Palestine Seeking Observer Membership Status at UN

The Palestinian Authority is making waves at the United Nations over its status, wanting a vote by year-end. If this sentence sounds familiar, it’s because this is the second year in a row that Palestine has made a push for statehood at the U.N. around the start of a new General Assembly session. The difference: this year, the P.A. has opted to bypass the U.N. Security Council entirely, taking its claim to the General Assembly’s 193 Member States.

In last year’s push, President Mahmoud Abbas insisted on pushing for full membership in the U.N. as an upgrade of its current “observer entity” status. This process requires approval by both the General Assembly and a vote in the Security Council. While the failure of the initiative is often accredited to the United States’ veto threat, the issue failed to lock-in the requisite nine ‘yes’ votes from Council members for a resolution to pass. The USA never had to cast its veto.

In any case, the issue fizzled in the aftermath of Palestinian ascendance into UNESCO, resulting in an unfortunate severance of funding from the United States to the body.

This year’s plan skirts the Security Council hurdle by instead asking for “observer state” status. Achieving this status, the same as that held by the Vatican, could be achieved by only a simple majority of the General Assembly. David Bosco, Associate Professor at American University, said of Palestine’s odds, “If the issue of Palestine’s status does come to a vote, the Palestinians are almost assured of victory, so the question will be whether its effort can be prevented or channeled in some other direction. My sense is that having once gone to the brink of seeking a vote that the Palestinians will be hard to dissuade this time.”

The primary effect of an upgrade will be, in theory, increased access for Palestinian membership in a slew of international organizations. This potentially means membership to the International Criminal Court. Appeals to investigate possible war crimes by Israel were rejected due Palestine’s lack of standing in the eyes of the Court. An upgraded U.N. membership might allow Palestine to petition the court to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in Palestine, though this is far from certain.

This all places the United States in a bind should Palestine prove unwilling to halt its efforts. The same 1994 law that forced the U.S. to cut funding to UNESCO provides that the United States would have to end its payments to any body that grants Palestine the “same standing as Member States”.  ‘Observer state status’ may provide some wiggle room, but the result could still be harmful should the US be forced to pull its funding.  As noted before, the United States relies on many of the organizations that Palestine would be eligible to join for its own security and economic well-being.

Expect this drama to play out in New York over the next few days and weeks.