Lift lid of Abbas’s bid and you’ll see a rejection of compromise

in his speech last month at the UN General Assembly, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian application for membership of the UN was submitted "on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders".

Abbas called for the recognition of an "independent state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the land of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the June 1967 war."

Although the speech contained an unbridled attack on Israel, commentators have found comfort in the fact that this was a renunciation of Palestinian territorial claims beyond the 1967 borders and, by implication, recognition of Israel within those borders.

Although a call to return to the 1967 borders implies a call to transfer the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and the Western Wall to a Palestinian state, nevertheless it also means Palestinian recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Western Jerusalem.

It is disturbing, however, that, as distinct from the speech, the actual application for UN membership makes no reference to the 1967 line or to the borders of the Palestinian state.

In an accompanying letter to the UN Secretary General, Abbas writes that the vast majority of the international community has accorded recognition to the state of Palestine "on the basis of the 4 June 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital". In other words, the letter notes that the international community supports the 1967 line but again makes no statement as to what the Palestinians themselves see as their border.

The Palestinian submission for membership refers to only two supporting documents, the 1947 Partition Plan and the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence.

The 1988 Declaration was deliberately vague in its reference to borders, referring to "the establishment of the state of Palestine on our Palestinian territory". The 1947 UN Partition Plan recommended borders that, inter alia, gave nearly the whole of the Galillee and Beersheva to a proposed Arab state and excluded Jerusalem from both the Arab and Jewish State.

The Palestinian letter of submission adds that their application for membership is consistent with the rights of the Palestine refugees, "in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194". This UN Resolution recommended that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date".

The Palestinian position is that "refugee" applies to descendants of refugees and that therefore there are now some five million Palestinian refugees who have a right to return to Israel.

Thus, although ostensibly restricting Palestinian territorial demands to the 1967 borders, an examination of the text appears to show that the submission for UN membership may have been encumbered with conditions and demands that could raise immense difficulties in future negotiations.

Robbie Sabel is a professor of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem

Last updated: 10:07am, October 27 2011