Why fear Palestinian "Observer Status" at UN?
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)
September 9th, 2011
03:00 PM ET

Why fear Palestinian "Observer Status" at UN?

Editor's Note: Mark Leon Goldberg is the managing editor of the UN Dispatch blog.

By Mark Leon Goldberg, UN Dispatch

We are entering into the home stretch of a period of frantic diplomacy surrounding the planned General Assembly vote on Palestine.

So far, there is no draft UN General Assembly (GA) in circulation. That’s because there’s no consensus yet on the pro-Palestine side over what specific thing the GA resolutions should call for.  There are basically two options on the table: 1) A resolution that calls for full UN membership for the new State of Palestine or 2) A resolution that grants Palestine “Observer Status” as a member of the General Assembly.

If the September 20 vote is over full UN Membership and nothing else, then the question will almost certainly be taken up in the Security Council where, with equal certainty, it will face a USA veto. Option 2, however, does not require Security Council approval. And while certainly a step below a full fledged UN member state, it does come with some advantages–namely, that Palestine can participate more fully in debates and the UN and other relevant international organizations. It is a stepping stone to full UN membership.

Read: UN's Gaza Flotilla Raid report.

So far, it would seem that the United States is intent on blocking both options. I don’t quite understand this strategy. If nothing else, Option 2 helps the United States avoid a  discomfiting veto over Palestinian statehood (explicit support for which has been the stated policy of George W. Bush and Barack Obama).  Also, the GA vote is a fait acomplis. Why waste diplomatic energy to fight what you know is going to be a losing battle?

One reason I do see being bandied about for why the USA should still do its utmost to stop even a GA vote granting Palestine “Observer Status” is that should Palestine be admitted as an observer state to the UN, it may have an easier time convincing the International Criminal Court that it ought to investigate Israeli crimes in Palestine.

Some context: For the past few years the ICC has categorically rejected Palestine’s entreaties that it investigate alleged Israeli crimes because Palestine is not a state, and therefore not permitted to grant the ICC jurisdiction to operate in its territory.  The thinking goes that if Palestine becomes an observer state to the UN, it may have stronger legal footing on which to argue its case that it has the authority to ask the ICC for an investigation.

The thing is, even if the ICC decides that Palestine meets the requirements under its Charter (which is still far from certain) the court itself has very strict rules of procedure governing the admissibility of cases.  The court’s guiding philosophy is something called “complimentary” which basically means that local judicial authorities get first crack at prosecuting crimes. If national authorities are unwilling or unable to investigate, it’s only then that the ICC would step in.

Read: The Pakistan deluge.

Part of the reason that you don’t see any ICC court cases against nationals of liberal democracies is that those nationals live in places that have functioning judicial systems.  Israel has a well functioning judicial system. Palestine does not. Even if the ICC does go ahead with some sort of investigation, it is more likely that a Palestinian would end up in the Hague than an Israeli. Also, if the investigation stretches into Israeli territory, it would require the Security Council’s approval–that’s not quite likely, I’d dare say.

So if this ICC business  is the only reason that people are fearful of granting Palestine  “Observer State” status, then perhaps those fears are unfounded?

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mark Leon Goldberg. Read more at UN Dispatch.


soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Thinker23

    I would love the US to NOT use its veto in the UN Security Council and the UN voting for full state membership, the UN recognizing the Palestinian state and then watch the Palestinians refusing to recognize themselves.

    September 9, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • kar

      This post proves that anyone can live in their own delusional world.

      September 9, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      kar: Did you disagree with something I've said? If so WHAT WAS IT?

      September 10, 2011 at 6:46 am | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    "For the past few years the ICC has categorically rejected Palestine’s entreaties that it investigate alleged Israeli crimes because Palestine is not a state, and therefore not permitted to grant the ICC jurisdiction to operate in its territory."
    Was it just an excuse? If not, does it explain why the ICC will never probe into the Armenian Genocide during World War I?

    September 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      How about Tony Blair and Bush II, they were never prosecuted at home! Why doesn't the ICC step in?

      September 10, 2011 at 8:42 am | Reply
      • Eric

        The article states that the reason ICC does not prosecute nationals, like Blair and W., is because such nationals come from a nation that has a functioning judicial system that is independent from political influences. The ICC does not supersede the justice system of a legitimate nation.

        September 10, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  3. peter

    Give 'em membership. Give 'em a state. In fact, let's 'em an army and some nuclear weapons. After all, those crazy Israel's are reputed to have nukes.

    The only small problem I envision is that not once in the history of civilization has the Palestinian leadership ever done anything constructive. They've never shown any sense of responsibility to themselves, their people or the world society. I personally wouldn't trust them with a pack of matches.

