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Scorecard The Europe Question

Palestinian statehood at the UN: Why Europeans should vote 'yes'

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Europeans are set to play the pivotal role in a United Nations vote over Palestinian statehood (expected in late September). With the US already declaring its opposition, the votes of the 27 European Union member states are the big prize.

This pivotal role gives Europeans the chance to inject some vitality into the flagging prospects of a two-state solution for the Middle East. Europeans should unite around a ‘yes’ vote. As European foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday 12th September, they should also engage with the Palestinians and urge them to take account of legitimate Israeli concerns.

The Palestinians are likely to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade their UN status from ‘observer’ to ‘non-member state’. This is not the same as recognition, which only individual states can bestow upon Palestine.

In a policy memo published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, “Palestinian statehood at the UN: why Europeans should vote ‘yes’”, Daniel Levy and Nick Witney argue that Europeans should vote ‘yes’ because of:

  1. Consistency – Europe has long supported a 2-state solution, and invested in this politically and financially (over €1 billion a year).
  2. State-building – Europe has supported a Palestinian state building project that the UN, IMF and World Bank all say has met the benchmark of success. A UN vote would give this a political context.
  3. Values – European support for self determination and freedom in the Arab Spring would look insincere if it was followed by rejection of these same rights for Palestinians.
  4. Interests – Europe’s interests align with its values, and allow it to reset a regional role that encompasses crucial issues like security, proliferation, economic growth, energy and immigration – by doing the right thing on an issue that resonates powerfully with Arab public opinion.

The memo also calls for European foreign ministers to mandate Catherine Ashton to urge the Palestinians to reassure the Israelis over their key concerns in exchange for European support, including recognition of Israel’s existence alongside Palestine.

The Palestinians should also clarify that moves towards statehood would not see them rushing precipitously to the International Criminal Court even if it were to confer jurisdiction at some stage.

The authors deal with various other objections to the vote. Notably, the report argues that despite its own opposition, the US may benefit from this, strengthening its hand in future dealings with Israel.

Click here for a pdf of the memo


  • A Palestinian application to the UN Security Council would be vetoed by the US, so they are most likely to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade their status from ‘observer’ to ‘non-member state’, like the Vatican.
  • Previous voting patterns suggest that a global majority in the UNGA will vote ‘yes’. Instead of ‘how many’, attention will be focused on ‘who’ votes in favour of the Palestinians – and the 27 EU votes are the big prize.
  • At the General Affairs Council in Brussels on 12th September, European foreign ministers can encourage the EU’s Foreign Policy High Representative, Catherine Ashton, to engage with the Palestinians over the precise drafting of the resolution.
  • The last attempt by the Quartet (the EU, US, UN and Russia) to resume negotiations over a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authorities failed in July over a text that was considered to have tilted decisively in favour of Israel. This contributed to the Palestinians turning towards the UN.


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