As the date of the opening session of the UN General Assembly in September approaches, there is growing debate over whether the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) should seek recognition of an independent Palestinian state, or if this is a futile move and that efforts should focus on building statehood through negotiations. More than 100 countries around the world have already recognised the Palestinian state and therefore it is not a matter of lack of recognition, but rather building a state on the ground and achieving national conciliation among various Palestinian factions. Some believe that the PNA should seek out the UN Security Council not the General Assembly since the former recommends countries to join the UN.
A distinction must first be made between recognising a country and granting it membership in the UN. The former is a very important process. It is true that a large number of countries have already recognised the future Palestinian state, but it is also true that securing the support of the majority of the UN General Assembly is also critical. In such a case, recognition will be through a decision by the General Assembly, which includes all member states based on complete equality among countries. All countries are equal and each has one vote; the smallest country is equal to the largest and most powerful.
At the same time, a resolution by the UN General Assembly recognising a new state with a sweeping majority is a political and moral gain that paves the way for this country to become a member of the UN, after a recommendation by the Security Council. This could take a long time because under current circumstances, such a recommendation would not pass, and Washington – or someone else – would use their veto power to block the recommendation. Accordingly, there is no logical reason to go to the Security Council in order to avoid the US veto, which would complicate matters further.
I believe that proposing a draft resolution for recognition of an independent Palestinian state at the General Assembly will secure the necessary majority, which would result in a decision by this body recognising the state of Palestine. We should not forget that Israel itself came in existence by a resolution by the General Assembly – Resolution 181 of 1947 – and then a separate process would begin to make Palestine a member of the UN. It’s only a matter of time.
A resolution by the General Assembly recognising an independent Palestinian state is an immense achievement for the Palestinian cause, and would change the nature of negotiations with Israel from talks between an authority representing a people under occupation and the occupying state, to talks between two countries, where one country is occupying the other.
It is important that the PNA does use the General Assembly mission as a tool to pressure Israel to activate negotiations. It is very clear that the incumbent Israeli government refuses to re-launch talks to reach a political settlement. Accordingly, this government wants to waste time and manipulate inter-Palestinian divisions, but will not begin any serious discussions that would lead to political settlement. If the PNA views the mission at the General Assembly as pressure on this government, it will benefit Tel Aviv because Israel will render this pressure useless by immediately agreeing to launch talks in return for the Palestinians abandoning going to the UN. This will be followed by many details that result in more compromises that would prevent the restart of talks, or render them superficial and merely a ruse while reality is changing on the ground.
Going to the UN General Assembly will be a great achievement for the Palestinian cause, namely securing a resolution by the General Assembly that recognises an independent Palestinian state. This may not grant Palestine membership of the UN, but it will be a critical step on the road of Palestine’s membership in the global organisation. It is vital to build on the success of the General Assembly’s recognition of an independent Palestinian state.