Palestine has scored another victory, just a month after being accepted as a full member in UNESCO-- on Wednesday, November 23rd, the UN General Assembly's Social, Humanitarian Cultural Affairs Committee voted 166 to five in favor of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. The resolution, presented by the Egyptian delegation, meant a reaffirmation of the majority of the world’s support for the creation of an independent Palestinian State.
UN General Assembly (photo: flickr/real.tingely)
Once again, the only countries that denied the Palestinians their right, as defined in the 1945 UN Charter, were the United States, Israel, Canada, Marshall Islands and Micronesia. Another four countries abstained: Venezuela, Haiti, Togo and Cameroon.
“The Assembly urges all states, as well as the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system, to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination”, the resolution stated.
The Committee’s text also stressed the need to resume the peace process, based on a two-state solution which preserves “the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”, according to the Palestinian Maan News Agency.
Though the resolution reaffirms the majority of the UN’s support for the Palestinian national cause, it will not have any concrete effect on the PLO’s bid for full membership. Under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, the Social, Humanitarian Cultural Affairs Committee discusses human rights, social and cultural issues, permitting deep and comprehensive debate on these subjects.
Currently, the PLO participates in the UN as a permanent observer and not a member. After the paralysis in the Security Council--where the Palestinians couldn’t assure the necessary nine votes to secure member status, nor could they or eventually bypass the US veto--President Mahmoud Abbas still has two cards to play. One is to go to the General Assembly and ask to be accepted as a non-state member. In pragmatic terms, this wouldn’t mean an important upgrade.
The second choice is to continue the path of UN agencies full memberships. Like in UNESCO, the Palestinian leadership could try to be accepted as a full member by each of the autonomous agencies, like the UNICEF, the nuclear AIEA, the World Health Organization and the International Criminal Court, amongst others. If Palestine is acknowledged as a member of all the UN agencies, it could put pressure on the UN to accept Palestine as a member state. And it would certainly highlight the fact that the United States’ unconditional support of Israel remains one of the biggest obstacles to Palestinian statehood.
But going the way of UN agencies is a long, arduous path, as it’s not enough to simply be accepted to the agency--the Palestinian leadership has to use each membership effectively. UNESCO offers an good example. Palestine was accepted as a full member, but due to internal bureaucracy, the Palestinians will not be able to apply to receive World Heritage status for any of their historical sites before 2013. On top of that, according to UNESCO rules, each member can present only one application per year.
Despite these challenges, the Palestinian Authority keeps collecting resolutions, support, and diplomatic affirmation of their national struggle.