Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence
(Updated September 2011)
In an effort to bypass peace negotiations with Israel,
the Palestinian Authority has
threatened to seek a vote in the next session of the UN
General Assembly (September 2011) to ratify their unilateral declaration
of independence for Palestine (UDI). The UDI requests that a State of
Palestine be internationally recognized by the United Nations on the
1967 borders with Israel - the so called “Green
Line” - and that Palestine subsequently be admitted as a full
member into the UN. According to PA President Mahmoud
Abbas, the move at the UN is designed to “secure the [Palestinian]
right to live free … in our historic homeland” and to provide
them with a better platform to “negotiate all core issues of the
Procedurally, only the Security Council can grant full recognition of a state and this would not happen if the
United States carries out its threat to veto any request for statehood.
The PA has subsequently focused its efforts in the General Assembly,
where a positive vote could be used to gain access to certain world
bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, but would not allow
for full membership in the UN or recognition as a state. The PA, nevertheless,
believes that if most of the world votes in its favor, as expected from
the declarations of member states, Israel will be under greater international
pressure to capitulate to Palestinian demands.
Obama and other world leaders have spoken out against the Palestinian
campaign for recognition, arguing that it is counterproductive and makes
peacemaking more difficulty. Members of the U.S.
Congress have also threatened to cut off aid to the PA if it goes
to the UN. Senior PLO official
Nabil Amr has cautioned Abbas against the UDI for fear that it could
irreparably harm relations between the Palestinians and not only the
United States, but Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Consequently, it is still possible the PA will change its mind or that
a resolution will be adopted that is more ambiguous; for example, recommending
recognition in the future rather than granting it now.
A Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence,
however, would only exacerbate problems in the already volatile region
and could actually prove detrimental to the Palestinian cause of independence.
On June 20, 2011, Abbas expressed a possible desire to return to negotiations
in favor of a UDI vote at the UN after realizing that opposition to
the move was gaining momentum not only from the United
States but also in Western
Europe. In July, senior PLO official Nabil Amr cautioned Abbas and
the PLO Central Council against the UDI for fear that it could irreparably
harm relations between the Palestinians and countries such as the United
States, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the United Kingdom who oppose
On July 27, Abbas told the PLO Central Council that
he is still determined to proceed with the statehood bid in September.
Though Abbas noted that he does not want to "clash with America"
and would like to "coordinate [the Palestinian] positions with
the world, including the US," he refused to take the UDI initiative
off the table. On September 15, top Palestinian diplomat Riad al-Malki said in the West Bank capital of Ramallah that the PA is prepared to submit their bid for UDI to the General Assembly on September 23, denying any rumors of the possibility that Abbas would postpone the initiative.
On September 16, Abbas spoke before the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and announced that he will move forward
with a vote at the UN. Though he is searching for an avenue to advance peace, the UDI could be catastrophic for the chances
of peace in the region. UDI would:
The United States, EU and Israel have made clear that
the only way to make true progress in establishing an independent Palestinian
state is through direct negotiations between the parties involved.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly offered to negotiate a peace agreement
and offered territorial concessions of as much as 97 percent of the West Bank, in addition to the
100 percent of Gaza Israel
has already evacuated. Israel, along with the United States and European
Union, remain committed to the creation of an independent Palestinian
state through direct negotiations aimed at achieving mutual recognition,
agreed borders and security arrangements, and an agreement to end the
- “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel
will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel
at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state.
Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas
insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians
will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel
Obama, U.S. President
- "We view this unilateral action on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to be not helpful. No unilateral actions like this are helpful in terms of establishing a long-run peace in the Middle East. Canada views the action as very regrettable and we will be opposing it at the United Nations."
Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister
- “We don’t think a unilateral
resolution can help advance peace, not by Palestinians
or by Israelis. The way to advance peace is via negotiations.”
Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister
- “Peace will only come from negotiations.
It will be a negotiated peace. It cannot be imposed from the outside
– not by any power and certainly not by one-sided UN resolutions.
