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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Palestinian Initiatives for 2011 at the United Nations

Jim Zanotti
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Marjorie Ann Browne
Specialist in International Relations

Many Members of Congress are actively interested in the question of possible U.N. action on Palestinian statehood. Congress could try to influence U.S. policy and the choices of other actors through the authorization and appropriation of foreign assistance to the Palestinians, the United Nations, and Israel and through oversight of the Obama Administration’s diplomatic efforts. Changes to aid levels may depend on congressional views of how maintaining or changing aid levels could affect U.S. leverage and credibility in future regional and global contexts.

Officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) are taking action in the United Nations aimed at solidifying international support for Palestinian statehood. On September 23, 2011, at the opening of the annual session of the General Assembly, PLO Chairman and PA President Mahmoud Abbas submitted an application for Palestinian state membership to the U.N. Secretary-General—on the basis of the armistice lines that prevailed before the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 (the “1967 borders”)—in order to bring about a Security Council vote on whether to recommend membership. Abbas cites a lack of progress on the peace process with Israel as the driving factor behind PLO consideration of alternative pathways toward a Palestinian state. The Obama Administration has indicated that it will veto a Security Council resolution in favor of statehood. In an alternate or parallel scenario, an existing U.N. member state supportive of PLO plans may sponsor a resolution in the General Assembly. Such a resolution could—with a simple majority vote—recommend the recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders—either as-is or subject to future Israel-PLO negotiation—and change Palestine’s permanent observer status in the United Nations from that of an “entity” to that of a “non-member state.” U.S., Israeli, and PLO diplomacy focused on Europe—particularly permanent Security Council members France and the United Kingdom—has been active and could further intensify as the time for a possible vote draws closer. Diplomacy also might currently or in the future include negotiations regarding the venue for, and the timing and wording of, potential resolutions or other actions on Palestinian statehood.

This report provides information on the U.N. framework and process for options being discussed, including overviews of the following topics: the United Nations and recognition of states, observer status in the United Nations, and the criteria and process for United Nations membership. The report also analyzes the prospects for avoiding U.N. action by reaching an Israel-PLO agreement to resume negotiations, as well as the possibility of a compromise U.N. resolution that could set forth parameters for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but stop short of addressing the question of Palestinian statehood beyond expressing aspirations.

It is difficult to predict the potential future implications of U.N. action on Palestinian statehood. Some observers speculate that tightened Israeli security with respect to the West Bank and Gaza and popular unrest or civil disobedience among Palestinians could ensue, depending on various scenarios. Although Abbas maintains that he seeks an eventual return to U.S.-backed Israel-PLO negotiations on a more equal basis, an upgrade of the Palestinians’ status at the U.N. also could facilitate subsequent efforts to apply greater pressure on Israel, especially if the PLO gains greater ability to present grievances in international courts—such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or International Criminal Court (ICC). Whether U.N. action or its aftermath would make Israel more or less willing to offer concessions in a negotiating process remains unclear, especially in light of ongoing regional political change and the volatility and possible deterioration of Israel’s political and military relationships with Egypt and Turkey.

Date of Report:
September 23, 2011
Number of Pages: 3
Order Number: R4202
Price: $29.95

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