A Brief History of Palestinian Statehood

Although they have not yet been given full-membership in the U.N. (and would not have gained membership through Abbas’ proposal), the body has affirmed Palestinian statehood numerous times, most recently with a 2012’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 67/19, which passed with 138 votes in favor, 9 votes opposed and 41 abstentions, recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state.

This vote built on Palestine’s 1988 Declaration of Independence, which was recognized by UNGA resolution 43/117, mandating a mutual recognition of sovereignty between Israel and Palestine. (The two sides formally achieved this milestone in 1993). The 1989 resolution also called on Israel to vacate all territories captured in 1967, and return to the borders detailed in the 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine. It was approved with 104 in favor, 2 against, and 36 abstentions.

1989’s measure reiterated the terms of 1967’s UNSC resolution 242 which demanded Israel withdraw from the lands it seized in the Six-Day War and guarantee Palestine access to the seas and waterways–which Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza flagrantly violates.

Commensurate with these resolutions, 135 of the UN’s 193 member states (70%) already recognize Palestine; the only holdouts are Canada, Australia, the United States and most of Western Europe—although Europeans are increasingly coming around as well. The international consensus is beyond doubt, the UN statutes are similarly clear: Palestine is a state.

In contrast to this overwhelming support for Palestinian statehood, the resolutions partitioning the British mandate into two countries, and later recognizing Israel, barely achieved the required two-thirds threshold in the General Assembly.

UNGA resolution 181 (II) which divided the British mandate was narrowly approved with 33 voting in favor, 13 opposed and 10 abstentions. UNGA resolution 273 which granted Israel membership in the United Nations similarly squeaked by with 37 in favor, 12 opposed, and 9 abstaining—albeit under the conditions that it return all territories not accorded them by UNGA resolution 181 (II), provide the right to return for Palestinians displaced by the war, guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of race or religion and abide by subsequent U.N. resolutions. Needless to say Israel has and continues to unapologetically violate every single one of these precepts, thereby voiding the terms of their membership in United Nations.

Moreover, unlike the votes recognizing Palestine, the resolutions establishing Israel were passed prior to de-colonialization, when the Assembly was about one-fourth of its current size, comprised primarily of the United States, Western Europe and their client states in Latin America. This makes the notion that the vote represented an international will or consensus extremely problematic—even if the measures had won by large majorities instead of their historical reality of barely making it through.

Neither resolution could have passed if the rest of the world had a say. Post-decolonization Israel has emerged as the world’s #1 violator of U.N. resolutions–be they from the General Assembly or even the Security Councilpursuing nuclear weapons, illegally seizing land and resources, carrying out devastating attacks on civilian populations and infrastructure, as well as institutionalizing  discrimination of Palestinians both within its legal borders and in the occupied territories.

But despite this contemptuous disregard for international rules and norms, the United Nations has been prevented from any kind of substantive response by the U.S. veto— exercised 41 times on Israel’s behalf since 1972.

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