Peace requires negotiations. It requires mutual compromise.
Palestinians compromise; Israel compromises; we both compromise.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister
- “There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting
peace. That is the only path that will lead to the fulfillment of
the Palestinian national aspirations...Nor is it viable
to build the institutions of a future state without the negotiations
that will ultimately create it.”
Hilary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State
- "France hopes that [the Palestinians] use
the occassion [upcoming UN assembly] for reopening the path to dialogue rather than risking a futile and dangerous
Juppe, French Foreign Minister
- “The German government believes unilateral steps
could be counter-productive … We think negotiations
are the right way.”
Guido Westerwelle, German Foreign Minister
- “[UDI] does not do any good whatsoever ... the plan for a unilateral declaration of the [Palestinian] state
is not supported by the Netherlands.”
Uri Rosenthal, Dutch Foreign Minister
- “We believe the Palestinians would be making an
error seeking UN recognition now before negotiations."
Steny Hoyer, U.S. House of Representative
- “A premature, unilateral declaration of Palestinian
statehood would not only undermine rather than resolve the Israeli-Palestinian
peace process, but would constitute a standing affront
to the integrity of the United Nations, international agreements
and international law ... unilateral actions by either party
cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not
be recognized by the international community.”
Fiamma Nirenstein, Enrico Piannetta, Gianni Vernetti, Rossana
Baldi, Italian Parliament Deputies
- “Unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would
be a huge mistake. A peace agreement between Israelis and
Palestinians is essential, but it can only be achieved through
honest negotiations - not by any party imposing a unilateral
Jose Maria Aznar, former Spanish Prime Minister
- “Unilateral actions will not bring peace to our
region ... Many have recognized that Palestinian attempts
to create a state by bypassing negotiations [will lead to] potential
consequences of mistrust and unmet expectations that could lead
to violence. There are no shortcuts to statehood. [The Palestinians]
cannot bypass the only path to peace. They will have to
get off the bandwagon of unilateralism.”
Ron Prosor, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations
- "We [Israelis] want to be able to negotiate but we won't be able to negotiate if they are attacking our legitimacy
in every international court. We're not going to negotiate under
fire and it's a mistake for the Palestinians to think that we would. The Palestinians have achieved a tremendous amount over
the last 18 years and all of that could be at risk. The
Palestinians risk all that has been achieved if they go forward
with this and that would be a great tragedy."
Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.
By going straight to the United Nations, the Palestinians would circumvent
negotiations and dismiss years of US and EU policy regarding successfully
solving the conflict. Successive Israeli administrations- including Netanyahu, Olmert, Sharon and Barak - have all made overtures of peace through negotiations that were denied
by the Palestinians, with no counteroffers proposed. Obtaining the UDI
would push Israel away from the negotiating table while not succeeding
in solving any of the core issues – the status of Jerusalem,
refugees ‘right of return’, access to water, etc.
Law and Frameworks for Peace
The UDI would constitute a violation of every agreement
signed between the Israeli’s and Palestinians, would contravene
the UN’s own Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 1850 – all stipulating a mutually negotiated
solution while rejecting unilateralism – and would destroy the
frameworks for Middle East peace which have been created over the past
- “Declares its support for negotiations … and its commitment
to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations … Supports the parties agreed principles for the bilateral
negotiating process … Calls on both parties to … refrain
from any steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the
outcome of negotiations.”
Council Resolution 1850 - December 16, 2008
- “Firs the United States remains committed to my vision and
to its implementation as described in the roadmap. The United
State will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose
any other plan.”
George W. Bush
letter to Ariel Sharon - April 14, 2000
- “Recognizing the necessity to create a positive environment
for the negotiations, neither side shall initiate or take
any step that will change the status of the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip in accordance with the Interim Agreement.”
Sharm el-Sheik Memorandum - September 4, 1999
- “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that
will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations.”
Interim Agreement (Oslo II Accords) - September 28, 1995
- “Disputes arising out of the application
or interpretation of this Declaration of Principles, or any subsequent
agreements pertaining to the interim period, shall be resolved
by negotiations through the Joint Liaison Committee to
be established pursuant to Article X above.”
