Fast-Track to a Palestinian State?
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the UN, tells Diplomatic Courier's Casey L. Coombs that steps are already being taken to expedite the creation of a Palestinian state.
Casey L. Coombs: As of today, can you sum up where Palestine's UN statehood bid stands?
Riyad Mansour: The admissions committee in the Security Council had eight meetings deliberating our application for admission and it did submit a report to the president of the Security Council.
It more or less described the content of the meetings, in which one can say there has been a majority of members supporting our admission bid. One can say also a country with a veto power was not in favor of that. They told us that in private meetings and openly.
A number of countries, while they were supportive of our right to be admitted, said they felt that the timing was not appropriate now. As a result, the admissions committee in its report concluded that they were not in agreement to submit a recommendation to the Security Council with regard to our application for membership.
So that's the status in the Security Council. And our leadership, in consultation with the Arab leadership and friends, is studying all these elements in the Security Council and discussing steps to be taken as we move forward.
But let me just also say that the fact that we've submitted our application for admission is a historic development that led to many things. One, it allowed for us to become a full member as a state in UNESCO. This is a significant step in the direction of acquiring what belongs to us as a natural right, historic right and a legal right of joining the community of nations as a member state. It means that in the UN system, the state of Palestine is a reality.
That doesn't mean a state member of the United Nations. But the state of Palestine, applying what is known as the Vienna Formula in international relations, must now be dealt with in the UN system as a state, but not necessarily as a member state.
For example, to be a member state in the General Assembly and in the UN system, it means that you have to submit your application as we did to the SG [Secretary General], and he then passes it to the Security Council, which then submits a positive recommendation in a resolution to the General Assembly to approve with a two-thirds majority present and voting. If you pass all these steps, you become a state member of the United Nations.
CLC: Full statehood?
RM: Yes, a state member of the United Nations. But what happened at UNESCO means that the United Nations is accepting Palestine as a state, but not yet as a member state. A member state will be decided through this mechanism where we are now in the Security Council and then on to the General Assembly if we receive a recommendation.
CLC: Has a next step been at least tentatively decided, whether you are leaning toward the Security Council admissions process for full statehood that you just described or leaning toward the General Assembly process which would give Palestine partial statehood or observer state status?
RM: Well, you see that we have many options before us: In the Security Council, there's the option of working with members, especially those who are not convinced yet to go along with a recommendation, or to go with the option of somebody to submit a draft resolution recommending the state of Palestine by the Security Council for admission. We need to weigh each one and its chance of success.
There's also the option of going to the General Assembly and having a resolution that would recognize the state of Palestine and would ask the Security Council to look at the application positively. Until Palestine is to be recommended for full membership, however, the General Assembly would upgrade the membership to observer state like the Vatican or Switzerland. And there are options of joining other agencies, and there are many of these agencies that are all available to us for admission. These options are also being considered.
CLC: All of those options are available today?
RM: All these agencies are available to us. Some of it is of an automatic nature, just simply by expressing a desire and interest in joining. We need only an instrument in which we convey to the Secretary-General of the United Nations our interest and we'll become automatically a member of these agencies.
Others have their own mechanisms, like the WHO which requires a simple majority vote from the general body. So all these things are under consideration.
So there are a host of many things that are before us that our leadership and the Arab leadership and France are studying and considering. W are analyzing and studying the reaction by others, including the United States and Israel, to every step that we will take and how to deal with these reactions.
CLC: You mentioned earlier that the Security Council admission committee had eight meetings over the span of almost fifty days, whereas South Sudan, when they applied for membership, were in and out of the committee in a matter of hours.
RM: Well the process for South Sudan, from declaring independence to voting on their acceptance in the General Assembly as a member, took five days. It started Saturday and by Wednesday it became a member of the UN.
CLC: Portugal's Ambassador to the UN José Filipe Moraes Cabral, who was the Security Council president for the month of November, was asked about this discrepancy and he said that the two cases are "not comparable."
RM: Well the cases are different, but I'll give you another: Israel. Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948. It submitted its application for admission on the 29th of November 1948, and it pushed with the help of the United States and the Soviet Union at that time for action by the Security Council. On December 17, 1948, the Council acted on their request. They received five votes in favor out of eleven; the threshold was seven, so they did not prevail.
They then went to the General Assembly and Abba Eban, who was at the time the representative of Israel in these issues, and asked the General Assembly's special political committee what it would take for Israel to receive positive recommendation in the Security Council. The special political committee asked Israel to abide by resolution 181, which partitioned Palestine; Israel said it would abide by that resolution. Then the committee said that Israel had to abide by resolution 194, which called for the return and compensation of refugees; Abba Eban said that Israel would abide by that resolution.
Then in March, again in the Security Council, they revisited the application of Israel and they were able to receive nine out of eleven votes with no veto. May 11, 1949, the General Assembly gave them a two-thirds majority present and voting acceptance to become a member state. So that's another example.
We hope that our case will not be like those who've taken years, and it's not going to be like South Sudan because we've spent more time. We hope that our case will be more like Israel.
CLC: What is it going to take for the U.S. to come on board with the Palestinian statehood bid in the Security Council?
RM: I think that is a good question to ask the Americans. We believe that we have more than two-thirds majority of countries that have recognized the state of Palestine.
CLC: And what is the number, as it stands right now?
RM: It is now 131 countries, if I'm not mistaken. And I can ask how many countries do you have today that enjoy this many countries recognizing them as a state? For example, Israel doesn't have that at all. Israel maybe has about half of that - definitely under 100.
There is global consensus on the two-state solution, which specifically means the independence of the state of Palestine, because the other state has been in existence since 1948. So when you have all these conditions, why would anyone stand in our way for assuming our national right and historic and legal right to join the community of nations?
To those who say that we cannot have it until, you know, it has to be done through negotiations - independence and therefore membership at the UN is an expression of self-determination that is not for negotiation or permission from Israel. That is something for the Palestinian people to decide as an expression of self-determination alone. This is how Israel did it, how it was done by the United States of America and how it has been done by the all the countries that became independent after ending colonial control. We are not going to be the exception to the rule.
But that doesn't mean that we will not negotiate the six final status issues with Israel: borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and water. We will continue to be committed, as our president has said, to negotiate with our Israeli neighbors on these issues, but our independence is not one of them.
CLC: Regarding the final status issues, there have been some reports saying that the Palestinians are reserving an option to go before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to argue that its failed Security Council bid was politically motivated rather than based strictly on the Montevideo Convention's four criteria for statehood - a permanent population; a defined territory; a government; and capacity to enter into relations with the other states - outlined in the 1933. Is that argument palpable?
RM: I think that to argue whether we are a state or not is an academic issue now after what happened in UNESCO. As I said following the Vienna formula, that is not an issue within the UN system. Maybe these ideas were raised before UNESCO, but once a UN agency accepts you as a state, that has ramifications across the system. So therefore, there should be no discussion or issues of whether we are a state or not. You add to it the fact that the two-thirds majority of member states at the UN have recognized us as a state; this issue is not an issue to be debated any longer. Those who want to debate it, they're welcome to continue, but I think there are new facts on the ground now.
CLC: Lastly, do you see any big change in January when five new Security Council representatives come on the Council? Will they change the voting balance in the Council?
RM: I don't think that there will be a significant change with regard to the non-permanent members in the Security Council. I think that there might a be shift in a different direction from a different group of nations. But that depends on what will happen in other agencies and in the General Assembly, so we just have to wait and see.
(AP Photo: The Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour speaks to reporters Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 at United Nations headquarters.)