What will happen when the Palestinians go to the U.N.?
A Palestinian man displays a map showing flags of countries that have recognized the Palestinian state. Palestinian leaders will formally request U.N membership on september 20. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)
August 16th, 2011
04:56 PM ET

What will happen when the Palestinians go to the U.N.?

Editor's Note: Karl Vick is TIME’s bureau chief in Jerusalem. This article was originally posted on TIME’s Global Spin blog.

by Karl Vick, TIME

The Palestinian Authority has set the date: Sept. 20, a Tuesday, is the day it will ask the United Nations for membership.  As for what comes the day after, well, that's a good deal less clear, and efforts to read the murk betray only intentions.

An Israeli legal expert predicts chaos.

“There are huge legal consequences of establishment of a state which I cannot overstress,” says Daniel Reisner, a longtime peace negotiator for Israel as well as former head of international law for the Israel military. “All of the legal documents we ever signed with the Palestinians [will be] kaput,”  Reisner says. These cover water, finances, electricity, the daily transit of Palestinian workers in and out of Israel – the basic mechanics of civil administration for the generation since the Oslo Accords. “There's a huge potential for legal chaos,” he says.

Palestinian officials beg to differ.  Acceptance by the U.N., they say, will merely enhance the Palestinian position in its struggle to remove Israeli forces from the West Bank, partly by subjecting the Jewish state to a conspicuous diplomatic loss, but also by bringing into play assorted mechanisms of international justice.

“[The Israelis] are threatening Armageddon,” says Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO executive committee who long served as spokesperson for Palestinian negotiators. “Their legal advice is wrong, actually. Palestine sought and received global recognition in 1988. We've been there. We've done that. That doesn't negate any signed agreements. It has the effect of reinforcing them.”

Who's right? It just might be possible to know if it were clear just what Palestinian leaders intend to do in New York next month.  But they are holding their cards closely, if they have looked at them at all. If, indeed, they have all been dealt.

By their own account, the Palestinians will ask the member states who together make up General Assembly to vote Palestine into its ranks.  Ashrawi says Ramallah is counting on yes votes from 122 of 193 members, but may gather as many as 130, winning the required two-thirds majority.

But U.N. rules clearly state that new members must start with the Security Council, where the United States holds a permanent seat, and Washington has vowed to veto a Palestinian application, in order to protect Israel.  Palestinian leaders must decide whether to try anyway, and irk the Obama Administration yet again. (Both sides are still chafing from the U.S. veto last February of a resolution condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank.) There's also the real possibility that the  U.S. Congress will cut off vital aid dollars to the Palestinian Authority.

“We are going to the UN with all options open,” Ashrawi says. “It's not a one-time thing. It's not a panacea or a cure. It's a connective thing to place the Palestinian question in the center of the international arena.”

It's also a gamesmanship thing. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, widely known as Abu Mazen, succeeded the grizzled militant Yasser Arafat in order to negotiate an end to the conflict with Israel.  But there have been no significant talks since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the Prime Minister's office in 2009. The U.N. bid is widely understood as a Palestinian tactic to help Israel see negotiation as preferable to a roll call of international approbation.

As Ashrawi put it at a new conference the PLO Building on Sunday: “We don't see this as conflicting with any negotiations.”

The problem is expectations. For two years, Abbas' prime minister, Salam Fayyad, has used the prospect of statehood as a clarion call for shoring up governance on the West Bank (the Palestinian territory the secular Fatah political faction still controls; despite a declared reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million residents remains governed by the Islamist militants).  Palestinians duly responded. A July poll by the respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found overwhelmingly support for the sovereignty bid. The survey also found that three out of four Palestinians want their government to walk the walk, following up physically after September by sending Palestinian police into areas controlled by Israeli troops and starting construction on an airport, never mind the consequences.

It's a Day After that much more resembles the warnings from Israel than the graduated, cooly diplomatic course laid out by Dr. Ashrawi, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature.  “This is part of a holistic policy which is peaceful, which is logical,” she says.  “We don't accept the rules of the game as they impose them on us….This is a constructive alternative.”

Read more at TIME's Global Spin blog.

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soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Thinker23

    It is pretty comical to see the Palestinians threatening Israel by going to the UN to be recognized as a state while the Palestinians themselves do not have any intentions to recognize a Palestinian state. They have pretty good reasons NOT to declare a state as this unilaterally declared Palestinian state will immediately find itself AT WAR with Israel and its leaders will have either to BEG for peace or to face the consequences. The tale about "poor stateless oppressed Palestinians" will not work anymore. From the moment Palestinians will declare a state the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will become a war between two states and Israel will have every right to use the necessary amount of force to bring it to an end.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Reply
    • justreading 71

      you make since

      August 16, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Reply
    • kar

      It's discomforting to know that some (lookin' at you, Thinker23) are eager for this UN deal just so they can see the "legalized" annihilation of another country and its peoples. I thought that these same comments, when uttered by Arabs and Arab states, are the same ones that justifiably outrage Israelis.

