UN backing of statehood for Palestine is a huge mistake

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On Friday, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a disgraceful resolution granting new rights and privileges to the so-called “observer state” of Palestine, while also calling for the Security Council to admit the “State of Palestine” as a full U.N. member. The resolution, which passed with 143 votes in favor and only 9 against, flies in the face of morality, history and law, makes a mockery of the U.N.’s own charter, and could financially cripple the entire organization. 

In short, it is a terrible mistake.  

First, it is simply immoral to reward the Palestinian leadership’s support of terror. Not only does the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the Palestinians in the West Bank, continue to incentivize the murder of Israeli and American citizens under its notorious “pay for slay” martyrs program, it has justified and defended the Oct. 7 massacre and called for “unity” with Hamas. This is who the United Nations wants to welcome into its circle? 

Second, it is ahistorical to pretend that there is or ever was an actual Palestinian State. There could have been, of course, had the Palestinian leadership ever accepted any of the myriad offers they were given — but they did not, and so to date there is not. Even the Palestinian Authority talks in aspirational terms about the future state they hope to establish. As recently as December, PA President Mahmoud Abbas stated that he was hoping for “a solution that will be protected by world powers to establish a sovereign Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, the West bank, and East Jerusalem.” 

Third, even if the General Assembly had the power to declare a state out of nothing (and it does not have that power), there is no way that a would-be “State of Palestine” could pass the test for statehood under international law. The customary test of statehood holds that a state must consist of four elements: a defined territory, a permanent population, a government in total control of the territory and the capacity to engage in foreign relations. These elements are commonly referred to as the Montevideo Criteria, endorsed by the international community in article I of the Montevideo convention.  

With respect to the first item, the Oslo Accords, which established the PA as an interim government, left borders as a permanent status issue for an agreed-upon settlement at a later date. There has been no settlement, and so there are no defined borders; nor, as it relates to the second criteria, is there a discernible permanent population over which a purported “State of Palestine” would have control.  

Nor either has a “Palestinian” entity ever held sovereign title over any of the areas the U.N. would like to recognize as belonging to their state. The bilateral agreements that established the PA expressly state that Israel maintains all residual powers and responsibilities not delegated to the PA, so they do not have a government in total control of the territory — nor do they have any control whatsoever in either Gaza or Jerusalem. And because it lacks all other elements of the Montevideo criteria, the state of Palestine lacks the capacity to engage in binding foreign relations.  

Finally, the draft resolution makes a mockery of the United Nation’s own charter. Article Four of the Charter says that “Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.” Any would-be Palestinian state, even if it could meet the statehood criteria, should be immediately disqualified on those grounds.  

As a political measure, the vote to give the PA full membership will be vetoed at the Security Council level — but that still leaves the United States with the choice to pull its funding from the U.N.  

Under Public Law 101-246, “No funds authorized to be appropriated from this act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.” (The Palestinian Liberation Organization is the name of group that officially represents the Palestinian people at the U.N., while the Palestinian Authority is the recognized interim government on the ground.) The final draft removed the right to vote in the General Assembly from the list of privileges as an attempt to keep the U.S. sending money, but it still grants Palestine the same standing as member states in almost every respect, and so going forward any administration would have grounds to pull roughly one-fifth of the U.N.’s entire budget.  

For its part, the United Nations seems relatively unconcerned about all of the above. Perhaps the General Assembly, which is so practiced at the art of make-believe, is simply planning to invent another wealthy country to take our place should the need arise, and vote to pretend it still has funding.  

Mark Goldfeder is a former law professor and director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center. 

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