Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

All you need to know about the Palestinian UN statehood campaign

YOU ARE IN: Home Page > Topics > Israel

With September 20 the Palestinian Authority's proposed date to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state - also known as the "unilateral declaration of independence" (UDI) - we present selected quotes and links to a series of articles that explain everything a person might reasonably need to know about the issue.

First up, former Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler summarises the main reasons why the UN gambit should be opposed, primarily because it undermines the framework and principal of a negotiated peace deal:

Such a unilateral declaration would undermine all accepted international frameworks for peace, such as UN Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and 1850; the Roadmap for Peace; and various statements by the Quartet (the UN, the U.S., the European Union and Russia), all of which call for a mutually negotiated and agreed-upon resolution of the conflict while rejecting unilateralism.

It would violate existing Israeli-Palestinian bilateral agreements, most notably the Oslo II agreements, which state that "neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations" (Article 31).

While the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement was signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, it was witnessed by the UN together with the EU, the Russian Federation, the U.S., Egypt and Norway. It would be highly inappropriate for such witnesses to now authorize a UN measure that would effectively violate this agreement, while undermining major resolutions of the UN Security Council and the Quartet itself.

Such a unilateral declaration would unravel the institutionalized legal and administrative framework that underpins existing Israeli-Palestinian relations, which include bilateral arrangements in over 40 spheres of civilian activity, and which serve as a basis for economic, legal and security co-operation.

Such premature and precipitous recognition - which would prejudice, rather than enhance, Palestinian rights and Palestinians' legitimate claim to statehood - might well precipitate new and violent confrontations. Palestinians' aspirations will be frustrated rather than realized.

If such UN unilateral recognition were to take place while Hamas is the ongoing authority in Gaza, in partnership with Fatah, it would effectively constitute recognition of Hamas - a terrorist organization outlawed in Canada, the U.S. and European countries - while Hamas continues to reject the basic requirements of the international community, such as recognizing Israel's right to exist, forswearing terrorism and accepting previous international agreements.

The Palestinian Authority does not yet meet the traditional test for statehood - particularly the test of effective government, effective representation, control over a defined territory and adherence to the rule of law. A premature and unilateral recognition of an "unripe" Palestinian state could have a prejudicial effect on other regional conflicts.


Next up, US Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Elliot Abrams says the world will know the Palestinians are ready for a state when their leadership commits to the idea of the right of a Jewish state to exist in peace next to a Palestinian Arab state.

Only when Palestinian leaders are willing publicly to say that the refugees are not going "home" to Israel, that as President Bush put it in 2004 "a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel," will we know they are serious about a peace agreement.

A related fundamental point, one that may seem esoteric but is in fact practical, is whether Palestinians are willing to acknowledge that Jews are a people. The assertion that Jews are "merely" a religious group is another way of saying that statehood is not deserved, for peoples or nations deserve a state, not religions.


Abrams counsels the West to speak candidly to the Palestinian Authority on why it opposes the UDI bid:

If the Fatah leaders took up the cause of building their own state instead of tearing down their neighbor's, peace could be achieved. All of which suggests that there is another failure of leadership, in the West. Not since President Bush frankly condemned Arafat in 2002 and said there would be no state until he was replaced by decent governance has any Western leader spoken with such candor. Instead, we have heard obsessive concern about real estate issues regarding construction and we have not heard much about the continued hate speech so widespread in Palestinian media. At a time when a broad consensus in Israel accepts the need for Palestinian statehood, this is a moral and political failure of historic proportions.


The third article from Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Huntley argues that UN assent for UDI would be an affront to Israel's many efforts since before its inception to make peace, as well as its success as an exemplar of human rights principals and the net benefits it offers humanity.

In 1947, the U.N. came up with a two-state plan to partition the Holy Land into a new Arab nation and a Jewish homeland. Israel said yes, the Arab world said no and went to war to push the Israelis into the sea.

War would come again in 1967. Israel achieved a lightning victory, then extended a hand seeking negotiations leading to peace treaties with its neighbors. What did it get? The famous three no's from a Khartoum summit of Arab leaders - no peace, no negotiations, no recognition of Israel.

Later in 2000, at the Camp David summit, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians what every reasonable observer recognized as the best deal they could hope to get - a deal that remains to this day as the framework for a final settlement. What did this generous offer bring from Yasser Arafat? Another no - and a terror war that killed some 1,000 Israeli civilians and maimed many, many more.