    September 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Reply
    • zionist

      It would be like giving a Chimp a loaded pistol. It will not take long until he shoots himself.

      September 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Reply
      • truthhurts

        Are you talking about Zionazi chimps who are killing millions in middle east and threatening many more millions with their nukes ?

        September 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
      • Peikovian

        Your truth is a lot like your butt. It must hurt by now, sure.

        September 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
  4. JohnWV

    UN recognition of Palestine is but the beginning. Israel has made itself into a militant supremacis­t theocracy/ethnocracy with ICBM nukes; a very real and rapidly increasing threat to itself and to the whole world. A pariah among nations. Somehow, Israel has to be redirected. United States must stand aside. UN and EU can then impose resolution just as involuntary, disruptive and humiliating to Israel as Israel has wreaked upon occupied Palestine for generations. The Jewish State must be made to recognize a Palestine with UN enforced autonomy, eviction of all settlers, true contiguity encompassing Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem together and neither pinched or parceled, plus punitive reparations.

    September 10, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Reply
    • zionist

      Lets figure this out. We have watched Arab spring, we have seen the Arab leaders massacre protestors in every nation
      in the Middle east that had a revolt.

      Israel who you demonized is a democracy. They just had a quarter of a million people protest in the Streets over the cost of living. Not one shot was fired.

      Isarel is a democracy just like the united states. There is no record of democracies ever going to war against each other.
      People have freedom and goverments are not threats.

      If on the other hand your Islamic rulers want to attack Israel just like if they attacked the United States a neuclear response is always an option.

      The real message should be if you want to come for the blood of Israelis it will be your blood that will be spilled. So just stick to killing each other.

      September 11, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Reply
      • whatdemocracy

        Israel has a democracy that only applies to Jews. If you happen to be a non Jewish indegenous of this land, you have no rights whatsoever. In fact, you should consider yourself lucky the Israelis have not jailed you, killed you or (and this is worse of all) thrown you out of your homeland..

        September 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
      • Shannon

        Thank you. It all comes down to some basics like: (1) Palestan has not proven to be peaceful. (2) Even this so called door to statehood through the UN is backwards. (3) Let's watch the escavations for the ancient boundaries and you will see that Jerusalem has always been the capitol of Israel. (4) Israel has just rejected being politically correct the way that we are trying to rewrite history. (5) It is hard to have those against you on all sides and if this happened to any of us personally (and you loved your job) believe me it could prove to be treacherous. (6) There HAS to be a right way to handle all of this! (7) What really brings long lasting good results?

        September 22, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  5. Peikovian

    Palestine by definition is whatever remains of Greater Syria not already claimed by modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel or Gaza. At a national level it is like unincorporated county land, the rest of the county having been taken by cities and towns that were better-organized. Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Gaza will not yield territories under their control and neither will Israel. The Arab Muslim world fought a series of wars against Israel, losing each time, and Palestine was only separated from Jordan, and Gaza was only separated from Egypt, because Israel made that happen. These are not unique states with unique cultures and their borders are defined by coincidence and the defensive needs of existing states.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  6. Juliegee

    If it wasn't for the vetoes by the U.S. the world would have solved the plight of the Palestinians decades ago.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Reply
    • Peikovian

      It was their former Syrian countrymen in the newly-created Muslim states of the region that annexed Palestine and put them into prison camps.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  7. Anonymous

    I'll bet most of you are not aware of the living conditions in Palestine. Israel is a democracy only for Jews. Muslims and Christians have different colored ID cards. Muslims are routinely harassed by the army based on the card they carry. This a form of apartheid, plain and simple.

    If Israel/US is to have the moral high ground, they need to do one or the other:

    1. Integrate: Give every Palestinian a vote in Israeli elections and a passport. Stop coloring ID cards based on religion and enforce anti-discrimination rules. Replace land grab with free trade, replace checkpoints with free movement, and allow people to work and live anywhere they please within the larger Israel. Palestinians will still be a minority (4M vs. 7.5M). This is what US did with colored people. Believe it or not - Palestinians will be OK with this, just to get the opportunity to work in Israel. Many Palestinians even understand Hebrew and can easily integrate with the culture.

    2. Separate: Give Palestinians a democratic state. Build a guarded highway to connect Gaza and West Bank. Put up a big wide fence and stop messing with their business. There are enough EU countries to help rebuild the nation. A UN peace keeping force can control terrorism in the interim. Palestinians are a skilled and educated people and can easily succeed if given the chance. This is what colonial powers did to colonies and most countries are fine as independent nations.

    What angers the Palestinians is their second-class status in Israel. The problem is about individual rights not politics, terrorism, religion or regions in a map. To ask a Palestinian to recognize Israel's statehood is like asking a slave to recognize his master's right to be a free man.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Reply

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