Palestinian statehood bid passes United Nations vote

On Nov. 29, 2012, Palestine successfully gained non-member state status at the U.N. General Assembly. This follows a failed bid to gain full U.N. membership in 2011 and comes amid stalled peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The vote passed 138 to 9 with 41 abstentions.

The Palestine Liberation Order had previously held observer status in the assembly, which was granted them in 1974. According to the U.N., the decision “upgraded Palestine’s representation at the U.N. to a unique and unprecedented level, somewhere in between the other observers, on the one hand, and Member States on the other.”

Yet this upgraded status is more of a symbolic than a tangible victory. Palestine will not be able to attain formal recognition of sovereignty, borders, and other such considerations without direct negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, talking to told Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, says the symbolism is nonetheless powerful: “It doesn’t get us what we want now, in the sense of what we want being a fully independent and sovereign state of Palestine where our people can live in freedom and dignity, but it’s significant, certainly, given that it was something that happened [in] precisely that forum that some 65 years ago gave Israel its birth certificate.”

The nine countries to vote against Palestinian statehood included the United States and Israel. Along with Israel, the U.S. has been a leading opponent against Palestine’s efforts for U.N. recognition of its statehood. In May 2011, President Barack Obama affirmed support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, but iterated that this statehood should come from direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Obama reiterated the U.S. stance in his address to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2011: “One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves.”

Victoria Nuland, the state department spokeswoman, adds, “we do not think that this step is going to bring the Palestinian people any closer to a state.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad argued back. “What we did was to go the United Nations, the custodian of international law and legitimacy,” he says. “So I think the response needs to be one that is shaped by the need to take advantage of what happened — to build on it — as opposed to continue to be scornful about it.”

Fayyad later added that “we have not abandoned, nor will we abandon the path of negotiated settlement to peace, but what we really need is a strong enough negotiations framework credible enough to deal with the credibility deficit that has been generated by failure.”
Fayyad is here referring to the peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel that have been stalled since September 2010, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to extend a moratorium on the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Tensions between Israel and Palestine may become even more strained as a result of the vote. Israel could delay the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority for several months — as it has done before, and could increase restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank, further impeding economic (and social) activity.

Palestine is also heavily dependent of foreign aid, $4 billion of which the U.S. has given provided since the mid-1990’s in order to combat terrorism, promote stability and prosperity, and meet humanitarian needs. Any cut to this aid would intensify the fiscal crises in Palestinian territories.

Compounding these tensions is the fact that Palestine itself is divided between the Palestinian Authority, which controls the majority of Palestine, and Hamas, who are in control of Gaza. The latter is also responsible for firing rockets into Israel. Negotiations are also needed between these two factions.

Palestinians still welcomed the victory as a step forward even in light of these tensions and celebrated the news in Gaza and the West Bank.