Declaration of Principles (Oslo I Accords) - September 13, 1993
- “Affirms that … a just and lasting
peace in the Middle East should include the withdrawal of Israeli
armed forces from territories occupied … Requests the Secretary-General
… to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve
a peaceful and accepted settlement.”
UN Security Council
Resolution 242 - November 22, 1967
Intensify the Conflict,
Demonize Israel and Set Dangerous Precedents
Unlike negotiations, acceptance of the UDI may very
well intensity the conflict and would reward the Palestinians for their
intransigence in refusing to make any concessions. Additionally, the
UDI would put undue pressure on Israel which would isolate and demonize
the Jewish state around the world.
- Hamas, which is
an internationally regarded terrorist organization that refuses
to recognize Israel’s right to exist and has terrorized Israeli
citizens for decades, would gain de-facto legitimacy as the governing
power of the Palestinian Authority (if Hamas and Fatah reconcile).
Through the first eight months of 2011 alone, Hamas has already launched more than 450 rockets. Does it make sense for the UN
to recognize a state as an entity that is engaged in making war
on a current member state?
- A UN declaration will not change the situation on the ground
as Israel is not bound by any General Assembly resolutions and has
made clear it has no intention of accepting the UDI. On the contrary,
the situation may grow worse for the Palestinians as Israel may
feel justified to take its own unilateral measures, which could
be detrimental to the PA’s interests.
- Rather than peace, the UDI may promote violence. Since the Palestinians
will not achieve independence by declaration, the people may grow
frustrated by the failure of their leaders to satisfy their aspirations.
EU Parliament Chief Jerzy Buzek noted, for example, that "unilateral
declarations can be sometimes even dangerous" and Buzed expressed
concern that Palestinian riots could get out of hand Arab League
Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby also discouraged Abbas from his
present course, saying "The unilateral appeal to the U.N. Security
Council and U.N. General Assembly could be a very dangerous move
for the Palestinians during this period.
- “Palestine” lacks the infrastructure and legitimacy
required for statehood. The PA cannot support itself; it is totally
dependent on international aid to pay its bills. The territory and
government is divided between Gaza and the West Bank. Abbas, as
leader of the UDI campaign, represents only a small fraction of
the Palestinian people and has repeatedly canceled elections for
fear of losing power.
- EU Parliament Chief Jerzy Buzek noted that “unilateral
declarations can be sometimes even dangerous” and noted his
concern that Palestinian riots could get out of hand, reminiscent
of those protests taking place across the Middle East during the
so called “Arab Spring.” Echoing Buzek's worries, Israeli
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ominously predicted that the
failure of the Palestinians to win recognition could potentially
lead to “bloodshed on a scale which has yet to be seen here
before.” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby is also
concerned with the possibility that UDI would be physically dangerous.
"The unilateral appeal to the U.N. Security Council and U.N.
General Assembly could be a very dangerous move for the Palestinians
during this period and I propose that Abbas reconsider the handling
of the matter," Elaraby said.
- The UDI could jeopardize Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in more
than 40 spheres of activity, chief among them the security coordination
that has blossomed between the IDF and PA forces on anti-terrorism
over the past decade. Economic collaboration and international funding
of Palestinian government could also be jeopardized. The U.S. Congress
is currently debating proposing a law that would prohibit the United
States from aiding the Palestinian Authority if they declare independence
through the UN while still aligned with Hamas.
- By allowing the Palestinians to request statehood without ammending
their official "state charter" would amount to the U.N.
negating its own policies on expressly forbidding members to call
for the ethnic cleansing of another people. Both the Fatah (PA)
and the Hamas charters openly call for the elimination of Israel
and Palestinian President Abbas even outwardly says that he will
not allow a single Jew to remain in the future Palestinian state.
