted to recognise Palestine as a non-member state. The UN General Assembly on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a non-member state, giving a major diplomatic triumph to president Mahmud Abbas despite fierce opposition from the United States and Israel. AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI.
UN General Assembly grants upgraded status for Palestine
Posted Friday, November 30 2012 at 08:46
Posted Friday, November 30 2012 at 08:46
The victory for president Mahmud Abbas triggered scenes of joy in the occupied West Bank where thousands celebrated with bursts of gunfire and cheers in the city of Ramallah.
Abbas claimed what he called a UN “birth certificate” for a Palestinian state and got the backing of 138 countries in the 193 member assembly. Nine voted against and 41 abstained.
A Palestinian flag was unfurled in the General Assembly as the victory was pronounced. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned what he called a “venomous” speech by the Palestinian leader.
The vote lifts the Palestinian Authority from an observer entity to a “non-member observer state” on a par with the Vatican.
Palestine has no vote on the General Assembly but is able to join UN agencies and potentially the International Criminal Court (ICC), where it could ask for an investigation of Israeli actions.
The Palestinian leadership says it wants to use the vote as a launchpad for renewed direct talks with Israel, which have been frozen for more than two years.
Abbas told the assembly the resolution was “the last chance to save the two-state solution.”
In a 22-minute speech laced with references to Israel’s operation against Gaza this month, Abbas said time for an accord is running out. “The rope of patience is shortening and hope is withering.”
Afterwards, he said the vote had been “historic”.
“Tomorrow we begin the real war,” Abbas said at a celebration reception. “We have a long road and difficult road ahead of us. I don’t want to spoil our victory tonight but the road ahead is still difficult.”
The United States and Israel immediately condemned the vote, which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “counterproductive.”
US ambassador Susan Rice sternly told the General Assembly that the resolution would be “an obstacle to peace” because it would not lead to a return to direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade. And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded,” she said.
The United States blocked a Palestinian application for full UN membership - made by Abbas in September 2011 - at the UN Security Council.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pose for photos at the United Nations Nov. 28, 2012, in New York City.
Is Palestine now a state?
CBS News/ November 30, 2012, 7:51 AM
But what exactly did the Palestinians really gain at the world body? The resolution referred to the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine."
So, is Palestine now a State?
Here's what the U.N.'s own charter, and international law have to say on the matter:
"The recognition of a new State or Government is an act that only other States and Governments may grant or withhold. It generally implies readiness to assume diplomatic relations. The United Nations is neither a State nor a Government, and therefore does not possess any authority to recognize either a State or a Government," according to the United Nations.
A state may be considered a state by other countries, but not be a member of the U.N. -- as is the case with the Holy See and Kosovo, for example. The United States recognizes 195 states, whereas there are only 193 members of the U.N.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice made the U.S. government's stance on the Palestinians abundantly clear after Friday's vote, telling the assembly: "This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state."
It's also worth mentioning that U.N. membership does not necessarily mean independent statehood. India was a member of the U.N. in 1945, two years before it became independent from Britain.
International law bases recognition of a state on the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which declares that "a State as a person of international law should possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other States."
A subsequent opinion by the World Court in 1948 spelled out five additional criteria for states seeking full United Nations membership:
A candidate must be: (1) a State; (2) peace-loving; (3) must accept the obligations of the Charter; (4) must be able to carry out these obligations; (5) must be willing to do so.
When the Security Council -- which must recommend a country for membership to the wider U.N. -- considered the Palestinians application for full membership last year, objections were raised over the "peace loving" provision, and the lack of effective governmental control over the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority. In the end, the Council did not recommend full membership.
So the Security Council held the Palestinians up to statehood criteria and decided the threshold had not been reached. But even that did not determine whether or not Palestine is recognized as a country. The United Nations cannot do that.
With its new status as an official "observer state," Palestine will be able to apply to join specialized U.N. agencies and international organizations.
There are also new untested waters, such as whether or not the "statehood" status at the U.N. will give the Palestinians the right of self defense under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.
In the end, the Resolution does not change the Palestinians lives on the ground, and it does not "recognize" Palestine as a state. Most important, the Resolution states the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process. That remains the key, according to both Israel and the Palestinian authority, to a real two-state solution.