In the late afternoon, on the 24th September, President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the General Assembly at the UN. His speech, which lasted approximately 41 minutes, had a clear objective: for the UN to fully recognise Palestine as a nation on the 1967 borders. Whilst confirming Palestine, as a fully-fledged state may seem straightforward to some (after all countries such as Zimbabwe and North Korea hold member status), it would have far reaching consequences for the region.
Currently, Palestine (under the name of the Palestine Liberation Organisation) holds observer entity status; this gives them the right to speak at General Assembly meetings but not to vote. As a full member Palestine would be able to join UN agencies such as the International Criminal Court, where they could take legal action against Israel for her alleged atrocities and the occupation of disputed territory. But a somewhat more worrying and morally dangerous implication of granting Palestine member status is that an internationally recognised terrorist organisation could have a platform at the United Nations.
I am of course referring to Hamas, the governing body of Gaza within the Palestinian Territories since 2007. Hamas is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the USA, the EU, Japan, Canada, the UK and of course by Israel. At this point I would like to make clear that were Hamas officials to speak at the UN they would do so under the name of Palestine rather than Hamas. Hamas has every right to rule within the Palestinian Territories; it was voted in democratically after elections in 2006, although its record of democratic governance since then is somewhat questionable. Their mandate expired in 2009 and there appear to be no current plans for future elections. But does this mean that they should be allowed to vote on global decisions and have access to global institutions? It does not take a master of International Relations to hazard a guess at what their stance on tackling terrorism would be, or whether they agree with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, never mind their stated aim to oversee the destruction of another UN member, Israel. How happy would we have been if Sinn Fein had taken political control of Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement?
Whilst 122  General Assembly Members currently recognise the state of Palestine, only 4 countries fully recognise Hamas. It is entirely plausible that Hamas could gain a majority over its main political rival Fatah in future elections, and the opinion polls suggest that support for Hamas has increased following the Shalit deal. Were the Palestinian Territories to be granted member status under the name of Palestine and were Hamas to assume the presidency, what then? It is a highly likely reality that Hamas could assume leadership of the Palestinian territories. The ensuing controversy and possible implications would seriously undermine the quest for peace.
President Abbas’ speech was the culmination of a year’s diplomatic work by Palestinian officials who have been asking individual countries to recognise Palestine as an independent state on Pre-1967 borders. According to the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, this number stands at 126 . For statehood to be granted, the 15 strong UN Security Council must grant approval. If this hurdle is passed then a two-thirds majority vote is required within the General Assembly. However it is strongly believed within the diplomatic community that the proposal will fall at the first stage due to US opposition. Evidence of this is the US reaction to cut UNESCO funding, after the body agreed to admit Palestine. President Obama stated on September 21st that, “peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN” . Also, Obama has indicated that the US intends to veto the application, whilst also encouraging others to vote ‘No’. In addition to this, Britain, France and Colombia have officially stated they will abstain from any UN vote. But this would not be the end of the road for the PLO’s dreams of statehood; if the US vetoes the bid then the PLO can submit their resolution to the General Assembly and a vote could technically be held within 48 hours.
The next question to consider is how legitimate is it for Palestine to want UN recognition on Pre-1967 borders. For readers who are slightly confused about this phrase ‘Pre-1967 borders’, it dates back to the Six Day War of 1967, when after a period of severe tension between Israel and her neighbours, Israel launched counter offensive air strikes against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Israel achieved a decisive victory and took effective control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. This took 6 days, hence the name the Six Day War. Many within the international community believe that any peace settlement between Israel and Palestine should be based upon the idea of Pre-1967 borders, so it seems logical then for Palestine to be a nation based on these borders.
Further to this United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 ambiguously demands Israel withdraw from ‘territories occupied’. Whether or not these are fair demands it remains a key issue of contention, with Israel taking a defiantly bold stance of not meeting the international communities’ demands. Resolution 242 also makes demands on Arab states which have not been fulfilled, i.e. termination of a state of belligerency, which in the case of Syria has not been met. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu labelled the idea of Pre 1967 borders as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘indefensible’  even though Israel did unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
One can get totally immersed within this very controversial debate and so I shall leave it to you as the reader to formulate an opinion as to whether President Abbas should succeed in his endeavour. As politicians of all types have found, there is of course no right or wrong answer. What happens next though for the PLO’s application for UN recognition and the Security Council’s vote. It was reported to have been due in September or early October but has thus far been postponed. I leave you with this thought. Israel is the only country in the region that has free and fair democratic elections, a free press, unfettered trade unions and a constitution that allows free speech. Should not a prospective UN member have the same basic principles?
 Three-quarters of world recognizes Palestine, Ma’an News Agency, 29 August 2011
 Obama Says Palestinians Are Using Wrong Forum, The New York Times, 21 Sept 2011
 Israel Borders Of 1967 Would Be ‘Indefensible’: Netanyah, The World Post