There is no way to understand Abbas' statement other than his expressed
desire to see Jews ethnically cleansed from the West Bank and East
- The UDI makes no provisions for Israel’s security. Unlike
Security Council Resolution 242 which explicitly says that states
in the region have the “right to live in peace within secure
and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
The new Palestinian "state" would not be required to recognize
Israel, end the conflict with Israel or cease terror. “Palestine”
would also have no restrictions on its ability to threaten Israel’s
security. While past peace talks envisioned a future Palestinian
state would be demilitarized, a UN-declared state would have no
such obligation. Given the ongoing threat of rockets and terrorist
infiltration, Israel would have to prepare for the possibility of
a significantly increased threat to its security from the West Bank
- A UN endorsement of the UDI would undermine its prohibition against
member states calling for the ethnic cleansing of another people.
The Hamas charter openly calls for the elimination of Israel; meanwhile,
Abbas has said that he will not allow a single Jew to remain in
the future Palestinian state. Abbas' statement is a call for ethnically
cleansing Jews from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
- The new Palestinian “state” would be not demilitarized,
such as Israel has made a condition for peace, and therefore any
Israeli response to terrorism emanating from the Palestinian territories
would be met with world condemnation and deemed an “invasion”
of a foreign, sovereign country. Despite protecting its citizens
and acting in self-defense, Israel would easily be portrayed in
the media as an aggressor and be shunned in the international community.
- Recognizing Palestine at the UN could undermine international
stability by setting a dangerous precedent for separatist movements
to declare independence and seek UN endorsement. If one group is
given recognition - the Palestinians - the UN would be holding a
bad double standard if it did not also accept other groups claims.
In Europe alone, multiple groups could follow this path, such as
the Basques and Catalonians in Spain, the Flemish in Belgium, the
Roma in Romania, the Corsicans in France, and the Albanians in Macedonia.
In addition, Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, Tamils in Sri Lanka and others
across Europe as well could follow the same path.
- On Friday, August 26, 2011, U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem Daniel
Rubenstein, speaking on behalf of the Obama Administration, told
chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat that the U.S. will veto
a bid for a Palestinian state in September. Furthermore, "in
case the Palestinian Authority seeks to upgrade its position at
the UN through the General Assembly, the U.S. Congress will take
punitive measure against it, including a cut in U.S. aid.,"
Rubenstein said. He told Erekat that it is better to pursue direct
negotiations with Israel to read a peace settlement. (Haaretz,
August 26, 2011).
- On Tuesday, August 30, 2011, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
(R-FL) who is also chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
introduced a bill with 57 co-sponsors that would ban U.S. contributions
to all UN committees that are partial to the Palestinians. In the
"United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act,"
Ros-Lehtinen wrote that a Palestinian unilateral bid would "short-curcuit
the negotiating process and severely undermine opportunities for
peace between Israel and the Palestinians." (Haaretz,
August 31, 2011).
- On Tuesday, August 30, 2011, Jordanian King Abdullah II told Abbas
to reconsider the Palestinian statehood bid because it might mean
the loss of Palestinian refugees' right of return. (Jerusalem
Post, August 31, 2011).
- On Tuesday, September 6, 2011, a majority of Palestinians polled
say they favor returning to negotiations with Israel to reach a
permanent peace with the option of resorting to the UN rather than
approaching the UN first "for the recognition of the Palestinian
state without concluding a peace agreement with Israel." 59%
voted in favor of negotiations first whereas 35% voted for going
to the UN first. (Palestinian
Center for Public Opinion, September 7, 2011).
- On Thursday, September 8, 2011, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida newspaper reported that the Palestinian Authority is considering
an Israeli proposal to postpone the UDI for at least one year in
order to begin negotiations to reach a permanent peace settlement.
The Middle East Research Institute posted the report on its website
on Wednesday. (Israel
National News, September 8, 2011).
On Thursday, September 8, 2011, Israeli Defense
Minister Ehud Barak
told PA President Mahmoud
that it is imperative that both sides "return to
the negotiating table sans any preconditions. We must try and
reach a breakthrough together. We must achieve this for our children
and grandchildren." (Y
, September 8, 2011)