The Palestinian bid to become a non-member Observer State at the United Nations has been, as expected, approved by an overwhelming vote of 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions in the General Assembly. The vote implies global recognition of the relevant territory as a sovereign state and is a major step towards a two-state solution for historical Palestine. The new status amounts to less of an achievement than full U.N. membership, which the Security Council declined to consider in September 2011 on the grounds that the members were unable to make a “unanimous recommendation”, but the Palestinians can now participate in General Assembly debates. In sum, this is an important move towards Palestinian statehood, which 132 countries have already recognised. As for particular countries, one former colonial power, France, voted in favour, and the other state with a previous imperial connection to the region, the United Kingdom, abstained, as did Germany. Predictably, Israel’s biggest supporter, the United States, opposed the resolution, reconfirming its view that a negotiated settlement is the only way to establish a Palestinian state.
The U.N. resolution, however, could well be the first of many momentous changes for West Asia. The Palestinian Authority can now seek membership of several U.N. agencies and, above all, can apply to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, with the clear implication that Israel may finally be held accountable for crimes committed against the civilian population of Gaza. Secondly, differences have emerged between Washington and major European countries over Israel-Palestine, even if some European officials call criminal charges against Israel a “red line”. Thirdly, it is consistent with global public opinion; even U.S. opinion polls show majorities for a two-state formula. It also testifies to the increasing confidence of Palestinian representatives, who have said that continued exclusion would strengthen support for Hamas; the representatives, moreover, now know that the region’s peoples demand justice for the Palestinians and can no longer be ignored. The vote will be truly meaningful if it marks the start of a new international resolve to ensure the people of Palestine are able to exercise their right to statehood and self-determination, just as the people of Israel have been doing for years. The first order of business has to be to stop the Israeli stranglehold over occupied Palestinian territory, including the monstrous policy of building settlements. As long as the international community gives Tel Aviv a free pass on these issues, peace and security in Israel-Palestine will always remain elusive.