The Case for Palestinian Statehood

Factsheet Series No. 246, created: July 2024, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East
 

CJPME Factsheet 246, published July 2024: This factsheet explores the case for recognizing Palestinian statehood, detailing Palestine’s international recognition and its rights at the UN. The factsheet also focuses on the recent wave of recognition by European states, Canada’s position and how recognition impacts Palestinian statehood and self-determination.

Who recognizes the State of Palestine?

In recent months there has been a new push by European countries to recognize the State of Palestine. As of June 2024, Ireland, Norway, Spain and Armenia announced their formal recognition of Palestine as a state. Slovenia, Malta and Belgium have expressed interest in following suit and recognizing Palestinian statehood.[1]

However, recognition of Palestinian statehood goes back decades. In 1988, the Palestine National Assembly convened in Algiers, announcing its “Independence Document,” whereby 85 states worldwide recognized the State of Palestine.[2] In the following decades, due to bilateral diplomatic efforts, many of the states from the global South and East recognized the State of Palestine. Prior to 2024, Palestine was recognized by 139 countries.

In 2012, the State of Palestine was granted “observer status” at the UN, allowing Palestine to join several United Nations (UN) agencies and international pacts.[3] On May 10, 2024, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to upgrade Palestine’s status at the UN, with 143 member states voting in favour, although the United States vetoed the resolution at the UN Security Council which would have made Palestine a full member of the UN.[4]

The State of Palestine is also a member of regional and international organizations and forums including the Arab League, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).[5]

What is statehood under international law?

Under international law, the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States of 1933 provides the criteria for statehood.[6] These criteria require a state to have a 1) permanent population, 2) a defined territory, 3) a government and 4) the capacity to enter relations with other states.[7] Even if a state does fulfill all the requirements of the Montevideo Convention, it can still be considered a state if it is recognized as such by other states.[8]

When applied, Palestine fulfills at least three of the four criteria of the Montevideo Convention: it has a permanent population, it has a government, and it can enter relations with other states. While it does not have a defined territory, its status remains unaffected, considering Israel occupies Palestinian land illegally.[9] Considering that Palestine is now recognized by 146 countries, Lawyers for Palestine argue that “it appears uncontroversial to conclude that Palestine has the requisite features and widespread support to be legitimately recognised as a state."[10]

What rights does Palestine have as a state under the UN?

In May 2024, Palestine’s status at the UN was upgraded from a “non-member Observer State” to a “permanent Observer State.”[11] As a permanent Observer State, Palestine has more rights at the UN, including full participation in international and UN conferences, the ability to submit proposals and amendments, and the ability for members of the delegation of the State of Palestine to be elected as officers or members of the Main Committees of the General Assembly.[12]

What does recognizing a Palestinian state accomplish?

The act of recognizing Palestine as a state is politically symbolic and serves to add diplomatic pressure on Israel to end its occupation and illegal settlement of Palestinian territory. When several European countries recognized Palestine in 2024, it was a response to Israel’s war crimes in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.[13]

According to Palestinian-American scholar and lawyer Noura Erakat, expanding Palestine’s rights at the UN does not remedy the severity or the extent of Palestinian grievances (i.e. it does not bring an end to Israel’s occupation) but may provide “the Palestinian leadership with opportunities to mobilize the international community to exert pressure on Israel with its sovereignty claims or to urge penalties for Israel’s failure to do so.”[14] For instance, Palestine would be able to amplify their appeals for international intervention or increase Israel’s diplomatic and financial costs for their ill-treatment and violations against Palestinians.[15]

Recognition also provides Palestinians with greater access to legal mechanisms to advocate for their rights on the international stage. By joining the UN, Palestine was able to sign and ratify the Rome Statute in 2015.[16] This provides the State of Palestine with a legal forum to pursue accountability and justice under international law for Israeli war crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC).[17]

How does the recognition of Palestinian statehood impact Palestinian self-determination?

Despite the benefits outlined above, Erakat also argues that the act of recognition is largely a performative gesture,[18] and it should not replace tangible action in support of Palestinian liberation and self-determination.

During the announcement of Spain’s formal recognition of Palestine, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said “The only route towards establishing peace is the establishment of a Palestinian state, living side by side with the state of Israel.”[19] Despite this commitment, however, recognition does not change the fact that Palestinian sovereignty still does not exist, as Israel still “maintains de facto control over both territories [the West Bank and Gaza] and effectively controls everything that goes in and out, including people.”[20] Spain, Norway, and Ireland also expressed their support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) as “potential governors” throughout Palestinian territory, whereas many Palestinians are critical of the PA’s role as a subcontractor and collaborator in Israel’s illegal occupation.[21]

Therefore, by failing to address the substantive ways that Israel occupies Palestinian land and disregards Palestinian human rights, acknowledging Palestinian sovereignty remains performative unless it is supported by additional tangible measures.[22] Erakat and others have argued that European states must adopt practical measures like pushing for an arms embargo against Israel, ostracising Israel at the UN and implementing economic sanctions on Israeli companies, institutions and leaders.[23]  

Ultimately, the recognition of a Palestinian state by Ireland, Norway, Spain or any other state does not mean that they are pursuing policies that are in favour of Palestinian self-determination,[24] nor does it do anything to address the continued existence of racist Israeli laws or the oppression that Palestinians endure.[25] To this end, the recognition of Palestine could be accompanied by the downgrading of diplomatic relations with Israel, or other sanctions.

