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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The PLO and the UN

by Elliott Abrams
September 7, 2012


Palestinian president and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas has announced that he will seek to upgrade the PLO’s status at the UN when the General Assembly meets this month.

Previous efforts to attain full UN membership were blocked by the United States in the Security Council. But the General Assembly can elevate the PLO’s status from “observer” to “non-member observer state.” This is the status the Vatican has, and others—such as Austria—have held this status in the past before joining the UN.

The Jerusalem Post summed up the story this way:

“I am going this month to the UN General Assembly in light of the latest decision in Doha, the Islamic summit and the Non-Aligned Movement summit,” Abbas told reporters at the Arab League. He was referring to meetings in recent weeks of Arab ministers in Qatar, Islamic states in Saudi Arabia and the Non-Aligned Movement in Iran.

Is this a smart move for the Palestinians? Perhaps not. Elevation to “state” status may allow them to join other UN organizations, but when they joined UNESCO the United States defunded that organization—costing it the 22 percent of its budget we pay. Will other UN agencies be happy to pay the same price to elevate the PLO’s status? Will the Palestinians win friends in the UN system by forcing that issue?

Being called a “state” by the General Assembly may also permit the PLO, or Palestine, to bring cases in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Only states can do that, and the ICC has previously refused cases from the PLO. The Palestinians have a far stronger case to be considered a “state” for ICC purposes if the General Assembly gives them that status. But then what? Will they bring case after case against Israeli generals and other officials, with allegations of “war crimes” and the like? Those who say “no, they won’t, but the threat of doing so enhances their ability to deter Israeli behavior they don’t like” should think twice. Won’t they—if there is considerable public pressure to do so? How would PLO officials explain to the press and public, after some incident, why they were not bring an action in the Hague? The pressure may be irresistible.

And if they do bring such cases, the main effect will be to embitter Israeli-Palestinian relations. How does an Israeli official explain some gesture of accommodation or friendship at a moment when he, or his colleagues, are being accused of terrible crimes by the very Palestinian officials with whom they are supposed to be working?

So the decision to proceed in New York may not be so clever, and the “victory” of achieving “non-member state” status in the United Nations may be hollow indeed. On the ground in the West Bank, in the real world, it will not improve the life of one Palestinian.

Post a Comment 10 Comments

  • Posted by Raja M. Ali Saleem

    One easy way to avoid being dragged into the ICC by the evil Palestinians is for Israel not to break the international law. If Israel doesn’t break the law, even if the evil Palestinians file a case, it will be dismissed and the evil ones will be laughing stock in the world.

  • Posted by Petra Marquardt-Bigman

    But it will be interesting to see a “UN nonmember observer state” that has two governments — one with a charter quoting bloodthirsty Muslim text and the Protocols, and one devoting some 6 percent of its budget to paying terrorists and their families — bringing cases to the ICC…

  • Posted by tt

    RE Raja M. Ali Saleem.
    According to people like you, Israel’s existence is breaking of the international law, therefore Israel can’t stop breaking the international law.

  • Posted by Andrew

    Would this mean that Israel could bring ICC cases against the Paslestinian Authority? Or maybe Israel isn’t a member?

  • Posted by MIke

    I read a book called “One day in September” that alleges that the Black September group that killed the Israeli athletes in Munich 40 years ago were funded by Mr. Abbas. If that is true then the Palestinians should be careful who they want to haul before the International Court if they get their opportunity at the UN.

  • Posted by Raja M. Ali Saleem

    RE tt.
    So you know what I think? May I ask you for source? I personally believe in two-states solution. Now lets talk about the issue.

    Whatever some people may think, Israel’s existance is accepted under international law. It is a member of UN and hundreds of international bodies. That issue has been settled long ago.

    So while some may portray Palestinians efforts as threatening to Israel’s existance, they are not. However, they are a threat to Israel’s other obligations under international law which Israel’s current government doesn’t want to accept. If Israel is confident of its case then it shouldn’t be worried. Please please don’t give the argument that the whole world, including the ICC judges, is against Israel and Jews,

  • Posted by Josh

    @ Raja M. Ali Saleem

    Excuse me Mr. Saleem, but have you been reading anything in the news for the past 10 years? The Palestinians in Gaza explicitly call for the destruction of the state of Israel; it is a foundation for the terrorist organization Hamas which controls Gaza. Furthermore, they constantly provoke Israeli action by launching rocket attacks inside Israeli territory; they do not target just the military of Israel, they purposefully target civilians to incite terror. You may say that Israel must be held accountable for the collateral damage caused by military strikes against terrorist targets inside the Palestinian territories, but I would counter by arguing that in a state of war, every country accepts that there will be limited collateral damage, especially in urban combat. The key difference is that Israeli strikes target hostile terrorists while Palestinian retaliation is indiscriminate. Lastly, Palestinians insist on the Right of Return as a means of forcing the Jewish State to accept an Islamic majority in our homeland and abandon its duty to defend the right of Jews to have their own state. For all of these reasons you should be ashamed of your ignorance.

  • Posted by Rick James

    Raja M. Ali Saleem – being dragged in front of a court to be tried for every act of self-defense can debilitate national security. It’s especially unjust when enforcement mechanisms will not be applied to the Palestinians for whatever war crimes they would be convicted of, if Omar Al-Bashir’s any example to go by.

  • Posted by Olga Werby

    Human Rights & International Criminal Law Online Forum, a partnership between UCLA School of Law and ICC Office of the Prosecutor, has an extensive discussion on this topic. Please feel free to join the debate — it’s free, open to all, and the prosecutor is listening!

    Here’s the question of the debate as posed by Luis Moreno-Ocampo: “Gaza Jurisdiction Question:
    Does the Prosecutor of the ICC have the authority to open an investigation into alleged crimes committed in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict?”

  • Posted by ger109

    It’s kind of a tragic comedy reading these comments that call the PLO as terrorist against Israel when Israel became a state when Israeli terrorist forces bombed the David Hotel, where the English troops where staying, it is also ironic that they only see one side of the conflict, ignoring completely the countless number of Palestinian civilians that have been killed in Gaza by Israeli military forces with no apparent reason and the latent discrimination they have recieved during all that time… It’s funny to see how people treat some as out-of date for not sharing their side, but at the same time they chose to ignore the other side of the story.

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