Is it safe in Palestine?

Background current

The birth certificate for a state of Palestine is for some, a disruptive maneuver in the peace process for others. A large majority of the 193 UN member states voted in the General Assembly on Thursday to recognize Palestine as an observing non-member. However, it is doubtful whether the diplomatic upgrading can defuse the Middle East conflict.

The Palestinian delegation led by President Mahmud Abbas celebrates the result of the vote in the UN General Assembly. (& copy AP)

The UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday (November 29) upgraded Palestine to an observer state within the United Nations by a large majority. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke of a "birth certificate of the State of Palestine". The Israeli government and the USA criticize the unilateral approach: a two-state solution can only be achieved through direct negotiations. It has been almost a year since the Palestinians submitted an application for full membership to the United Nations - albeit without success. Now the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Mahmoud Abbas, made another attempt at the UN General Assembly on Thursday (November 29) to strengthen the rights of Palestinians at international level. "I call on the General Assembly to issue the birth certificate of a state of Palestine today," Abbas said before the vote. "We will accept nothing less than the independence of a state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital - on the entire territory that was occupied in 1967 - to live in peace and security alongside Israel."

An overwhelming majority votes in favor of the proposal

This time Abbas was successful. In contrast to the application for UN membership, which requires the recommendation of the UN Security Council, a simple majority of 97 states in the UN General Assembly is sufficient for upgrading to observer state. This was exceeded by far on Thursday: 138 of the 193 member states voted for the status of the Palestinians under international law to be upgraded to an "observer state" within the 1967 borders - i.e. within the borders before the 6-day war. This includes the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Arab eastern part of Jerusalem. Nine UN members voted against the resolution. As expected, these included the USA and Israel. 41 states abstained, including Germany. However, the recognition is only important within the UN organization. As a result, no UN member is obliged to diplomatically recognize a state of Palestine.

Palestinians with more rights in the future

Specifically, the observer status as a non-member state, which the Vatican also has, means more say in the United Nations. In future, the Palestinians in the Security Council and the General Assembly - if they are concerned - will be able to take part in discussions and introduce resolutions. Another important gain is access to UN sub-organizations such as the International Criminal Court. This would give the Palestinians the right to bring any Israeli military operations in the Palestinian Territories or the Israeli government's settlement policy to justice. So far the Palestinians have failed. For the Palestinians, this means another success on an international level. As early as 2011, the Palestinians were admitted to UNESCO, the United Nations' organization for education, science and culture. As a further step, they aim to become a member of the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

Impact on the Peace Process

Observers fear that the move by Palestinian President Abbas could further harden the fronts between Israel and the Palestinians. The peace negotiations have been on hold for years. Experts see the Palestinian approach as an attempt to achieve statehood via detours. Thousands of people celebrated the vote in Ramallah in the West Bank and in many Arab countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the recognition of the Palestinians as an observer state was meaningless and would not change anything in the bilateral relationship. Even before the vote, the Israeli government had made it clear that there would be no Palestinian state through a UN vote. Jerusalem sees the Palestinian action as a breach of the Oslo peace accords that Israelis and Palestinians negotiated in the 1990s. These stipulate that all unresolved issues must be resolved in direct negotiations. With his visit to the UN, Abbas touched on a key point in the bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians: the demarcation of a future Palestinian state. Jerusalem had therefore threatened to terminate agreements from the Oslo peace accords and to annex areas in the West Bank if Abbas put his motion to the vote. The USA also make a similar argument. The only way to achieve a permanent solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is through direct negotiations: "There is no shortcut," said US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Historic date: The UN partition plan 65 years ago

The vote in the UN General Assembly fell on a historic date: on November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations had adopted Resolution 181, the partition plan for Palestine. This plan divided the country into a Jewish and an Arab state. Jerusalem should be placed under international control. While most of the Jewish interest groups accepted the plan, the Arab leaders rejected it. The State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, and the following day the Arab League declared war on Israel. The Palestinian War ended in 1949 with a UN-brokered ceasefire agreement between Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. The military conflict went down in the history books differently on the Israeli and Arab sides: as a war of independence among the Israelis, as Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, among the Arabs. Millions of Palestinians fled to neighboring Arab states in the course of this war. The right of return of these refugees and their descendants remains one of the unsolved questions in the Middle East conflict to this day.

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