UN Vote for Palestinian Statehood

Palestinian Statehood:

The UN Vote for Palestinian Statehood is a big talker this week. Here’s what’s going on– and why.

Geography

  • Palestine consists of two unconnected territories in the Middle East, both bordering Israel. The two parts of Palestine are the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, which borders the Mediterranean Sea. Some claim that the territories are an independent state, while others claim they are part of Israel. That’s where the conflict comes in.
  • Jerusalem is a city on located on the edge of the West Bank and Israel. Palestine has declared East Jerusalem as its capital, but Israel claims all of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem contains landmarks considered holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Key Players

  • Palestine Liberation Organization: The PLO is a group that the UN and Israel recognizes as the representative of the Palestinian people. Palestinian people are largely Muslim. In the past, the PLO has been charged with terrorism. But in 1993 they said they would stop their violence.
  • Israel: Israel is the country that borders Palestine. Traditionally, its government has claimed and even occupied Palestinian territories—especially Jerusalem. However, reported statistics suggest Israelis are moving closer and closer to recognizing Palestinian statehood.
  • United Nations: The UN is an international organization that tries to allow countries to cooperate and negotiate peacefully. Its members are typically internationally recognized nations. These nations vote to make decisions. Sometime the decisions are about whether a state should be a UN member or not. Palestine is not a member of the UN, but is considered a “non-member observer.”
  • General Assembly: This main body of the UN votes to make recommendations to member states. All UN member states are a part of the general assembly. For votes about new membership (and other important issues), a 2/3 majority is required to win.
  • Security Council: This smaller body of the UN can vote to make resolutions that member states are required to follow. The Security Council consists of 5 permanent states—the US, the UK, Russia, France and China—and 10 non-permanent states. A resolution must have at least 9 votes to pass. Any of the permanent members can veto a membership vote.

History

  • During World War II, millions of Jews living in Europe were persecuted and killed by Nazis and Nazi supporters in the Holocaust. After the violence ended, the Jews wanted a homeland. Many of them moved to Israel, where they had lived even before the Holocaust. The US helped fund this move, called the Zionist movement. However, Palestinians were also living in Israel. This triggered years of wars among Israelis, Palestinians, and Palestine’s Arab neighbors.
  • During the early 1990’s, peace processes finally began. While Israel has handed the West Bank and Gaza Strip  over to the Palestinians, lots of dispute still exists:
    • Jerusalem—both parties want ownership of this holy city for religious reasons
    • Israelis have built Jewish settlements in Palestinian land where about 400,000 Jews live.
    • Israelis have troops in Palestinian land (although some disagree)
    • Many countries don’t officially recognize Palestine as a state
  • Despite these conflicts, attempts have been made at peace talks.
    • In 1993, both parties signed the Oslo accords, agreeing to mutual recognition and Palestinian government.
    • Leaders of each party failed to reach a conclusion when they met in 2000 at Camp David in the U.S.
    • In 2007, the Annapolis conference began. This was the first conference where both parties wanted to reach a two-state solution. However, no final agreement was reached and violence broke out in the Gaza strip again.
    • In 2010, leaders started up peace talks again. However, they ended when Israel started building on West Bank land again. This made Palestinians so mad they refused to keep negotiating.

Recent News

  • In August 2011 the PLO announced that it would submit an application to the Security Council for UN membership in September. After continued failing peace talks, many think the PLO wants to bring international attention back to its struggle.
  • Others, including US President Barack Obama, believe this is an attempt at a shortcut to peace and will not be successful. They think talks are necessary to create real peace—not just UN recognition.
  • Breaks within the Palestinian people make things more complicated. The PLO’s opposition party called Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip. They don’t think UN statehood is the right way to go.

Future

  • A vote has not yet occurred. It could take weeks or even months, according to past votes and the LA Times.
  • Republicans in the US—like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney—are trying to use Obama’s stance to make an argument against him in the presidential race. They say his behavior is “emboldening” Palestine and harming Israel.
  • The US and European countries are trying to make Palestine and Israel try more peace talks instead. France is getting impatient, demanding a timeline for more peace talks.
  • But, if the US vetoes the bill, this could cause a lot of unrest among Arab countries. Some see this as a sign that the US is losing power in the Middle East.
  • If the Security Council does veto the application, Palestine may take it to the General Assembly. Palestine is more supported in the General Assembly than in the Security Council.
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