This week the dispute will again take center stage as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally embarks on his long-anticipated bid to have the United Nations recognize a state of Palestine, a process that has already ignited a new round of recrimination and confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The drama will cast a spotlight on the failure of the United Nations to resolve a conflict that has weighed heavily on the organization since its birth, and often split U.N. members into two fractious camps: those who demand sovereignty for Palestinians and those whose paramount interest is Israel’s security.
“This is the wound that continues to get ripped open,” said Michael Doyle, a Columbia University professor and former senior U.N. adviser.
At the same time, Abbas’s bid highlights the continuing relevance of the United Nations as a source of international legitimacy — no other organization can confer the recognition the Palestinians are seeking.
The very idea of partitioning Jewish and Arab states was enshrined in a 1947 U.N. General Assembly Resolution, No. 181, which set the stage for Israel’s declaration of independence the following year. A U.N.-brokered armistice defined the boundary lines established after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the borders that Abbas will seek to have recognized were based on a November 1967 Security Council resolution, No. 242, that required Israel to withdraw its forces from territories occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Palestinians have rallied the overwhelming majority of governments behind their cause, but failed to win over one country, the United States, that stands in the way of its hopes of securing a vital Security Council vote inviting the Palestinians to join the United Nations as a full-fledged member state.
Because of the expectation that the United States will veto that bid, the Palestinians say they will then seek approval from the General Assembly for recognition as a U.N. observer state, albeit one without full-fledged status of a U.N. member state.
The Palestinians say that becoming a non-member state will still allow them to join various U.N. agencies and treaty bodies, including the International Criminal Court, which will raise the threat of possible international prosecution of Israeli forces.
“This is not just theatrics, it is real,” said Ryad Mansour, the Palestinians’ U.N. envoy. “We will not be anymore orphans” in many international bodies.
The Palestinians contend that years of negotiations with Israel have failed to achieve peace. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank have grown.