UN can't determine borders or statehood

This September, or perhaps earlier, the Palestinian observer delegation to the UN may introduce a resolution at the General Assembly calling for recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries. Because of the automatic anti-Israel majority in the Assembly, it must be assumed that such a resolution, if proposed, will be adopted by a large majority.

In fact, a 2003 Arab-sponsored UN General Assembly resolution has already called for a "two-State solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security based on the Armistice Line of 1949".

A new such resolution would grant the Palestinians further international support for their demand for a return to the 1967 lines. Under international law, however, UN General Assembly resolutions are not binding, not even for those states voting for them.

Furthermore, except for cases where a former border is inherited by new states, borders can only be delimited by agreement between the states concerned. No UN organ has the authority to delimit boundaries.

A General Assembly resolution recognising a Palestinian state would not even mean acceptance of Palestine into the UN. Only if the Security Council recommends membership can the Assembly accept a new member state to the UN. Decisions of the Security Council are of course subject to the veto of any of the five permanent members, which includes the US.

It remains to be seen whether the Palestinian Authority will in fact declare a state within the 1967 lines. Such a declaration would be a violation of the Oslo agreements, enabling Israel to legally claim that it is no longer obliged to fulfil its Oslo obligations, which include transferring funds, supplying electricity and allowing movement of goods and persons.

Moreover, a Palestinian declaration of independence within the 1967 borders conceivably implies that they have given up a claim to the whole of Palestine. It might also have the effect of changing the current image of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute from that of a homeless people under military occupation into a fairly minor border dispute between two states.

The Assembly cannot determine boundaries, nor can it confer statehood. A boundary between Israel and a Palestinian state can only be determined by a deal between the parties.

Robbie Sabel is a professor of international law at the Hebrew University and the former legal adviser to the Israel
Foreign Ministry

Last updated: 2:46pm, June 6 2011