...As recently as 10 days ago, President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian Authority would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state - saying no to a two-state solution.

If that history isn't enough to demonstrate the righteousness of Israel's case, the Obama administration should remind the U.N. of its declaration of human rights and ask some pertinent questions. Such as:

Would you rather be a woman in Israel or Saudi Arabia? ...Would you rather be gay in Israel or Iran?...Would you rather be a Christian in Israel or Egypt?

...If you're a prize-winning scientist doing research to find a cure for diabetes or spinal cord injury, are you likely to be in Israel or Syria?

When an earthquake devastated Haiti, which nation sent a planeload of medical personnel with a field hospital at a cost of millions of dollars to help the victims - was it Israel or oil-rich Kuwait?


Veteran world Jewish leader Isi Leibler provides some background information on the farce that is the UN, where grand statements are made on human rights and dignity by countries that are unquestionable abusers of those self-same rights.

The founders of the United Nations, who after the defeat of Nazism endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, could never have visualized that the organization they created would become controlled by dictatorships and tyrannies and transformed into a platform for promoting genocide.

This was exemplified by the Libyan representative serving as president of the UN General Assembly in 2009, succeeded in July this year by Qatar with Iran as a vice president; genocidal Iranian president Ahmadinejad repeatedly addressing the General Assembly as an honored guest; North Korea, renowned proliferator of nuclear arms, elected to chair the Conference on Disarmament; and Iran, notorious for stoning women for adultery, appointed to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

But nothing beats the bizarre UN Human Rights Council, 80 percent of whose members, according to the Freedom House index for 2010, are either "not free" or "partly free" countries.

.... Daniel Pipes estimates the total number of deaths in world conflicts since 1950 to be in excess of 85 million. The 50,000 deaths in the Arab-Israeli conflict would thus account for less than 0.05% of this total. To this day, while hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world are slaughtered or denied elementary human rights, the hypocritical UN has not commissioned any Goldstone type reports to investigate such massacres, but shamelessly directs the bulk of its energies toward condemning Israeli settlements or construction in Jewish Jerusalem.


Clifford May, President of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, parses the quotes made by senior Palestinian leaders which makes clear that the Palestinian leadership is not committed to the idea of a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state living side by side in peace:

...[former Palestinian chief negotiatior Nabil] Shaath's goal, and that of his boss, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, is not what Obama and other Western leaders favor: a Palestinian state and a Jewish state living side by side in peace. On the contrary, as Shaath said clearly: "The story of ‘two states for two peoples' means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this." Last weekend, Abbas added: "Don't order us to recognize a Jewish state. We won't accept it."

What they would accept instead is international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1949 armistice lines - the point at which armies from the Arab states surrounding Israel were stopped after they refused, for the first time, to accept a "two-state solution" and launched a war, the first of several, intended to wipe Israel off the map. Note well: The UDI does not acknowledge Israel's right to exist even on its side of the 1949 lines - not in Tel Aviv or Haifa or Eilat (where terrorists attacked last month, taking advantage of the deteriorating security situation across the border in Egypt).

In other words, Shaath and Abbas see the establishment of a Palestinian state as a means, not an end. They believe that a widely recognized Palestinian state can better demonize and de-legitimize Israel, harnessing such institutions as the International Criminal Court and energizing the ongoing BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) campaign.

The truth is that despite years of peace processing, handshakes, and agreements, Palestinian leaders - those we call moderates quite as much as those we call extremists - remain intent not on a two-state solution but on a two-stage execution: Israel is to be weakened and then annihilated. From 1949 to now, the strategies have changed but not the goal.


Canadian writer George Jonas explains why the UDI is 64 years too late.

When Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian Authority leaders propose a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) to the United Nations, as they're set to do later this month, their purpose won't be to legitimize a Palestinian state but to de-legitimize a Jewish one.

A Palestinian state needs no legitimization, least of all from the UN General Assembly. That august body has recognized a Palestinian state for 64 years - not surprisingly, since it was the one that created it. On Nov. 29, 1947, the UN-GA passed Resolution 181, recommending the termination of the British mandate in Palestine and the partitioning of its territory into two states, one Arab, the other Jewish.

