The end of occupation: A state of Palestine at the UN

Apr 16, 2024
A UN blue flag captured flying in the wind at the United Nations

UNSC approval of the application for Palestine to become a full UN member state this week would necessarily lead to the end of the occupation. One UN member state cannot occupy the land of another. In the present circumstances, a US veto of Palestinian statehood would make America look ridiculous. It would be seen as a puppet of the State of Israel, incapable of thinking for itself and doing considerable injury to US standing in world affairs.

The State of Palestine is currently a non-member observer state at the U.N.

The history of this status is that in 2011 an application was made to the Security Council for full member state status. The application was by the State of Palestine. The application did not go to a vote in the Security Council and hence failed, causing an alternative application to the General Assembly for non-member observer status. The General Assembly approved that application in November 2012.

The State of Palestine has now renewed its application to the Security Council for full member status. On 8 April the application came before the standing committee of the Security Council and the US threatened to use its veto to reject the application. Two-thirds of the committee supported the application and a report has been prepared. That report will likely next come before the Security Council later this week – apparently, or potentially at least, on April 18. To succeed, the Security Council must approve, meaning at least 9 of the 15 states must be in favour, and no permanent member veto the application, an outcome which to date Israel could rely upon the United States to do. If there was no veto and the Security Council approved, the matter would then to go to the General Assembly and a 2/3rds majority of the 193 members states would ensure approval. Such approval would necessarily lead to the end of the occupation. One UN member state cannot occupy the land of another. But as already indicated, there is continuing uncertainty over the application – it is still somewhat ‘up in the air’.

What then of the prospects? Israel opposes the application asserting that the applicant is not qualified for a variety of reasons, principally associated with defects in the current governmental entity of the so-called State. This is an apparent reference to the Fatah/Hamas divide, corruption within the Palestinian Authority, and so on. Israel also points to a need for a negotiated agreement on matters pertaining to precise boundaries, including impact on Israeli settlements within the West Bank.

It seems likely that in the current climate the fact of substantial international community support including a commitment to a two-state solution would overcome Israel’s objections.

If the probable United States veto in the Security Council does in fact materialise, the capacity of the General Assembly to override the Security Council – the so-called Resolution 337 option, “Uniting for Peace” – will then arise: refer P&I article: 18 November 2023.

However, it would be a major decision for the US to exercise a veto, potentially doing considerable injury to US standing in world affairs. Indeed, in the present circumstances it would make the US look ridiculous. It would be seen as a puppet of the State of Israel, incapable of thinking for itself. Moreover, it would paint itself into a position where it’s further involvement in the resolution of the Israel/Palestine issue would no longer be seen as possible.

The US asserts that the matter needs to be negotiated between the parties – Israel and Palestine. This is a surprising stand to take when Israel has asserted that it will never agree to a Palestinian state. What then is there to negotiate?

It is interesting that the application comes at a time when more countries over and above the 139 of the 193 UN members which already recognize Palestine, are indicating that they will recognize the State of Palestine, viz. Norway, Spain and Ireland, and others, i.e. the United Kingdom and Australia, have come out and indicated that they are considering doing so.

As an aside, it is appropriate to note the unhelpful position of the Coalition on Australia’s position. Simon Birmingham has asserted opposition on the ‘need to negotiate’ bogey, and has even articulated an objection that to do so would “reward” Hamas for October 7. The hypocrisy in such a suggestion is remarkable. For years the world community has condemned illegal settlements in the West Bank. But settlements continue and whenever it is suggested that the West Bank should form part of a Palestinian state in toto, Israel and its supporters scream “facts on the ground”, “facts on the ground”. Israel asserts that settlements are “state-owned land”. Indeed, Donald Trump accepted that argument thereby rewarding Israel for its intransigence on resolution of the matter including its rejection of the Oslo Accords, and the Arab peace initiative of 2002.

The reader is reminded of the Advisory Opinion case presently before the ICJ and the potential for the matter to be advanced by that decision: refer P&I article, March 7, 2024. Judgement from the ICJ is still awaited, but it could be handed down at any time. One can only hope that the majority opinion expressed by the 50 participating states is endorsed by the ICJ. On the whole, it would seem best, in the event that the current application is not successful, for the General Assembly to defer its consideration, until the ICJ’s judgment.

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