Does the PA fulfill the criteria for an independent state?

By DAN IZENBERG
October 18, 2010 02:06

Analysis: Nothing in int’l law prevents PA from declaring independence, but it is unclear whether other countries would recognize sovereignty.

3 minute read.



PA honor guard

PA honor guard. (photo credit: Majdi Mohammed/AP)

According to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which is now part of customary law and therefore binding on all countries, a state must possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and a capacity to enter into relationships with other states.

Furthermore, the convention states that “the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by other states.”

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Thus, there is nothing in international law to prevent the Palestinian Authority from unilaterally declaring itself an independent state.

The question is whether other states will recognize it as such. In theory, states will only recognize a Palestinian state if it fulfills the criteria set down in the Montevideo Convention.

According to Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN and current head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, states will, at least in theory, have difficulty recognizing a Palestinian state because it does not meet key criteria of the convention.

For example, the Palestinians themselves are in disagreement over what the territory of Palestine should be.

Palestinian leaders have mentioned many possibilities, including the 1947 partition plan dividing the Land of Israel into a Jewish and an Arab state, the 1949 armistice lines at the end of the War of Independence, and others.

Secondly, the PA does not effectively govern many of the Palestinian parts of the West Bank because according to the Oslo Accords, it shares many responsibilities with Israel. Furthermore, it has no control over Gaza.

Another problem is that according to the Oslo Accords, an international agreement that is still binding, the Palestinian Authority is prohibited from conducting its own foreign policy.

Be that as it may, the more than 200 sovereign states of the world will largely decide whether or not to recognize a Palestinian state on the basis of their individual national interests and ideological outlook.

Israel will not be able to do much, if anything, to prevent other states from recognizing a Palestinian state.

Gold told The Jerusalem Post that the Palestinians have another option, at least in theory. The Security Council is the UN organ that admits states to the organization. The council could pass a resolution declaring that a Palestinian state exists and that member states of the UN should recognize it on a bilateral basis.

The chances of this happening, however, are questionable, since each of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, have veto power over all resolutions presented to the body.

Russia and China might be concerned with the precedent the Palestinian move would have for Chechnya or Tibet.

For that reason, neither recognized Kosovo in 2008.


The resolutions of the UN General Assembly, a body that is overwhelmingly friendly to the Palestinian Authority, are nonbinding and have less impact. However, such a move might prepare the groundwork for the presentation of a similar resolution in the Security Council.

According to Gold, the biggest problem facing the PA in unilaterally declaring an independent state is the commitment it made in the 1995 Interim Agreement, Article 31, Paragraph 7, which says, “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.


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