Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Is Palestine a State?

by Elliott Abrams
April 4, 2012


Is Palestine a state? The International Criminal Court (ICC) answered this question this week, and said no.

The Palestinian Authority, apparently calling itself the “Government of Palestine,” tried to lodge a complaint against Israel at the ICC. As American courts would do, the ICC first had to decide if it had jurisdiction. As its statement notes, the ICC has jurisdiction over a matter only when the UN Security Council or a “state” provide it. So is “Palestine” a state?

The Court’s answer was no, as it explained:

The Office has been informed that Palestine has been recognised as a State in bilateral relations by more than 130 governments and by certain international organisations, including United Nation bodies. However, tthe current status granted to Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly is that of “observer”, not as a “Non‐member State”. The Office understands that on 23 September 2011, Palestine submitted an application for admission to the United Nations as a Member State in accordance with article 4(2) of the United Nations Charter, but the Security Council has not yet made a recommendation in this regard.

Two comments are worth making. First, the ICC’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, should be congratulated for upholding legal standards despite obvious political pressures. He went by the book. Moreno Ocampo’s nine year term ends in June, and his successor, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, should be equally careful and judicious. As she has been his deputy since 2004, one can hope that this will be the case.

Second, the Palestinian failure in the United Nations last year is what produced this dismissal of their complaint. They did not seek the status of “non-member state” from the General Assembly but insisted on having full membership in the UN as a sovereign state accorded by the Security Council. This the United States rightly blocked, preventing the PLO from attaining the necessary number of Security Council votes even to require an American veto in order to block their plan. The PLO is reaping what its diplomacy sowed in 2011.

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