Palestinian Statehood: Is the UN the Answer?

When it comes to Israel-Palestine, the Obama administration is caught between a rock and hard place.

The U.S. has already stated that it will veto any effort for Palestinian statehood in the UN Security Council later this month. A U.S. veto could have devastating effects for America’s already tenuous reputation in the Middle East and Muslim world at large. If the U.S. does not exercise its veto, however, the diplomatic repercussions for Israel and for U.S.-Israel relations will be severe. Either way, there will be some type of political fallout.

Even writing this article, I am torn. On the one hand, recognizing Palestine as a state (either as a member state or observer state) in the UN undermines decades of work on the peace process and could cause an outbreak of violence as borders are decided and legitimized. On the other hand, there is a dire need for things to change for the Palestinian people, and full recognition by the international community of their statehood could begin that process.

In order to determine what is the best move, I think we first must determine how international law defines a state and if Palestine, as it exists today, fits that mold. According to the Montevideo Convention of 1933, “a state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with other states.” It is obvious that when deciding whether Palestine is qualified for statehood, the main issue is that its borders are yet to be designated.

Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, is seeking pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as Palestine’s recognized capital as preconditions for statehood. While this may meet the qualifications of having a “defined territory,” it is obviously complicated by Israel’s occupation and Israeli settlements on these lands. Additionally, Israel very rarely listens to the UN, which has been trying to enforce recognition of these borders since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967.

The UN’s unilaterally imposing something that does not exist yet will most likely do more harm than good and lead to further upheaval in an already unstable region. I thoroughly believe that the Palestinian people deserve a state; however, taking a shortcut through the UN is not the way to get there and the United States’ intended veto and work to urge the Palestinian Authority to not seek status in the UN is the administration’s way of reinforcing that idea (and avoiding a diplomatic nightmare).

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