On November 29, 2012, the U.N. General Assembly voted on Palestine’s bid to elevate its status within the U.N. The resolution was to elevate Palestine’s status from a non-member observer entity to a non-member observer state, which is the same category as Vatican City. The vote was not a close one. The 193-member body voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to elevate Palestine’s member status. The nine states against the upgrade were the U.S., Israel, Canada, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Panama, Marshall Islands, and Czech Republic.
On November 29, 1947, the U.N. recognized Israel and Palestine as two separate states, but then the tables were turned. At that time, Palestine rejected the partition plan, while Israel supported the plan. Decades of fighting and tension followed. The 2012 vote recognizes the Palestinian state as the lands in the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. This territory is far less than what the Palestinians were offered in 1947. The significance of the date, 65 years to the day since the 1947 plan was rejected, is not lost on the Palestinians. Mossi Raz, a former Israeli lawmaker and veteran activist said, “The choice of date is not accidental. It’s aimed at correcting a historical mistake. Sixty-five years ago, the United Nations decided to establish a Jewish state and an Arab state . . . but it never happened. Today we are completing a historic decision with the establishment of Palestine.”
Though the U.N. vote is not likely to change the harsh realities of the people of Palestine, the Palestinians say the vote is more than symbolic despite their lack of the traditional trappings of statehood. Palestinians hope the status change and global recognition will provide new leverage in their dealings with Israel. The Palestinians could also now gain access to agencies and international bodies of the U.N. Of primary importance is the International Criminal Court, which would enable Palestine to go after Israel for alleged war crimes.
This potential access to the International Criminal Court is a concern for not only Americans but also a particular worry to American ally, Israel. There is a fear that the Palestinians may instigate an investigation into the practices of the Israeli occupied territory; the practices are widely viewed as international law violations. American ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, was dismissive of the entire vote. She said, “And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote “unfortunate and counterproductive” because it places “further obstacles in the path to peace” between Palestine and Israel. Clinton said that the U.S. believes that only direct negotiations between the two parties will lead to the peace they both deserve, two states for two people.
The U.S. has been a staunch ally of Israel for many years. In 2011 after UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, accepted Palestine as a member, the U.S. Congress cut off all financing to the organization. Some argue that the U.S. must continue to be an unwavering ally to Israel because it is the last bastion of democracy in the Middle East and they have been proven a strong military ally. Others argue that it is not in the U.S.’s favor to continue to support Israel. The continual favoritism of Israel in peace negotiations with other Middle Eastern countries exacerbates the threat from Islamic Fundamentalist. The U.S. gives Israel billions of dollars in aid, primarily in military hardware. Other reasons, such as hypocrisy regarding human rights and oil interests, are also considered in reducing support of Israel. For now, the U.S. remains a supporter of Israel amidst the global recognition of a Palestinian state.
Sarah Emery is a second year law student and the Business Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.