United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19 is a resolution upgrading Palestine to non-member observer state status in the United Nations. It was adopted by the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly on 29 November 2012, the date of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and the 65th anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of resolution 181(II) on the Future Government of Palestine. The draft resolution was proposed by Palestine’s representative at the United Nations. It, however, maintains the status of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people within the United Nations system. Though strongly contested by the United States and the government of Israel, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed support for the measure. The motion was seen as largely symbolic, though it could allow Palestine to start proceedings at the International Criminal Court against Israel. Its timing, following a year in which Palestine obtained membership of UNESCO and the UN Security Council was unable “to make a unanimous recommendation” on their application for full UN membership, and coming several days after the completion of Operation Pillar of Defense, was also noted. The new status equates Palestine with that of the Holy See within the United Nations system.
On 22 November 1974, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 3237, inviting the Palestine Liberation Organization to participate at UNGA sessions in the capacity of an observer entity. The resolution also invited the PLO to participate in the work of all international conferences convened under the auspices of the UNGA and other organs of the United Nations.
In resolution 43/177 of 15 December 1988, the UNGA acknowledged the proclamation of the state of Palestine by the Palestine National Council on 15 November 1988. The resolution also decided that, effective as of 15 December 1988, the designation “Palestine” should be used in place of the designation “Palestine Liberation Organization” in the United Nations system.
In 2011, the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly led to Fatah’s Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asking to join as a full member of the United Nations. However, the Palestine 194 initiative never went to a vote in the United Nations Security Council. Only eight of fifteen members had supported the measure, one less than the affirmative majority vote of nine members, including the concurring votes of the permanent members, required by Article 27 of the UN Charter. Furthermore, the United States indicated an intention to veto the resolution should it come to a vote. On 31 October 2011, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted Palestine as a member state. The decision took effect on 23 November 2011 when Palestine ratified the UNESCO constitution.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said: “Israel, the United States and a handful of countries are on the wrong side of morality, the wrong side of justice and the wrong side of the law. [The UN vote would] begin a process of historical redemption and healing in Palestine.” Hamas also backed the motion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that resolution would make the goal of a state of Palestine “more distant. Peace is only achieved through negotiations, not by unilateral declarations.” He told the Menachem Begin Heritage Center: “The Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state, and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all. None of these vital interests, these vital interests of peace, none of them appear in the resolution that will be put forward before the General Assembly today, and that is why Israel cannot accept it.” These words were echoed by Ambassador Ron Prosor. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israeli reaction would be measured by Palestine’s reaction to the vote.
The United States lobbiedagainst the resolution being brought to the UNGA, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that it was only exacerbating the situation and that a vote would trigger “an extreme response from us.” However, following Operation Pillar of Defense, and under pressure from the United States, Israel stopped its threats of punishment to Abbas for going ahead with the move to the UN. Lieberman also went to New York City to meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while Ambassador Ron Prosor was scheduled to speak after Abbas. Israeli former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wrote: “I believe that the Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it. Once the United Nations will lay the foundation for this idea, we in Israel will have to engage in a serious process of negotiations, in order to agree on specific borders based on the 1967 lines, and resolve the other issues. It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians. Abu-Mazen [sic] (Mahmoud Abbas) and Salam Fayyad need our help. It’s time to give it.” There was a rally in support of the Palestinian bid in Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, which was organised by Gush Shalom, Peace Now, Hadash and Meretz. Former Foreign Ministry director Dr. Alon Liel said: “As of today there is a Palestinian state. As of today we no longer control the life of a nation but the life of a separate state.” Former Meretz MK Mossi Raz said: “We call on Lieberman and Netanyahu: It’s not too late. Order the ambassador to say ‘Israel yes.'” Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad also performed at the rally and said that she was “happy with Abbas’ bid and very sad about the inexplicable refusal to finally give the Palestinian people a chance to move forward.” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was criticised by Jewish groups for not rejecting the motion; she had initially wished to vote against the measure, but abstained instead due to opposition from her own cabinet and caucus. Netanyahu later downplayed the importance of the vote in saying that “the decision at the United Nations will change nothing on the ground. It will not advance the establishment of a Palestinian state. It will delay it further. No matter how many hands are raised against us there is no power on earth that will cause me to compromise on Israel’s security.”
U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said: “The resolution does nothing to get them (Palestinians) closer to statehood, and it may actually make the environment more difficult.” She also said that Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace David Hale met Abbas and told him of the U.S.’ “very real concern” about the initiative. “We’ve been clear, we’ve been consistent with the Palestinians that we oppose observer state status in the General Assembly and this resolution. And the Deputy Secretary also reiterated that no one should be under any illusion that this resolution is going to produce the results that the Palestinians claim to seek, namely to have their own state living in peace next to Israel.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch warned against the draft resolution, with Hatch introducing a motion to cut off financing to the UN if it passes.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added that “the decisive steps” towards practical statehood needed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. “In our view there are doubts over whether the desired move by the Palestinians today is supportive for the peace process. We fear it could lead rather to a hardening of views.” Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said “if there is a poor turnout, a poor vote, the radicals gain,” in expecting a high turnout to bolster Abbas’ standing.
There were celebrations in the West Bank and led Gaza Strip with people waving the Fatah and Hamas flags, respectively. Salam Fayyad said after the vote, for which he was in New York: “The question is, where do we go from here and what does it mean? The sooner the tough rhetoric of this can subside and the more this is viewed as a logical consequence of many years of failure to move the process forward, the better;” while he also called for more U.S. involvement in the peace process. PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat added: “Life will not be the same [because] Palestine will become a country under occupation. The terms of reference for any negotiations become withdrawal.”
Hamas Gaza-based spokesman, Salah al-Bardaweel, reacted to Abbas’ speech in saying: “There are controversial issues in the points that Abbas raised, and Hamas has the right to preserve its position over them. We do not recognise Israel, nor the partition of Palestine, and Israel has no right in Palestine. Getting our membership in the U.N. bodies is our natural right, but without giving up any inch of Palestine’s soil.” Party leader Khaled Meshal called for a national unity government through a new P.L.O. election so as to renew the mandate and legitimacy of the organisation “on a correct basis that includes all Palestinian forces.” Similarly, the New York Times quoted an unnamed affiliate of the P.L.O. as suggesting a possible leadership role for Meshal in the organisation following a nomination by Abbas or a Palestine Central Council election.
The next day, during debate and voting for other Middle East resolutions, Palestine’s delegate said: “There is no way for me to describe the enthusiasm that the General Assembly generated yesterday [in listening to President Mahmoud Abbas’ statement]. He also thanked those who supported the motion, adding that it saved the “two-State solution and…peace…the possibility of creating an atmosphere conducive to negotiations with Israel, and to putting an end to the long-standing occupation, as well as establishing the independent Palestinian State.” He continued in saying that the Israeli government’s reaction was “an immediate provocation. They are trying to provoke us” and that Palestine expected the Security Council to “uphold international law and to bring Israel into compliance” in accusing Israel of “unilaterally creating illegal facts on the ground [by contravening international law].” He concluded that though Palestine would work towards peace, their resolve and determination “had limits” and were being tested; also saying the choice was Israel’s to continue the peace process in good faith just as Abbas’ message the previous day had made “crystal clear” and that one day perhaps Palestine could be a full member of the body as “the overwhelming vote yesterday had sent a “massive message to the Security Council” and that the flag of Palestine should be put in the alphabetical order outside the United Nations building “in order to open a new chapter.”
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