The Palestinian-Israeli issue has always been controversial. Palestine’s upgraded UN status from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state,” passed in the General Assembly by a large margin on November 30, 2012, brings with it, on one hand, new opportunities for Palestinians, while on the other hand, it is potentially more of “a headache” for Israel.
The change from “non-member entity” to “non-member state” for Palestine at the UN has deepened the concerns and hardened the positions of both sides in the conflict. Israel considers the fact to be counter-productive in terms of returning to direct negotiations for peace while Palestine continues to call for a freeze on building new settlements in the occupied territory as a precondition for direct negotiations. Hence, the upgraded status for Palestine at the UN seems to have largely impeded further efforts and possibilities to reach reconciliation.
The complex issue of whether Israeli settlements in the occupied territory are legal or illegal was addressed in the UN Human Rights Council report, approved in Geneva in March 2013. The report states that the settlements are illegal because they violate international humanitarian law under the Fourth Geneva Convention, specifically Article 49 which sets out basic criteria for what is acceptable as humane during wartime. Palestine insists that before direct negotiations for peace can resume with Israel, building by Israel in the occupied territory must stop. Israel is firm in its position that there can be no preconditions to the resumption of peace talks.
The recent change of status allows the Palestinians to participate in UN General Assembly debates, and gives them a chance to join UN agencies and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Palestine could choose to sign the ICC’s treaty and Rome Statute which may offer the opportunity to urge an investigation of perceived Israeli war crimes, and/or make other legal claims against Israel. This possibility, however, is not without potential problems for Palestine as Israel could lodge charges of their own against Palestine and ask for an ICC investigation. Hence, while Palestine’s access to the ICC through its new UN status could eventually lead to enforcement of international law decisions resulting in an Israeli retreat from its present positions, ICC access exposes Palestine to the same international law and its enforcement.
Considering the historical experience and rapid developments in the Middle East, it remains very hard to predict whether a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be reached for the long-term. But the UN action in November 2012 to upgrade Palestine’s status can be a first step to bringing the elusive lasting peace in the Middle East, so long sought after by both Palestine and Israel. Perhaps it can offer an alternative road-map to Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.