UN voted 138-9 to grant Palestine observer state status

Palestine joined the Holy See as the second observer state to the United Nations.

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Julia Henning, Writer


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Palestine joined the Holy See as the second observer state to the United Nations after a 138-9 vote in the U.N. on Nov. 29. This occurred on the 65th anniversary of the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine ruling which approved the plan to divide Palestine in order to make create a Jewish state.

An observer state is a non-member state allowed to observe the U.N.

“Non-member States having received a standing invitation to participate as observers in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly and maintaining permanent observer missions at Headquarters,” according to the online U.N. description of permanent observer states.

Robert Williams, associate professor of political science at Pepperdine University, said that this was a step in the direction of statehood.

UN recognition unecessary for statehood

He said that it is not U.N. recognition that establishes a state. It is a bilateral recognition of statehood by other countries in the world. Prior to the Nov. 29 ruling, Palestine was recognized by 132 countries as a legitimate state, including many European nations, according to the United Nations’ “Status of Palestine in the United Nations.” However, Palestine is gaining international attention by applying for and gaining observer statehood, Williams said.

This ruling may have little effect on people actually in Palestine, according to Williams.

“I don’t think there’s really any discernable impact for people in these places. It’s something that diplomats and international lawyers will worry over,” Williams said.

Young Palestinian ideas of statehood

Junior intercultural studies major Riley Wall explained that in 2011, he was given the opportunity to live with an American couple in Palestine. During this time, he was talked to the people about political issues, such as the importance of having a Palestinian state.

He said that he talked to a 16-year-old girl, who told him she did not want Palestine to be an independent state, because then Palestine would lose international funding and aid. The younger generation in Palestine is more concerned with having rights and freedom than they are with having the political recognition of statehood, Wall said. This contrasted with the conversations Wall had with the older generation in Palestine, who typically want Palestine to become an independent nation.

“The reason that the adults and older people would want their independence is because they were the first generation out of [the land] and are the recipients of being kicked out of Jerusalem, so they are most sensitive to the issues at hand whereas the youth are more detached from knowing what it was like to be a state,” Wall said.

Opportunities for Palestine

This ruling may allow Palestine the opportunity to take Israel before the international court and charge them of war crimes, according to Williams.

“One of things people have been focusing on is whether or not Palestine can now join the international criminal court and accept its jurisdiction, which might give it the opportunity to bring complaints against Israel,” Williams said.

In order for Palestine to become a full state in the U.N., they would have to fit the criteria outlined by The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States from 1933. This outlined four major goals a prospective state must fulfill in order to be established as a nation-state including a permanent population, defined territory, government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. Williams believes Palestine’s next step would be to draft a constitution.

There will be a turning point in mid-January, Williams explained, when Israel has elections. Palestine would have to respond to either a strengthening of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, or a new government.

“This is always one of those issues where a new government potentially means changes in negotiations, changes in the status of whatever is not working at present. So there might be something new that might work,” Williams said.

Ronald Pierce, professor of biblical and theological studies at Biola, explained that he thought any progress Palestine gained in becoming a recognized people and state was positive.

“I think it’s a step forward. As I’ve studied negotiations over the years and been in a few myself on other issues, I’ve come to learn that very small steps are better than no steps,” he said.

However, Wall didn’t think Palestine gaining observer state status in the eyes of the U.N. meant very much.

“If the term statehood is not accomplishing to get the Israeli settlements out of there, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s a state or not because it’s their territory but they don’t really have rights to it because Israel has property there,” Wall said.

Junior political science major Anna Reeser, president of the Jewish Studies Club, said she thought that Palestine going through the U.N. for statehood, rather than approaching Israel for peace talks, may have more harm than good.

“I actually think it undermines the whole peace process thing and kind of shows an unwillingness on Palestine’s part to have direct negotiations with Israel. It’s almost like they’re going in the back door,” Reeser said.

Pierce explained that he thought Biola needed to facilitate more discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict where both sides of the conflict.

“We need to have a greater awareness for the other voice,” Pierce said. “I think we need to hear the other voices … We’ve been intentional about other issues, I don’t think this is an issue of clear biblical right and wrong.”

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