Palestine’s U.N. Membership: Why Does It Matter?

Palestinian officials have announced that they will seek a Security Council vote to approve Palestine as a full member of the United Nations next Friday. Israel has strongly opposed the move, and the United States has announced that, if necessary, it will use its veto powers to preclude approval. Why does the membership vote matter?

Because full-member status would establish broad, formal international recognition of Palestinian statehood. For Palestine, statehood would bring a number of benefits, including diplomatic immunity for many of its officials, the ability to join treaties and vote in the U.N. General Assembly, and standing to litigate with other states—including Israel—before the International Court of Justice. Even more significantly, statehood would establish Palestine’s sovereign equality with Israel and rights to self-determination and territorial integrity.

At least some of these effects are also the basis for opposition to Palestinian statehood on the part of Israel and the United States. Formal recognition as a sovereign state would empower Palestine in its dealings with Israel while circumventing the peace process. Because one of the classic elements of statehood is control over a specific territory, identification of Palestine’s borders is analytically prior to recognizing Palestine as a state. Palestine has therefore made clear that it seeks U.N. membership as a state based on its pre-1967 borders with Israel. If Palestine’s borders are formally settled by means of a U.N. vote, then Palestinian leaders have less reason to negotiate with Israel, and more leverage if they choose to negotiate.

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