Creating new perspectives since 2009

What would UN recognition of a Palestinian state mean?

January 25, 2014 at 8:25 am

There is no doubt about the importance of the UN recognising Palestine as a state, and more importantly its acceptance as a full member state. If such recognition is given in September, it will confirm the importance of activating the option of international legitimacy. However, we should not get too excited about possible UN recognition; it would not mean an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, for example, but it could be the start of a long political process. At the same time, it would shift some of the responsibility to bring about an end to the occupation on to the United Nations, for it is inconceivable that a member state of the UN could be occupied by another member; that would be contrary to the organisation’s Charter, and is contrary to the conditions of accession, which provide for the independence of the country requesting membership.

In order to clarify the picture, we have to look at Palestine’s current status and how it is treated by the UN. Palestine was at first treated as an observer with no rights or responsibilities; a mere presence in the General Assembly and a number of functional agencies. Then the UN recognised Palestine as something more akin to an actual state, more than a self-governing authority, and on a higher level than observer status, but still less than a state. Full recognition may, therefore, be a continuation of this gradual process which would establish Palestinian rights on the international stage.


Importantly though, would UN recognition mean the end of Israel’s occupation and bring about a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Definitely not, because of the other complex unresolved issues, notably the refugees, the status of Jerusalem and borders. Even the act of recognition itself posits the possibility that a counter-proposal will be submitted to the UN, linking recognition of a Palestinian state with Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Moreover, the nature of this conflict and the complexity of the implementation and interpretation of a Palestinian state in reality will require a new set of negotiations, with new parameters and reference points. Negotiations between two states would be very different to those between an occupying state and an occupied people with no nation state. Nevertheless, this could lead to the national interests of each state becoming the focus for negotiators’ efforts with genuine attempts to solve the aforementioned issues – refugees, Jerusalem and borders – being put on the table. On borders, for example, the recognition of a state of Palestine within the 1967 borders may not necessarily mean the withdrawal of all Israeli forces or the complete removal of all illegal settlements. These may be subject to further negotiation which move away from the traditional concepts of national borders in the context of the theory of “borders of sovereignty” and even shared sovereignty.

This makes a return to negotiations inevitable. Indeed, the recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN will emphasise the importance of the negotiations option more than ever before, not least because a new Palestinian state, which would undoubtedly be demilitarised, would not have at its disposal the option of going to war to resolve its differences with Israel.

What about Palestinian resistance in the event of a Palestinian state gaining international recognition? Will this option still exist? If so, what form could such resistance take? The establishment of a state would mean one legitimate authority and the unification of all security services. A Palestinian state would lead automatically to the end of the national division on a formal level. A continued split would, therefore, have to be dealt with by other means, so the national imperative is that reconciliation takes place immediately, with agreement on what a Palestinian state would mean, including new concepts of conflict management compatible with state agencies.

This would include the use of peaceful, scientific, technological and new population means and joint development projects to develop a new vision of the concept of a state. This would stem from the principle that Palestine and Israel have no option before them except to search for ways to mix, share and integrate in certain areas while remaining exclusive in others, and maintaining each state’s demographics.

What has to be understood is that the issue of Palestinian statehood and admission to the United Nations is not a goal in itself; it’s also a new beginning of conflict management within a new peaceful, civilised, joint developmental paradigm and shared vision. I think that with such a vision we can find solutions to many of the complex key issues of the conflict which will not be solved by the establishment of a Palestinian state alone. Both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, must accept that the establishment of a Palestinian state provides just two options: war and conflict, in an environment which does not serve the interests of either of them; or the chance to find formulas for integration and cooperation in areas dictated by the unity and nature of the land to be shared.

These are the new perceptions and factors which may stand behind the recognition of a Palestinian state, which Palestinians themselves, before others, will have to acknowledge. The establishment of a Palestinian state is not just legal recognition; it is also the beginning of managing a complex conflict with a view to bringing it to an end. This will take a long time, but what is important is that these perceptions and the new vision are themselves recognised.

*The author is a Palestinian writer. This article first appeared in the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej on 8/8/ 2011 and was translated from the Arabic

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.