On Friday the 23rd of September the Palestinians will submit a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon requesting full membership of the United Nations. This is likely to be thwarted by the US, Israel and the Quartet with the US veto on the security council. The reason given is that granting Palestine full UN Membership would not help towards peace, and that instead Palestinians should sit down with Israel and work it out between themselves.
In May 1949 the UN passed general assembly resolution 273 admitting Israel as a full member of the UN club. This was despite Palestinian and every single neighbour of Israel’s, objection, on the basis that giving 56.4% of the Palestine to a Jewish state, to a people, many of whom who had just recently arrived and constituted 33% of the land and who owned just 5.67% of it, was inherently wrong, and against the provisions of the UN Charter. In effect that the UN was breaking international law. Of course America did not announce that it would veto any resolution as peace could only be achieved by Israels sitting down with Palestinians.
But what does it mean to be a sovereign nation and a member of the United Nations, and what is the US denying Palestine by threatening to veto their bid for UN membership?
Sovereignty, Statehood , and the UN
The idea of statehood has pretty much stayed the same since the mediaeval period. If there was an area of independent governance and laws it was a state, and states came into being by the union of other states, or by the breakaway of areas within existing states. There was no laws governing this fluid creation of states , other than a breakaway state requiring consent from its parent state. And even this changed when Switzerland broke from the German states without their consent, but was eventually granted independence in the treaty of Westphalia.
What has evolved is the nature of the society of nations. Born out of Europe a quasi international law developed regulating how independent European nations or ‘Civilised nations’ interacted . It was like a big club, if you where in the club you agreed to the rules. If you where outside the club then no such rules applied. And so European nations ransacked Africa and the Far East according to their whims.
Eventually after WW1 the League of Nations was developed, to be replaced with the United Nations after WW2. Both clubs set up so that states could agree a set of rules between them, and avoid further conflict. But it wasn’t until the UN codified its set of rules, in its charter that various principles such as people’s right to self-determination gained prominence. Various institutions were set up such as the international criminal court and various human rights platforms. These acted as the guide for the members of the society of nations on their conduct. If you wanted to be in the club you followed the rules set by the club. “And so new states that come into existence and are admitted into the international community thereupon become subject to the body of rules for international conduct” <2>
It is against this backdrop that the significance of Palestine’s request for full UN membership can be viewed. And also how Israel came into being.
Israels troubled path to Full UN membership.
In 1917 when the society of nations where busy carving up land between themselves. Balfour, in thanks to the Jewish chemist Cheim Weizman, promised to give all of the land, from the mediterranean to the Jordan Valley and beyond, to a few thousand Jews representing just 3% of what is now Palestine/Israel. It was a fraction of that when taking into consideration the Arab population of Jordan at the time. Subsequently the League of Nations, who also operated on a club set of rules, allowing them to carve up land between themselves and granted these same few thousand Jews all of the area to the border of Iraq in what is known as the San Remo conference of 1920.
Clearly this was a nonsense proposition, but it did reflect the International quasi law of the time, whereby the society of civilised nations were free to carve up the ‘non-civilised’ nations.
UN partition Plan
After the second world war and with the backdrop of the formation of the UN a committee was set up to discuss what to do with the Arabs and Jews in Palestine, given the historical promise by the League of Nations to grant this huge tract of land to a few thousand Jews.
They forwarded two propositions; one, a two state solution based on 1947 whereby Palestine would be granted a state, Israel would be granted its State and Jerusalem would become an internationally run city. And the other, a single state solution on a federated basis.After much lobbying by the Zionist lobby the single state solution was abandoned, in favour of the partition plan. So Palestine would have a UN recognized full membership state based on 1947 borders.
