United Nations 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinian Authority’s declared intention of seeking admission to the
United Nations from the General Assembly would be considered a triumph for the
Palestinians and would ostensibly put Israel in instant legal and diplomatic
jeopardy if it does not promptly withdraw to the armistice lines of 1949. But
these assumptions give the possible GA vote far more significance and legitimacy
than it deserves.
First, the General Assembly can only admit states upon
the recommendation of the Security Council, where an American veto appears to
block the way. In the absence of such a recommendation, seeking recognition from
the GA resolution is at best a legal nullity, and a mockery of the procedures
enshrined in the UN Charter.
Even within the scope of its role in
admitting new members, the GA only has the power to admit states, not the power
to create or determine members’ borders. (That role, within the UN
system, would fall to the International Court of Justice or the Security
Council). The Security Council has already determined in Resolution 242, adopted
in the wake of the Six Day War, that Israel need not return all of the land it
took from various Arab states in that conflict. Certainly the GA cannot overrule
the Security Council. Moreover, one of the first opinions of the Court
held that decisions about membership cannot be leveraged to push other
substantive agendas. Thus it is meaningless to speak of the GA recognizing
Palestine with any particular set of borders. Just as the GA had no binding role
to play in 1947, when it came out in favor of a partition of the Palestine
Mandate, it can no more enforce partition now.
Another major fallacy
contends that the GA’s recognition of a Palestinian state within all of the
Green Line would automatically make Israel an international outlaw, because it
would be occupying some of that territory. Palestinian leaders dramatically
claim that Israel would be in “daily violation” of the GA resolution. If the
GA’s resolutions controlled Israel’s legitimacy, it would long have ceased to
exist within any borders. The international parliament in 1975 famously adopted
its “Zionism equals racism” resolution, condemning the very project of a Jewish
state in the Middle East within any borders. Yet the endorsement of the idea by
an overwhelming vote of the GA did not make it real or true, and the resolution
was eventually rescinded, the only GA measure to meet such a fate.
IF Palestine were properly admitted to the UN, the occupation of territory
within the internationally recognized borders of a UN member by another member
is not uncommon. It does not result in condemnation, boycotts or even any
attention. For example, Turkey occupies half of Cyprus; Russia occupies several
sections of Georgia, Moldova and other former Soviet states. And that is just
tranquil Europe. Indeed, Russia significantly expanded its occupation and
colonization of Georgia in the war two years ago, yet it remains an erstwhile
member of the Middle East Quartet. Even if a Palestinian state were announced by
the GA, conflict would exist only over a small portion of the territory. Because
of the Oslo process, which turned half of the West Bank over to Palestinian
control, and the 2005 disengagement, which took all Israeli troops and civilians
out of Gaza, Israel’s central demands now involve sovereignty over settlements,
which make up a small percentage of the total area. A Palestinian state would
join the long list of states that have unresolved border disputes with
neighbors. None of these situations results in a diplomatic tsunami.
be sure, GA recognition of Palestine may be turned into an occasion for further
demonizing and isolating the Jewish state. But that would not be the obvious and
natural effect of such a resolution. It would simply be the illegitimate use to
which Israel’s critics and enemies may choose to put it, a use that has nothing
to do with international law or neutral principles. Those nations and
organizations willing to jump on such a hollow excuse for a diplomatic assault
on Israel have clearly already made up their minds.
the UN can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When friends of Israel fret about
delegitimization by the GA, they unwittingly give the body more power than it
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The writer is a professor of law at Northwestern University,
specializing in international and constitutional law.
Our World column will resume on April 26.
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