      August 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Reply
      • Thinker23

        Saying that it will be raining tomorrow does not necessarily mean that the person who said it was "EAGER" for the rainy day, my friend. Grown ups among us usually understand it...

        August 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
      • kar

        Sidestepping your clear glee at the fact that Palestinians will "have either to BEG for peace or to face the consequences," you're making the argument that genocide's okay if one sovereign state does it to another. In other words, you're trying to legitimize some perceived Palestinian genocide at the hands of Israelis. That in itself is perverse. Additionally, it's a scenario that would never come to pass; Israelis and Palestinians both have more sense than that.

        August 16, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
      • Thinker23

        kar: I rarely call my opponents idiots. I prefer to let them arrive to this conclusion on their own. A clear sign of a mentally disturbed individual is tendency to argue with his/her own statements due to his/her inability to argue with the statements made by his opponent(s). In this particular case, you're trying to argue against some "perceived Palestinian genocide" you've invented that has absolutely nothing to do with what I've said.

        August 17, 2011 at 5:52 am |
      • kar

        I don't think it's your interlocutors that have the problems.

        August 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • j. von hettlingen

      The political culture among the Paliestinians is very fragmented. Their grievances had been hi-jacked by radicals at home and abroad for political purposes. The Palestinians in general do want a state of their own.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:51 am | Reply
      • tada123

        but the big question is can they handle their own state. i doubt they will be able to form a functioning government with minimum corruption. as soon as they get their state (if they get one) they will be at war with palestinian militants namely hamas and islamic jihad.

        August 17, 2011 at 5:47 am |
      • Thinker23

        I do not know how you can speak for "Palestinians in general" but ALL Palestinian leaders (democratically elected or otherwise) REJECTED a state of their own every time it was offered to them.

        August 17, 2011 at 5:54 am |
  2. Peikovian

    When Palestine becomes a state it will not have sovereignty over Gaza and it will also continue to run a gulag of Palestinian camps that will swell to include deportees from the surrounding states. Graft and incompetence will remain at record levels and in the coming civil war it will lose more victims to Jihad than it ever lost to the Zionists.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  3. Catherine

    As a person whom has Israeli back round but is a Christian, I feel fairly sorry for Palestine. Only reason is because with Palestine and Islam it’s like really what is there point on this earth? Is it to create chaos protest, like it seems they are always trying to play catch up to the rest of the world and for religious fokes just to remain in god’s eye focus. Palestine gots 4 choices. ( 1 ) go back to the 1967 borders and give up Jerusalem to Israel at lest Israel will not complain about that. Because lets face it, it is ground 0 for them including three of the biggest religions. Christianity, Jews and Islam. ( 2 ). Palestine needs to move somewhere else. All around Israel is Islamic countries, surely they can pick a place? ( 3. ) Do nothing and continue to remain neutral with the same amount of land, and get humanitarian people in and amnesty international, and continue to negotiate settlements as well as legitimacy of certain areas then a country. Such as Hebrew Islamic schools that are multicultural and in Israel right now, as an adept to create peaceful relations with younger generations ( 4. ) Start a holy war Jihad and see a whole group of people called Pals getting blown up because we could not get the picture that Israel is Israel. Of course everyone will blame Israel saying Nazi to them and whatever else when really it is our own arrogance that has gotten in the way. All because we felt sorry for them. Some things just need to be left alone its not like Israel is trying to take over the world, they just want one piece of land and that’s it. The more we tell it to the Palestine’s these things straight up to there face. The more they hopefully will see reason and get the picture, to quote Spock.... Sometimes the needs of the many out way the needs of the few. Even if they do not realize it yet. And for future opportunities and one particular individual who 2000 years ago said he was coming back. What will he come back too? That’s like imagine if we went to sleep and woke up only to find Nazi swastika symbol trapped over the White House??? and the Nazi owning America? Think about it people for our future sakes and tell America the truth! Tell the Palestinians the Truth! Tell those Christians who support Palestine the truth. Tell them to read there bible again they obviously didn’t.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Reply
  4. Toppolina

    Time is definitely not in Israel's favor. Peace is better and they should allow the Palestinians to have their own country. The UN is a useless organization who never solved any problem.

    August 17, 2011 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • Jesus N God

      Woe to the inhabitants of the earth if they divide MY LAND.

      September 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
  5. Jesus N God

    From God – If you divide My Land/Break My Covenant with Abraham. Face the consequences. I have a comet named Elenin up in the sky which is getting closer and closer. Among others. Read Revelation. The Holy Bible. Your ANNIHILATION is coming in 2011! The earth will be desolate. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED... Surrender your life to Jesus. Only that can SAVE YOU!

    September 4, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  6. Jesus N God

    Humans get fertile valleys. Barbarians get deserts.

    September 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  7. Jesus N God

    Develop wisdom through reading My Holy Bible. It will SAVE YOUR LIFE.

    I am the way, the truth, the life.
    No man comes to the Father but by Me.

    Except a man be born again, He cannot see the Kingdom of God.


    September 4, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Reply

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