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Palestinians take part in a rally while the speech of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is projected in the West Bank city of Ramallah

On November 29, ‘Palestine’ was recognized as a State by the U.N. General Assembly, albeit as an observer rather than a full member. A total of 138 countries voted in favor, with nine voting against and 41 abstaining.

Exasperated by the failure of two decades of sporadic and mainly U.S.-mediated peace negotiations, and the continued unwillingness of the Israeli government to stop settlement-building in the West Bank, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has sought an upgraded diplomatic status to increase pressure on Israel to reach an agreement.

Abbas’ efforts to secure full U.N. membership are stalled, reflecting his inability both to secure the required super-majority on the Security Council and owing to the certainty of a U.S. veto. He, therefore, has pursued the lesser status of an observer state – a designation typically afforded to institutions such as the Vatican, among others. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was granted an observer role in 1974, but is not recognized as a state.

In spite of intensive lobbying by Israel and the U.S., the vote went ahead, symbolically exactly 65 years after another U.N. vote for a plan to partition the mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The recognition vote, which required a simple majority, attracted support from 138 countries, or 71 percent of the U.N. (more than had been initially expected). Significantly major European nations – including France, Italy and Spain – voted in favor. The only “no” votes came from Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the U.S., and four tiny Pacific island nations allied to it. Additionally, a handful of significant nations abstained, notably the U.K., Germany, and South Korea.

“The vote… will help to raise international awareness of the Palestinians’ situation, but will have minimal impact on efforts to restart the long-standing peace process.” – The Economist Intelligence Unit

Although the vote may well provide a measure of legitimization and moral support for Palestinians (helping to explain the subsequent celebrations on the streets of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip), the impact on the ground will take time to develop, and a full Israeli response may not be clear until after the country’s elections on January 22.

Palestinians welcome the UN vote in the West Bank city of Ramallah November 29, 2012 (Reuters).

Israel, which said the vote would “hurt peace” (a stance backed by the U.S.), has threatened retaliation, including freezing transfers of customs duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Even if this threat is followed through, it would almost certainly be a temporary move as Israel will not want to undermine Abbas and thereby empower his rivals, the Islamist group, Hamas. Indeed, it transferred $52 million in duties just two days before the vote. Instead, it appears that Israel decided to take a different tack, with an announcement a day after the vote that it had authorized the building of 3,000 more housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Palestine will now seek to join U.N. agencies and related bodies, including potentially the International Criminal Court. Israel is concerned that its military could be tried in the court for alleged war crimes, and pressure was put on Abbas to make a commitment not to bring any cases before it, which he refused. Nonetheless, Abbas is unlikely to seek a confrontation at the court, at least not soon, which could anyway reject cases on technical grounds.

The vote, and its outcome, will help to raise international awareness of the Palestinians’ situation, but will have minimal impact on efforts to restart the long-standing peace process.

This post has been authored exclusively for MEV by The Economist Intelligence Unit

The views expressed in this Insight are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you’d like to share your opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. If you are a Middle East expert or analyst associated with an established academic institution, think tank or non-governmental organization, we invite you to contribute your perspectives on events and issues about or relevant to the region. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for an Insight post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your institutional blog.

The Economist Intelligence Unit

This post has been authored by experts of The Economist Intelligence Unit.


  1. Anonymous

    December 7, 2012

    Economist Intelligence Unit. Funny.

  2. Anonymous

    December 7, 2012

    Israel has sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (West Bank) legally according to the San Remo agreement from 1920. Any land the Israeli's give you will be out of their generosity and for your agreement to keep the peace. But now there is no state of Palestine nor was their ever one.

  3. Adam

    December 5, 2012

    Raise international awareness of the Palestinian’s situation?? I think everyone on the planet is aware of this by now, given the constant 24/7 coverage given to this insignificant conflict. This is to the detriment of many more important issues going on in the world today!

  4. Prof Munther S Dajani

    December 2, 2012

    Very insightful and accurate assessment of the current situation. It is a pleasure to read for objective and balanced analysis.Thanks

  5. Anonymous

    December 2, 2012

    Americans were misrepresented by Ms. Rice. A majority of Americans support the Palestinians and are profoundly embarrassed that we are made complicity through our extorted tax dollars for Israel by our feckless congress in the pernicious, abhorrent, vile, evil abuse of the Palestinians. Israel has no shame! At long last, Israel has no decency!

  6. Daniel Woodard

    December 1, 2012

    For Isreal to exact revenge on the Palestinians for peacefully seeking recognition from the UN would by hypocritical and, if the revenge includes physical actions like cutting off supplies, criminal. The US should discourage any such move.

    That said, a glance at a map shows that the two-state solution is dead. Israli "settlements" and military-controlled corridors dismember the West bank into a collection of isolated reservations in which the Palestinians are confined. Gaza may become an autonomous province of Egypt, but the West Bank will remain part of Isreal, and Israel must either grant citizenship to the Palestinians or stop claiming to be a democracy.


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