So what happened?
firstly before the general assembly vote, Israel occupied dozens of Arab cities earmarked for the new Palestinian state, and then it launched “operation partition” a diplomatic effort to rig the General Assembly vote to secure their 2/3rds majority. But the controversy didn’t end there. There were serious concerns about the legality of the partiton plan, with an Ad Hoc committee seeking the advisory opinion of the International Criminal Court, but this was squashed to. But it is worth noting Cattan’s seminal work ‘Palestine and International Law’: “that the UN is an organisation of states which was formed for certain purposes defined in the charter. At no time did this organisation possess any sovereignty or any other right over Palestine. Accordingly the UN possessed no power to decide the partition of Palestine, or to assign any part of its territory to a religious minority of alien immigrants in order that they might establish a state of their own. Neither individually , nor collectively could the members of the UN alienate reduce or impair the sovereignty of the people of Palestine, or dispose of their territory , or destroy by partition the territorial integrity of their country.”
But most importantly the Palestinians rejected this plan and rightly so, why would a people agree to give up 54% of the land to a newly arrived people who represented 33% of the population and just a few decades ago represented 3% of the people? And why did the United States not veto the resolution on the basis that peace could only be achieved when Palestinians sat down with Jews and worked it out between themselves?
So what of Palestine
Today we find a Palestine deprived of the state they were promised in 1947, we find them on the receiving end of a threat of veto by the US in their bid to win a state on the cantoned 67 borders. Which results in them continually denied access to the International Criminal Court and the various human rights tribunals in which they can seek redress from Israeli occupation and aggression. We find the absurd scenario where America is arguing that there can be no recognition of Palestine as an independent nation until they have negotiated with Israel, yet there were no such suggestions when Israel was born.
And then we witness the well learned lesson of Zionist lobbying to rig the General Assembly vote, as they did in 1947, or as the president of American Truman put it in his memoirs “The facts were that not only were there pressure movements around the United Nations unlike anything that had been seen there before, but the White House too was subjected to a constant barrage . I do not think I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance. The persistence of a few of the extreme Zionist leaders actuated by political motives and engaging in political threats disturbed and annoyed me. Some were even suggesting that we pressure sovereign nations into favourable votes in the General Assembly. I have never approved of the practice of the strong imposing their will on the weak whether among men or among nations.”
The benefits of having UN membership for Palestine
There are very significant advantages of UN membership apart from the symbolic achievement. Voting rights at the UN are extremely important – and as a UN member, Palestine would gain a vote. As a member of the UN, Palestine would also have official recourse to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which resolves disputes between UN member states, as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the various UN human rights tribunals.
Very importantly, Palestinians would have the opportunity to seek the formal protections afforded to a member country of the UN. Palestine would be in the position of one UN member state whose territory and sovereignty is militarily violated by another UN member state. Under the UN Charter, sovereign states have the right to use reasonable force to defend their territorial integrity and citizens, and other UN members can assist them in such efforts. The UN can impose sanctions and take other actions if one member violates another’s rights.<1>
Resolution 181 Israels admittance to the UN
Admission of Israel into the UN, general assembly resolution 273 of May 11, 1949 (dependent on resolution 194)
273 (III). Admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations
Having received the report of the Security Council on the application of Israel for membership in the United Nations,1/
Noting that, in the judgment of the Security Council, Israel is a peace-loving State and is able and willing to carry out the obligations contained in the Charter,
Noting that the Security Council has recommended to the General Assembly that it admit Israel to membership in the United Nations,
Noting furthermore the declaration by the State of Israel that it “unreservedly accepts the obligations of the United Nations Charter and undertakes to honour them from the day when it becomes a Member of the United Nations”,2/
Recalling its resolutions of 29 November 1947 3/ and 11 December 1948 4/ and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representative of the Government of Israel 5/ before the ad hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions,
The General Assembly,
Acting in discharge of its functions under Article 4 of the Charter and rule 125 of its rules of procedure,
1. Decides that Israel is a peace-loving State which accepts the obligations contained in the Charter and is able and willing to carry out those obligations;
2. Decides to admit Israel to membership in the United Nations.
UN partition plan vs Palestine conciliation committee.
vote contingent upon recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, why Jewish