The time has come, the U.N. said, to vote on the status of the Palestinians at the U.N., who after a long and controversial ramp-up, are seeking an upgrade from "observer" to "non-member" status based on the 1967 borders with Israel, a rank equivalent with the Vatican.
The vote, scheduled for today and expected to pass, needs a simple majority from the 193-member body.
Upgrading to non-member status will grant the Palestinians recognition as a "sovereign state" within the U.N., more easily opening the door for the Palestinians to be able to actually establish their own independent state and eventually upgrade to a full member of the U.N.. Further, it would allow the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which governs the West Bank, to participate in the U.N. General Debates, and grant them a chance to join various U.N. agencies and bring cases before the International Criminal Court.
The PLO attempted to push through a similar vote last year to the join the U.N. as a full member, but the vote died in the Security Council due to lack of support.
This time, the Palestinians have some significant support, bolstered, it would seem, by the recent events between Gaza and Israel. Among Western nations, it's thus far confirmed that France, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland have all pledged their support. The U.K. has said it will support the Palestinians only if they promise they will not pursue action against Israel in the ICC. No such promise has been made.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the move "a mistake" on the part of the Palestinians.
"Nothing in this action at the U.N. is going to take the Palestinians any closer to [peace with Israel]," Nuland told reporters. "So, yes, we’re going to oppose it because we think it is the wrong move. We think it makes other steps that might improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis harder."
For Israel's part, outside of the fear that the Palestinian delegation may try to charge them with war crimes in front of the ICC, Israel opposes the bid, they say, because it is unilateral and violates the Oslo accords, which laid the groundwork for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Israeli government threatened to completely cancel the Oslo accords, saying this push in the U.N. was a violation of those terms.
“We see this as a violation of previous agreements and will respond in a way that is proportionate to the Palestinian move,” an anonymous official told the Jerusalem Post.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that even if the vote passes, nothing will change. "The Palestinians may well celebrate their victory for one night, but when they wake up in the morning they will once again see that nothing has changed on the ground, and that there is no substitute for direct negotiations with Israel," Regev told the Post.
On Tuesday, the Israeli government backed away from those threats, and said they would "lay low" and wait and see what the Palestinians and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas do with their upgraded status before responding.
For the Palestinians, this vote represents the first steps to establishing their own long-sought independent state. On Wednesday, Hana Ashwari, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Executive Committee, told reporters that "this is a moral vote," and would be "a positive change and a quantum leap," the Jerusalem Post said.
One Israeli who does support Abbas at the U.N. is former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In a post published on the Daily Beast on Wednesday, Olmert said he saw "no reason to oppose" U.N. recognition for a Palestinian state.
“I believe,” Olmert wrote in a public letter to Professor Bernard Avishai at Hebrew University, “that the Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it. Once the United Nations will lay the foundation for this idea, we in Israel will have to engage in a serious process of negotiations."
On the flip side, on Wednesday PLO official Farouk Kaddoumi told the Arabic-language Jordanian paper Al-Ghad that this was merely a "political move" that would not benefit the Palestinians, the Jerusalem Post translated.
“This will not benefit the Palestinians because it won’t change the reality of occupation and Judaization that exists on the ground,” Kaddoumi said, pointing out that other U.N. resolutions regarding Israel and the Palestinian Territories were never implemented. “What we really need is change on the ground.”
Asem Khalil, the dean of Bir Zeit law school, told GlobalPost he also didn't think much would actually change or improve.
"The vote will not change a thing for Palestine," Khalil said.
The vote is scheduled for 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 29.