Palestine as “Non-Member Observer State”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor and vice president of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

During the past four decades, Palestine has been able to convince the international community to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1974 followed by official recognition of the Palestinian Self-Rule in 1993, and finally upgrading Palestine’s status in the United Nations from “non-member entity” to “non-member observer state,” in 2012.

As a result of tremendous diplomatic efforts and amid high enthusiasm of Palestinians, the status of Palestine in the UN General Assembly has been upgraded to “non-member observer state” through 138 positive votes. By doing so, the international community has practically recognized Palestine as an independent state, though it is still not an official UN member, but an observer state. The important point is that promotion of Palestine to a non-member observer state can pave the way for full membership of Palestinians in the United Nations and this is exactly the same path that Switzerland and Germany treaded many years ago in order to become full members of the UN.

According to the Charter of the United Nations, full membership of countries in the world body hinges on confirming a state’s qualifications by the Security Council in addition to positive votes of, at least, two-thirds of the General Assembly member states. Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently heading the Palestinian Authority, did his best last year to promote the status of Palestine in the UN to full membership by pushing ahead with this goal through the Security Council. The United States, however, as a staunch ally of Israel and permanent supporter of suppression of the Palestinian people prevented this from happening by threatening or suborning various states. At the General Assembly, Palestine has regularly enjoyed the support of member states, but due to discriminatory structure of the Security Council, the Palestinian government has not been practically able to prevent Israel from going on with its policy of occupying Palestinian lands, violating their rights, and suppressing their protests.

The United States and Israel had exerted a lot of pressure to prevent Palestine’s status from being upgraded to “non-observer member state,” but they failed in practice and could not find more than seven votes out of 193 UN member states for their views. One of those seven votes belonged to Canada, a North American state, with the other one being given by the Czech Republic, a European state. The other five states opposing Palestine upgrade were tiny island states. The negative vote of Canada is, meanwhile, noteworthy. Canada has apparently based its foreign policy on promoting the human rights and democracy and bolstering humanitarian institutions across the world, and Ottawa believes that it has a say in this field. However, in this case, which is tied to the rights of millions of human beings who have been living under occupation by occupiers and bullies since 60 years ago, it has voted in favor of Israel.

Such a blatant failure and diplomatic fiasco has been almost unprecedented for the United States and Israel and, as such, is very significant. Israeli officials believe that changing situation of Palestine will lead to a parallel change in the balance of regional power and will, therefore, cause problems for the so-called peace accords between Israel and Palestinians.

The new status of Palestine makes it possible for the Palestinian officials to accede to international organizations, institutions, treaties and conventions and take advantage of international guarantees to restore their rights. For example, Israel is consuming 85 percent of all water resources in the West Bank unilaterally. According to reports published by major international human rights organizations, the people of the besieged Gaza Strip are also deprived of healthy potable water because Israel prevents transfer of water desalination equipment into Gaza, thus, depriving its people from the most basic human need, which is drinking water.

Legal experts believe now that Palestine has been recognized as an observer state by the UN, it can file lawsuits with the International Criminal Court and try to put Israeli criminals to trial for such charges as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Once in 2009, the Palestinian Authority applied for membership at the Court, but the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor turned down Palestine’s request alleging that it had not been recognized as a “state.” However, after the categorical vote of the General Assembly to the upgrade of Palestine’s status, the situation has totally changed in favor of Palestinians. To show his disregard for the will of the international community and cover up his government’s failure, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Israeli regime will build 3,000 new settler units in the Eastern al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the occupied territories of the West Bank. This decision has been taken at a time that the international community considers continuation of the construction of settlements by Israel on the occupied territories as a war crime, and Palestinians can take legal action against it via the International Criminal Court.

The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has also announced that now the rights of the Palestinian people and state within the borders set in 1967 are under protection of the fourth Geneva Convention and Israel should be held accountable for his inhuman crimes. The Palestinians have even announced that the new status of Palestine at the UN also changes the position of Palestinian prisoners in Israel and enables them to restore the legitimate rights of those prisoners which have been so far violated by the Israeli regime. Israel has also declared when faced with the will of the international community that it will seize taxable assets of the Palestinian Authority and will not give them back to Palestinians.

Of course, the noteworthy point here is that due to Washington’s unbridled support for Israel, Tel Aviv regime has never cared for the UN decisions and even the UN Resolution 242 which insisted on Israel’s withdrawal to behind 1967 borders was never implemented by Tel Aviv. The Palestinian resistance forces are of the opinion that emphasis on 1967 borders is necessary, but not adequate. They believe that this plan is only part of the strategy which should be pursued for the liberation of the entire Palestinian territories and restoration of absolute rights of Palestinians, especially the return of all refugees to their homeland. As a result, they oppose any plan which may lead to giving up part of the Palestinian territory to Israelis. Therefore, they do not recognize territories which were occupied by Israel in 1944 to belong to Israel and insist on the right of about six million Palestinian refugees to go back to their motherland.

Although resistance and jihadist forces such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had not formulated this plan, they did not oppose it either. They considered this a step toward further isolation of Israel and mounting international pressure on Tel Aviv regime, and maintain that taking any concession from Israel is a step toward establishment of a free and independent Palestinian state. The secretary-general of the Islamic Jihad has clearly announced that they will not oppose the initiative provided that it seeks a Palestinian state whose borders are the Mediterranean, on the one side, and Jordan River, on the other side. If, they say, it means to put a ceiling on the Palestinians’ demands, the Islamic Jihad would oppose the initiative.

The issue of Palestine has been the most important problem between the Muslim world and the West led by the United States over the past six decades. Many cases of insecurity, instability, violence, military deployment, and occupation in the Middle East have their roots in the injustice which has been, and is still being, done to the people of Palestine. Now that the people of the Middle East and the Islamic world are standing up to dependent leaders who are in line with the US policies in the region, nobody can continue to violate the rights of millions of people in Palestine and shatter their resistance against Israel. Continued support of the United States for Israel will further upset and irate Muslims and will only obliterate any change of understanding and cooperation for peace and justice. The unequivocal vote of the General Assembly for the upgrade of Palestine’s status and the resistance of people in the Gaza Strip against Israeli aggression have clearly proven that it is time for the United States to review its Middle East policies.

Key Words: Palestine, Non-Member Observer State, PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, Security Council, Israel, International Criminal Court, Geneva Convention, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Khoshroo

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