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Legal Implications of Palestinian Statehood

Understanding the PA's unilateral bid for recognition

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By David Parsons, ICEJ Media Director
August 2011 


Israeli officials from the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s bureau have outlined in recent weeks their concerns over the legal and diplomatic implications of the Palestinian Authority’s planned unilateral moves at the United Nations Opening Assembly in September.

At its Algiers summit in 1988, the PLO already issued a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood without specifying its borders, a move that was recognized by more than 100 nations from the Soviet and Non-Aligned blocs.

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Issue Briefs

Unilateral Palestinian Statehood Declaration (pdf) »
Legality of Palestinian Claim to Statehood (pdf) »

 When the UN gathers for its annual Opening Assembly in New York this month, the PA is now determined to seek a UN vote to recognize a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital. The PA will also demand that this state be accepted as a full UN member. In addition, the PA may press for a UN condemnation of Israeli “settlements” in the disputed territories and a declaration that they are illegal under international law.

Among the legal and diplomatic options available to the PA are:

a) A demand for recognition and admittance as a member state in the United Nations. Membership first requires the recommendation of the UN Security Council before the General Assembly may vote to admit a new member. The PA claims it has the necessary nine votes in the Security Council to pass such a resolution, but it could still be blocked by a veto from a permanent member state, such as the US.

b) A UN General Assembly resolution recognizing Palestine as a “non-member” state along the pre-1967 lines and/or declaring Israeli settlements illegal. Such a decision is non-binding, but it would bolster the legitimacy of Palestinian territorial claims against Israel, and allow the Palestinians to become full members of numerous UN forums, among other effects. This is considered the most likely outcome of the looming diplomatic showdown.

c) A UN General Assembly referral to the International Court of Justice in The Hague for an advisory opinion regarding Palestinian rights and claims to statehood and/or the legality of Israeli settlements. Again, such an opinion would be non-binding, but it would further bolster the legitimacy of Palestinian territorial claims against Israel.

Israeli officials contend that any such measures would be blatant violations of all the signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, while also contravening UN Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), among other UN decisions.

Thus, Israel opposes these unilateral actions for the following reasons:

1. UN Security Council resolution 242 (1967) called upon Israel and the Arab parties to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and specifically stressed the need to negotiate directly in order to achieve "secure and recognized boundaries." This resolution provided a suggested negotiating framework for resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict and has been reaffirmed in numerous UN decisions ever since. Israel argues that the Palestinians are now refusing to engage in any such negotiations and must not be rewarded for obstructing the peace process.

2. The Palestinian proposal, in attempting to unilaterally change the status of the territory and determine the "1967 borders" as its recognized borders, would be a fundamental breach of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending a final peace accord. In that interim agreement, the parties undertook to negotiate the issue of borders and not to act unilaterally to change the status of the territories pending a permanent agreement.

3. The Palestinians entered into the various "Oslo Accords" with full knowledge and consent that Israel's settlements existed in those areas, and that settlements would be one of the issues to be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations. Furthermore, the Oslo Accords impose no limitation on Israel's settlement activity in those areas, which the Palestinians agreed would continue to be under Israel's jurisdiction and control pending the outcome of the final status negotiations.

4. The Oslo agreements signed by Israel and the PLO were all witnessed by the United Nations together with the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States, Egypt and Norway. These witnesses must demand that the Palestinians fully honor their signed agreements or risk undermining their own integrity as reliable intermediaries.

5. The pre-1967 lines never constituted a border. The 1949 armistice agreements entered into by Israel and its Arab neighbors established only the armistice demarcation lines where the respective armies stood when the conflict ended in 1948, and expressly stated that these lines did not constitute an international border.

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