MOSCOW, November 30 – RAPSI, Ingrid Burke. By an overwhelming majority, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted on Thursday to grant Palestine the status of a non-member observer state in the United Nations (UN).

Addressing the UN member states prior to the vote, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pointed to the recent surge in violence in Gaza to substantiate his calls for recognition of Palestine’s status: “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: enough of aggression, settlements and occupation... issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine.”

The latter point begs the question: what exactly is Palestine’s statehood status in the aftermath of yesterday’s UNGA vote?

Ultimately, 138 UN member states voted in Palestine’s favor, 41 abstained, and nine voted against. Those nine included: Canada, the Czech Republic, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Pnama, Palau, and the US.  Those supporting Palestine did vote to adopt a status inclusive of the word, “state.”

Still, in its quest toward statehood, Palestine has its work cut out for it. Israel’s representative to the UN Ron Prosor declared, “There is only one route to Palestinian statehood. And that route does not run through this chamber in New York.” He added that Thursday’s resolution would not establish Palestinian statehood, stating that the Palestinian Authority failed to satisfy the relevant criteria.

As with many issues governed by public international law, statehood is a complex issue without a simple answer. And this very complexity has led to its own host of issues. As explained by the Council of Europe in a 2011 report on statehood and sovereignty under international law, “[t]he lack of clear criteria for statehood and for lawful secession has encouraged the emergence of numerous secessionist movements and thereby threatens peace, stability and the territorial integrity of existing states, also in Europe.” 

The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933) codified the definition of statehood that had been long established by customary international law. Article 1 of the Convention reads: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

The definitions of each of these factors, and the means of measuring them have led to a great deal of confusion. This confusion is perpetuated by the politicization that tends to accompany any discussion of statehood and secession.

One of the key issues that has persevered between Palestine and Israel for upwards of six decades now is that of where one’s territory ends and the other’s begins. The borders separating Israel from the Palestinian territories have been subject to significant changes in recent years.

Statehood questions aside, Palestine clearly succeeded in earning a status upgrade. In 1974 the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was granted observer entity status. According to an official UN website, “Permanent Observers have free access to most meetings and relevant documentation. Many regional and international organizations are also observers in the work and annual sessions of the General Assembly.” Still, the status of observer entities are based purely on practice and they are not provided for in the UN Charter. Non-member observer state status vests Palestine with greater bargaining power in diplomatic negotiations.

Sudan’s representative Daff-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, who introduced the resolution, urged the importance of Palestine’s status upgrade: “The eyes of all the children of Palestine are directed towards us.”