The Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, recently announced that on 29 November he intends to turn to the United Nations General Assembly, requesting to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status in the UN from an “observer entity” to a “non-member observer state.” This initiative follows the Palestinian bid to the UN Security Council in September 2011, asking to admit Palestine to the UN as a state – a request that was not yet discussed by the Council.
As in the previous bid, this, too, is a political move intended to increase and enhance international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 ceasefire borders. This move raises many questions regarding its potential implications, in general, and on the state of human rights in the region, in particular. As a human rights organization, ACRI does not take a position on peace-process policy questions. However, since the political changes in the region may have significant implications with regards to specific human rights questions, we tried to outline some of the expected impacts on human rights issues in this context. To read a similar briefing published by ACRI ahead of the previous Palestinian UN bid in September 2011, click here.
1. How is the current initiative different from the previous one?
2. What is the meaning of being upgraded in the UN to the status of an "observer state"?
3. Would the current UN initiative change Israel's status in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip? How about an Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state in temporary borders (Areas A and B)?
In the framework of the Oslo Accords, Israel transferred specific authorities to the Palestinian Authority, but it still holds all governing powers in the West Bank, including full control over Area C (62% of the West Bank), Jerusalem, water sources, civil and military control over the airspace, civil and military control over all border crossings, entry to and exit from the West Bank, and more.
The recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN, or an Israeli recognition of Areas A and B as a state, will have no bearing on Israel’s standing as an occupying power according to international law. "Occupation" is a legal definition that applies to territories in which a foreign military force is able to exercise complete or partial military control and civil-administrative control over the infrastructure and daily lives of the local residents. The laws of occupation oblige the occupying power with regards to responsibility to the civilians in the territory under its control. Occupation is not a function of a permanent military presence, but of the ability to effectively control the territory. This legal definition does not differentiate between the occupation of a territory recognized as a state and a territory that is not recognized as such, and therefore the legal status of the territory is irrelevant and as long as Israel has effective control over these territories it will continue to be considered an occupying power.
As for the Gaza Strip, the official Israeli position is that since this disengagement, the Israeli occupation of Gaza has ended. However, many in the international community reject this stance and maintain that the laws of occupation still apply and obligate Israel in matters that are still under its control. It is possible that that the recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state could lead to a re-examination of the international position regarding the status of the Gaza Strip.
4. Would this initiative have an effect on the validity of the Oslo Accords?
5. What are the implications of this move on the Palestinian state's responsibility for human rights violations?
6. Would this move lead to the involvement of new international enforcement mechanisms?
International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) – The ICJ addresses the responsibility of states, not of individuals. It is the leading and most important international judicial body. Both sides must agree that a dispute be brought before it.
International Criminal Court (ICC) – The International Criminal Court deals with individual responsibility for acts defined as international crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide). Should the Palestinian state become a party to the ICC, this court would have jurisdiction over actions carried out in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: first, on Palestinians suspected of committing international crimes; and, second, on Israelis suspected of offenses within the territory of the Palestinian state. This jurisdiction would be applied directly and continuously, as opposed to the current situation, but only on crimes or suspected crimes that were committed after the Palestinian state becomes a party to it, should it be recognized as such according to the Statute of the Court.
7. What are the implications of this initiative on Israeli settlements?
8. What are the implications of this move on the Palestinian state's responsibility to prevent terrorism and threats?