An organ of the American Institute of International Studies (AIIS), Fremont, CA

Current_Issue_Nregular_1_1 Archives
Your_comments Legal

Your donation
is tax deductable.

Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

Syed Mahmood book
Front page title small

Journal of America encourages independent
thinking and honest discussions on national & global issues


Disclaimer and Fair Use Notice: Many articles on this web site are written by independent individuals or organizations. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Journal of America and its affiliates. They are put here for interest and reference only. More details

November 30, 2012

UN General Assembly votes overwhelmingly
to recognize Palestinian state

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to recognize a Palestinian state. There were 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions. Three countries – Australia, Britain and Germany - did not take part in the vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's observer status at the United Nations to "non-member state" from "entity."

At least 17 European nations voted in favor of the Palestinian resolution, including Austria, France, Italy, Norway and Spain. Palestine Authority President Mahmood Abbas had focused his lobbying efforts on Europe, which supplies much of the aid the Palestinian Authority relies on. The Czech Republic joined the United States, Israel, Canada, Panama and tiny Pacific Island states likes Nauru, Palau and Micronesia in voting against the move.

A Palestinian flag was quickly unfurled on the floor of the General Assembly, behind the Palestinian delegation.

Tellingly, Thursday's vote came on the same day, Nov. 29, that the U.N. General Assembly in 1947 voted to recognize a partitioned state in Palestine, that was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Palestinians.

The vote comes 10 days after a ceasefire ended the eight-day Israeli assault on Gaza which left 174 Palestinians dead. It ended only ended after Hamas and Israel agreed to an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire.

Mahmoud Abbas

The much-anticipated vote came after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had told the General Assembly that it was "being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine." He said the vote is the last chance to save the two-state solution.

"Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181, which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth certificate for Israel," Abbas told the 193-nation assembly after receiving a standing ovation.

"We are here for a final serious attempt to achieve peace," Abbas said adding: "Not to end the negotiation process… rather to breathe new life into the negotiation process."

Abbas also said he "did not come here to de-legitimize a state established years ago, that is Israel." However, he said that Israel's occupation "is becoming consistent with an apartheid system" that promotes "racial hatred and incitement…. The window of opportunity is narrowing and time is running out."

He stressed that Palestinians will accept nothing less than an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital on all territories occupied in a 1967 war, and a settlement to the issue of millions of Palestinians who have refugee status.

US Reaction

The United States, which voted against the resolution, immediately criticized the vote. "Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path peace," U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the vote "unfortunate" and "counterproductive."

Washington has warned Abbas he risks losing around $200 million in aid, which is blocked in the U.S. Congress.

Ahead of the vote, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch filed an amendment to a defense bill that would eliminate funding for the United Nations if the General Assembly changes Palestine's status. "Increasing the Palestinians' role in the United Nations is absolutely the wrong approach, especially in light of recent military developments in the Middle East," he said in a statement. "Israel is one of America's closest allies, and any movement to strengthen one of its fiercest enemies must not be tolerated."

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., told CNN a Palestinian attempt to join the International Criminal Court would produce "a strong reaction in this country that I think would be bipartisan and very specific."

The United States blocked a Palestinian application for full membership of the United Nations that Abbas made in September 2011.

This vote will not create an independent Palestinian state. The UN vote suggests that the majority of the world’s countries support Palestinian political and social rights. Being accepted as a non-member state, a promotion from its previous observer state, is the Palestinians' biggest political victory. It places them on the path to full recognition as a member-state of the UN, and allows it to join UN agencies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague. 

One large step for Palestinian self-determination

The Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in a statement welcomed the UN General Assembly vote but said it is troubled by the unchanging and unwavering US policy to blindly support Israel. The ADC expressed  hope that the US will join the international community in recognizing the Palestinian people and their right to be seated next to all other global voices.

The ADC also said that it “is committed to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and any peaceful resolution the Palestinian Israeli conflict requires: the dismantlement of the Israeli Wall, the cessation and dismantlement of all settlements, an end to Israeli occupation, the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the recognition and implementation of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.”

The Muslim Public Affairs Council, another major Muslim civil advocacy group, described the UN General Assembly vote as a giant leap for the right of self-determination. In a statement welcoming the UN vote, the MPAC pointed out that the vote means Palestine is eligible to join U.N. agencies, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

While no one was surprised that the United States voted against the resolution, no one expected just how few countries voted with Israel, the MPAC said and recalled the words of Israel’s own leading paper, Ha’aretz:

“Thursday’s UN vote was the international community’s warning light to Israel, as much as a show of support for the Palestinians. Germany, France, Britain, Italy and other friendly countries delivered messages to Israel with their votes – their patience with the occupation of the West Bank has worn off, they have had enough of the construction in the settlements and there’s no trust in Israeli declarations of hands outstretched in peace and desire to advance toward a Palestinian state.”

At most, recognizing Palestine as a non-member state helps to begin leveling the playing field between Palestine and Israel when it comes time for peace talks and further resolutions on creating a sustainable two-state solution, the MPAC argued.

Commenting on the remarks of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice which called the vote “unfortunate” and “counterproductive to the path toward peace,” the MPAC said that her speech made two things clear: The United States cannot serve as an unbiased broker in Israeli-Palestinian affairs; and the U.S. is isolating itself further from the international community on the Palestinian issue.

While the vote will not change the quality of life or legal status for the average Palestinian today, this historic and necessary vote is a powerful symbol of the international community’s support for Palestinian human rights, self-determination and freedom from occupation, MPAC concluded.

Palestinian leaders believe that improving their status at the United Nations will give them better bargaining power against Israel, which they say has been stalling on negotiations while expanding settlements on land Palestinians want for a state.

The USA Today quoted Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Palestine Center, a pro-Palestinian think-tank in Washington, as saying that the Palestinian effort is a rejection of US-mediated peace talks. They're meant to create leverage for Palestinians to impose costs on the Israelis for the occupation, Munayyer said.

"This is an alternative strategy to seek membership in other international forums after Obama failed to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze" in 2010, Munayyer added.

The Palestinians have different strategies for making the occupation costly for Israel, Munayyer said. "Unless Israel has costs related to the occupation, it's not going to change," he concluded.

The U.N. vote should be "a springboard" to a process that results in better relations between Ramallah and Washington, Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, told the USA Today.

The American Task Force advocates a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Better Palestinian-US relations would be the first step to getting back to negotiations with Israel, Ibish said adding he believes many European countries that Israel and the USA thought would abstain or oppose the measure decided to vote in favor or abstain because Palestinian leaders signaled "they can be restrained in using those options."

According the Associated Press real independence remains an elusive dream until the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis. “Israel still controls the West Bank, east Jerusalem and access to Gaza. The Palestinians also face enormous limitations. They don't control their borders, airspace or trade, they have separate and competing governments in Gaza and the West Bank and they have no unified army or police.” The Palestinians now can gain access to U.N. agencies and international bodies, most significantly the International Criminal Court, which could become a springboard for going after Israel for alleged war crimes or its ongoing settlement building on war-won land.