Israel, along with the United States and some major European countries, is expected to exert all efforts to abort the Palestinian Authority's (PA) bid Friday to become a member state at the United Nations. The question is: will this step, if it succeeds, make any difference on the ground?
To answer this question it is important to first understand the process by which PA President Mahmoud Abbas will submit his formal request to induct Palestine as a full UN member, which he plans to do on Friday to the UN secretary general.
According to legal procedures followed in such cases, the secretary general has to refer Abbas’ request to the Security Council to consider it and then issue a recommendation on its validity.
If the Security Council recommends the admission of Palestine as a full member state (the recommendation must be issued by a majority of nine votes, including the votes of the five permanent members), its application for membership will be referred to the General Assembly. If a two-thirds majority of General Assembly members approves the request, Palestine will be announced immediately as a full member state in the United Nations.
But the Security Council might not issue a recommendation, either because the request will not garner the nine votes necessary or because the United States will veto the decision. The PA is expected in this case to submit a request to the General Assembly for the admission of Palestine as a non-member observer state, which the General Assembly can grant on its own without the Security Council’s approval. An observer state at the UN has the right to be a full member in all UN-affiliated international organizations, including the International Criminal Court.
If Palestine becomes a UN observer state, it will have a small immediate effect. Israel will be indifferent to all UN decisions and will continue to occupy Palestinian lands. Yet despite this probable recalcitrance, the PA is taking the only choice available, seeing as all other paths for statehood have been blocked. While the UN path could be risky, it will be beneficial if the PA fully follows through on its request, rather than backing down as it usually does.
Accepting Palestine as full member state on the pre-1967 borders means that any Israeli presence – whether in the form of settlements, military bases or security checkpoints – on the Palestinian territories occupied after 1967, including East Jerusalem, will be deemed illegal by the UN, and an occupation that can be resisted by all possible means, including armed force.
Additionally, if Palestine is only accepted as an observer state at the General Assembly, it will get the opportunity to prosecute Israel for its daily crimes against the Palestinian people in the International Criminal Court.
Moving forward on this path requires strong Palestinian and Arab political will. This Arab stand should condemn the US for its hostile diplomatic postures toward Arab interests if it vetoes the Security Council decision or exerts pressure on its members to not recommend a Palestinian state.
The Arab world should also reject any suggestions to start new bilateral negotiations with Israel in exchange for the PA withdrawing its UN request.
Finally, the Arab world should adopt a unified Palestinian strategy to manage the potential conflict with Israel after obtaining UN membership or observer status, or even in case of a totally failed bid. Moreover, Arab youth should take to the streets to protest in front of US embassies worldwide if the US vetoes the decision.
The US and Israel must realize that the Arab world has changed significantly, and that they cannot continue denying Palestinians their rights.