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Obama, Palestinian Statehood, and International Law

Updated September 24, 2011

“We are choking on the American double standard. America supported the movements for freedom in Egypt, Tunis, Libya and Yemen, but this stops when it comes to the Palestinian people. We are asking, why?”
- Palestinian engineer, Muhammad Ali in Ramallah, Washington Post, 23 September 2011

President Mahmoud Abbas hands the application for recognition of an independent Palestinian state and for full membership of the United Nations to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

It is a moment of truth and my people are waiting to hear the answer of the world. Will it allow Israel to continue its occupation, the only occupation in the world? Will it allow Israel to remain a State above the law and accountability? Will it allow Israel to continue rejecting the resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice and the positions of the overwhelming majority of countries in the world? ...

I say: The time has come for my courageous and proud people, after decades of displacement and colonial occupation and ceaseless suffering, to live like other peoples of the earth, free in a sovereign and independent homeland.
- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to UN, 23 September 2011

Mahmoud Abbas was met by a standing ovation at the UN headquarters when he held up the Palestinian application for full membership as a state. The American delegation, grim-faced, sat on their hands. The Obama administration had been working very hard, and to no avail, to persuade the Palestinians not to apply. (Source: BBC)

Meanwhile Israeli snipers took aim with American-supplied weapons at Palestinians at the Qalandia checkpoint between occupied Jerusalem and Ramallah on September 23, 2011. (L.A. Times)


"One year ago, I stood at this podium and called for an independent Palestine. I believed then – and I believe now – that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own."
- President Barack Obama, Speech to UN General Assembly, 21 September 2011

Francis A. Boyle, Professor of International Law, on the bid for Palestinian statehood:

This week, President Obama has attacked the Palestinian UN membership bid as a 'distraction' and Secretary of State Clinton has claimed the U.S. 'strongly supports' the two-state solution but that the 'way of getting a lasting solution is through direct negotiations between the parties.'

Negotiations with the Israelis were Plan A, but as I have advised the Palestinian leadership since 1987, Plan B would be to get UN full membership. The Israelis have refused to negotiate in good faith for all these years, so the Palestinians have now implemented Plan B. Far from being a distraction, a Palestinian UN bid would greatly enhance Palestinian rights. A UN member state of Palestine would be in a perfect position to bring Israeli officials before the International Criminal Court for their criminal attacks on Palestinians and illegal settlement activity. And every Palestinian living around the world would automatically become the citizen of a UN member state that is recognized by almost every state in the world. Palestinians would no longer be considered ‘stateless.’

Many have claimed that if the U.S. does indeed veto the Palestinian UN bid, the only option would be for the Palestinians to pursue upgrading Palestine’s current observer status at the UN. This is incorrect. As Palestinian diplomats have recently noted, they can get the U.N. General Assembly to admit Palestine as a UN member state pursuant to the terms of its Uniting for Peace Resolution 377 (1950). So Obama’s veto at the Security Council can be circumvented by the General Assembly through the Uniting for Peace Resolution, which was actually pioneered by the U.S. during the Korean War.

-Francis A. Boyle, Professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign

Francis Boyle was legal advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization and Chairman Yasser Arafat on the Palestinian Declaration of Independence of November 15, 1988, as well as to the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace negotiations and its Chair Dr. Haidar Abdul Shaffi from 1991 to 1993.

Francis A. Boyle is the author of Palestine, Palestinians and International Law

"We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines..."
- President Barack Obama, 19 May 2011

What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows -- a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace...

The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

...the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

- President Barack Obama, 19 May 2011

Source: "U.S. Vetoing Palestinian State It Claims to Support", 16 September 2011

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