Resolution 181 drew up detailed boundaries for the two states, as well as a blueprint for an economic union. It even set aside an international area comprising Jerusalem and environs, to be administered by the UN. The partition plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency (without much enthusiasm, perhaps, but accepted all the same) and rejected rather bitterly by the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine.

... It takes some gall for Abbas to stand up and refer as "unilateral" to a proclamation that had been multilaterally resolved around the time he was 12 years old.


In a stinging critique of the US Administration's foreign policy approach, analyst Barry Rubin says any efforts the US is now pursuing to stymie UDI are too little, too late.

A "normal" U.S. policy would have begun pressing the PA to back down from this strategy almost a year ago, when PA leaders began talking about it. Rather than take quick action-or, indeed, punish, pressure, or even criticize the PA for anything it did-the Obama Administration stood by and made disapproving murmurs from time to time.

... A sign of not understanding the magnitude of the problem is that it is only now starting to do what should have begun around September 2010, not September 2011.

... What the Obama Administration has done is to:
-Propose a new round of PA talks with Israel.
-Made clear that it will veto the PA bid in the Security Council.

... First, the PA doesn't want negotiations with Israel. It has been rejecting talks for two years...Let's face it: these people don't want serious negotiations. Why? Because they don't want a peace agreement with Israel; they want a state unfettered by concessions or compromise so they can pursue total victory and Israel's destruction.

...As for the U.S. vetoing the proposal, what does the PA care about that? It will mainly hurt the United States. There will be a vote in the General Assembly with a margin of support for the PA (cowardly Western democracies which know the idea is terrible will abstain and let the United States take the heat) similar to the size of the majority in the U.S. Congress supporting a declaration endorsing Mother's Day.

Second, there will probably be anti-American riots throughout the Muslim-majority world. Any good done by Obama's almost three-year-long effort to make Arab and Muslims like him will be cancelled out.


American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin writes of the potential boomerang effect on more than a dozen countries willing to recognise unilateral Palestinian statehood but who might find it difficult to resist their own restive people's claims to independence.

...if the Muslim bloc can use its population and oil leverage to extort votes of smaller countries on this issue, why not replicate the same strategy in Indian-controlled Kashmir? Russia, China, and Indonesia are also vulnerable to regional separatism, especially should regional states decide to support insurgencies or separatist movements.

Every now and again, representatives of the Republika Srbska show up in Washington asking questions such as why does the United States and Europe support federalism in Iraq, but insist on reintegration in Bosnia? The answer to that, of course, is easy: Countries do not want to reward the terror perpetrated by the Serbs against Muslims and Croats during the Bosnian War. But, the Serbs would be correct to ask why they should be punished when Palestinian terror is rewarded.

A few years ago, I wrote an entry for the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World on Baluchistan. Long story short, the Baluch briefly claimed independence and many have never reconciled to their incorporation in Pakistan. If Pakistan supports Kashmiri separatism from India, why should India and other countries not support Baluchistan independence?

... With their votes, many countries will not succeed in creating an actual Palestinian state. Rather, what they will do is justify terrorism and make irrelevant peace processes and diplomacy in countless other multi-ethnic areas and conflict zones.


Finally, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz also looks at comments made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and comes to the conclusion that they can only indicate a desire to seek the elimination of Israel.

President Mahmoud Abbas described his playbook for seeking U.N. recognition while bypassing the step of negotiating a two-state solution: "We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years."

... By claiming that the Palestinians "have been under occupation for 63 years" (as distinguished from the 44 years since the Arab states attacked Israel in 1967 and Israel occupied some lands of the invading nations), the Palestinian president is trying to turn the clock back to a time prior to Israel's establishment as a state based on the U.N.'s two-state proposal. In other words, the push for recognition by the U.N. of Palestine as a state, based on Mr. Abbas's complaint that the Palestinians have been under occupation for 63 years, is an attempt to undo the old work of the U.N. that resulted in Israel's statehood 63 years ago.

... he talks out of two sides of his mouth: one for consumption by the international community and the other for consumption by the Palestinian street. His complaint about a 63-year occupation is clearly designed to signal to his constituents that he won't give up on the ultimate goal of turning Israel into a Palestinian state.
...The job of the U.N. is to promote peace, not to retard it. So instead of discouraging negotiations by promising recognition, the U.N. should be demanding that the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government begin negotiations immediately without any preconditions. That would be a positive step.


Allon Lee

Most recent items in: Israel