NEWS

5 things to know about the Palestinian UN bid

11/29/2012 01:02 EST | Updated 01/29/2013 05:12 EST
The Palestinian Authority is asking to have its status at the United Nations upgraded to state recognition.

The UN General Assembly is expected to vote sometime after 3 p.m. Thursday on whether to upgrade the Palestinians' status from a non-member observer entity to a non-member observer state, a move that would put them on par with the Holy See.

How does this differ from the last Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations?

On Sept. 23, 2011, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas presented an application to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon formally asking the world body to consider granting the Palestinians full membership status. The request was blocked by the Security Council, where it was opposed by the United States.

Thursday's resolution is expected to pass, mainly because it is occurring in the General Assembly, where no country has veto power.

In the 193-member General Assembly, this vote only needs a simple majority of the countries present — 50 per cent plus one — to pass. If representatives of all countries are there, the crucial number is 98.

What can the Palestinians currently do at the UN?

The Palestinians can speak in the General Assembly, but not vote.

In 1974, the General Assembly approved observer status for the Palestine Liberation Organization.

There are no provisions for observer status in the UN charter, so the status "is based purely on practice," according to the UN. The PLO may participate as an observer in General Assembly sessions and the work of the Assembly, and is given office space as a "Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations."

What would a successful bid allow the Palestinians to do?

Some observers believe the new status would allow the Palestinians to join UN agencies and sign treaties, including the Rome Statue, which created the International Criminal Court.

But it wouldn't mean that the Palestinian flag would fly outside UN headquarters in New York.

"Just because the Palestinians can now join the World Health Organization doesn't solve the Middle East crisis," a senior Western diplomat said.

What is Canada's position?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada favours a two-state solution in the region.

"That will not be accomplished in reality unless and until the Palestinian Authority returns to the negotiating table and is able to get a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.… So we encourage them to do that and we will not support any other shortcuts or any other ways of trying to arrive at that solution without such a peace agreement," Harper said Wednesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will be in New York to oppose the bid and has said repeatedly that Canada supports the "Jewish state" and the people of Israel.

What positions do other countries hold?

Countries such as the United States and Israel oppose the move.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state won't help to reach a lasting two-state peace agreement and stressed that the "path to a two-state solution that fulfils the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York."

Countries such as France, China, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland support the move.

"In any case, it's only through negotiations — that we ask for without conditions and immediately between the two sides — that we will be able to reach the realization of a Palestinian state," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday.

The United Kingdom may abstain from voting and Germany has said it will abstain.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain could support the measure only if there were a clear commitment by the Palestinians to return immediately and unconditionally to negotiations with Israel.

"While there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments," said Hague.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Germany's decision to abstain rather than oppose the bid was a blow to Israel.

"We did not take this decision lightly. Germany shares the goal of a Palestinian state,” the Telegraph reported Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, saying. “But the decisive steps towards real statehood can only be the result of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”

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