The United Nations General Assembly voted Thursday to upgrade Palestine from its status as an "observer entity" to an "observer state," in effect a U.N. member. The resolution also referred to the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine."
So, is Palestine now an independent state?
No, the U.N. can’t make Palestine an independent state.
"The recognition of a new state or government is an act that only other states and governments may grant or withhold. It generally implies readiness to assume diplomatic relations. The United Nations is neither a state nor a government, and therefore does not possess any authority to recognize either a state or a government," according to the United Nations.
International law bases recognition of a state on the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which declares that "a State as a person of international law should possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other States."
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice made the U.S. position clear to the General Assemby after Thursday's vote: "This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state."
What are the advantages of U.N. membership?
With its new status as an official "observer state," Palestine will be able to apply to join specialized U.N. agencies and international organizations, but the symbolic advantages probably outweigh the practical.
Its new membership also might make it possible for Palestinians to take legal action at the International Criminal Court.
What was the Palestinians' U.N. status before?
The General Assembly approved observer status for the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1974. The PLO could participate as an observer in General Assembly sessions and the work of the Assembly, and was given some office space. PLO representatives didn't vote.
This issue has been simmering a long time. Why now?
For the Palestinians, U.N. membership is an important step on the road to an independent Palestinian state.
The Palestinian application for membership referenced U.N. resolutions back to 1947 when the General Assembly adopted a partition resolution supporting an independent "Jewish State" and an independent "Arab State." The U.N. stated that for both, "sympathetic consideration should be given to its application for admission to membership in the United Nations." Israel was admitted in 1949.
The most recent Palestinian campaign had been building for months. Then Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestine Authority, confirmed in a Sept. 16 speech that his government was about to apply for full U.N. membership as a state that includes the West Bank and Gaza, based on the 1967 boundaries, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Where did the U.S. and Israel stand on the application?
In his Sept. 21 address to the General Assembly, President Barack Obama backed an "independent Palestine" but not the membership bid. After Obama's speech, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu said the "attempt to get state membership in the U.N. will not succeed."
What does it mean for Israel?
For Israel, the Palestinian action comes at a challenging time. Israel "has never been as isolated as it is today," according to Stephen Reich, a leader of the Jewish American community writing in the New York Times.
Where does this leave Hamas?
Hamas, the Islamist faction that controls Gaza, opposed the Palestinian Authority's bid.
After the Abbas speech, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the legislative council in Gaza, "we reiterate our rejection of this bid," but added that Hamas would "not place obstacles in the way of the establishment of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty."
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