Furthermore, recognizing Palestinian statehood should not be seen as synonymous with support for partition or a “two-state solution.” It is widely believed that Israel has effectively killed the possibility of an independent Palestinian state through decades of deliberate policy, including settlement expansion. Countries like Canada therefore need to be open to the possibility of a future in which Palestinians and Israelis share equal rights within a single democratic state.[26] Regardless, recognizing the State of Palestine can be an intermediate step to help Palestinians pursue self-determination, whatever form it takes.

Does Canada recognize the State of Palestine?

No. While Canada claims that it “recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and supports the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state,”[27] its actions and policies prove otherwise. In 2012, Canada voted against Palestine joining the United Nations as a non-member observer, and later formally objected to Palestine joining UN treaties and conventions.[28] In 2021, Canada tried to discourage the ICC from proceeding with its investigation into Israeli war crimes by claiming that since Canada “does not recognize a Palestinian state” the ICC does not have any jurisdiction.[29] Similarly, in December 2023, Canada voted against the United Nations’ motion to recognize Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and condemn illegal Israeli settlements.[30]

In May 2024, Canada modified its position by abstaining, rather than opposing, the resolution that upgraded Palestine’s status at the UN. Canada explained this decision by saying that it is “prepared to recognize the State of Palestine at the time most conducive to lasting peace, not necessarily as the last step along that path.”[31] However, Canada did not specify why they believe the time is not yet right to recognize Palestine, nor has Canada taken any tangible steps (e.g. sanctions on Israel) to help Palestinians pursue self-determination.

 

[1] “Mapping which countries recognise Palestine in 2024.” Al Jazeera. May 22, 2024

[2] Charif, Maher. “What are the Current Indications Pointing Towards Recognition of a Palestinian State.” Institute for Palestine Studies. April 26, 2024.

[3] For more information, see CJPME Press Release, “CJPME lauds UN’s decision to recognize Palestine as a state,” November 2012.

[4] “United Nations General Assembly backs Palestinian bid for membership.” Al Jazeera. May 10, 2024.

[5] Membership of the State of Palestine in international organizations. State of Palestine website. Accessed June 2, 2024.

[6] Minogue, Dearbhla Katherine, “Palestinian statehood: a route to international justice,” Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights. October 30, 2014.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Quigley, John. “Palestine Statehood and International Law,” Global Policy Essay. (January 2013), p. 4

[10] Minogue, Dearbhla Katherine, “Palestinian statehood: a route to international justice,” Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights. October 30, 2014.

[11] “Palestine’s status at the UN explained.” UN Affairs. April 18, 2024

[12] “UN General Assembly presses Security Council to give ‘favourable consideration’ to full Palestinian membership.” UN News. May 10, 2024.

[13] Elmasry, Mohamad. “The recognition of Palestine is undermined by support for harmful policies.” Al Jazeera. May 29, 2024.

[14] Erakat, Noura. Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019. p. 221.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “State of Palestine,” International Criminal Court, Accessed June 25, 2024, https://www.icc-cpi.int/palestine

[17] Minogue, Dearbhla Katherine, “Palestinian statehood: a route to international justice,” Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights. October 30, 2014.

[18] Elmasry, Mohamad. “The recognition of Palestine is undermined by support for harmful policies.” Al Jazeera. May 29, 2024.

[19] “EU states announce formal recognition of Palestinian state.” Al Jazeera. May 28, 2024.

[20] Hawari, Yara. “Recognition of Palestinian statehood is not the panacea it is made out to be.” Al Jazeera. April 26, 2024.

[21] Elmasry, Mohamad. “The recognition of Palestine is undermined by support for harmful policies.” Al Jazeera. May 29, 2024

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Massad, Joseph, “Instead of recognising 'Palestine', countries should withdraw recognition of Israel,” Middle East Eye, May 30, 2024.

[26] Read CJPME’s position paper, “Beyond the Two-State Solution: A New Canadian Foreign Policy for the Middle East,” July 2021. For further discussion on the one-state solution, see Abdelfattah, Awad and Jeff Halper, “It is time for the one-state solution to go mainstream,” Electronic Intifada, December 17, 2020; Noura Erakat. “Singular Legal Regime Necessitates One-State Solution,” Jadaliyya, March 2, 2020; Yousef Munayyer, “Let's Talk About a One-State Solution Where Israelis and Palestinians Are Equal,” Time, February 17, 2017; Nadia Hijab, “To Achieve One State, Palestinians Must Also Work for Two,” Al-Shabaka, February 7, 2018.

[27] Government of Canada, “Canadian policy on key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Accessed June 25, 2024.

[28] Canadian Press. “Canada opposes 15 Palestinian attempts to join United Nations treaties.” February 16, 2015. 

[29] Global Affairs Canada, “Statements by Minister of Foreign Affairs on International Criminal Courts decision regarding its jurisdiction over West Bank and Gaza,” February 7, 2021.

[30] CJPME, UN Dashboard, “How Canada Voted 2023.”

[31] Global Affairs Canada, “Canada Abstains from United Nations General Assembly resolution on Admission of new Members to the United Nations,” May 10, 2024.