Susan Rice: U.N. Vote ‘Does Not Establish that Palestine Is a State’

By Matt Cover | December 3, 2012 | 1:57pm EST

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice (AP Photo)

( – U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said that a vote elevating the status of the Palestinians at the United Nations did not establish that Palestine is its own separate country, a serious issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians.

“This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state,” Rice said Wednesday at the U.N. in New York. “Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall. Nor does passing any resolution create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground.”

In a 138-9 vote, the U.N. General Assembly agreed to upgrade Palestine’s status from non-member observer entity to non-member observer state – a critical distinction that technically recognizes Palestine as an independent country.

However, as Rice pointed out, the vote puts the cart before the horse, because key issues remain unresolved.

“Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade. And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded,” she said.

Chief among the unresolved issues are the borders of a Palestinian state. Israel still technically maintains control over the West Bank – territory that would form the bulk of a future Palestinian state.

At a more basic level, the issue of unresolved borders places a cloud over the U.N. vote to call Palestine a state, since having clearly defined borders is one of the four key requirements of a state under traditional international law.

The resolution exacerbates this problem by calling for a “contiguous and viable State of Palestine.” This statement is problematic because the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – the two areas occupied by Palestinians – are not contiguous, and no Israeli government has ever acceded to the idea of making them contiguous.

Another unresolved issue is population. A state must have a permanent – non-migratory –population in order to be a formal state. This issue is also unresolved between Israel and Palestine, since Palestinians insist on a broad-based right of return for refugees from the various Arab-Israeli wars fought between 1948 and 1967, including the descendants of these refugees who have never lived in either Israel or Palestine.

The U.N. resolution makes no mention of who is and is not included in the population of Palestine, mentioning only the right of “self-determination” of the Palestinian people.

The resolution means that Palestine will now share the same status at the U.N. as the Vatican, being a recognized state at the international body that does not have the power to vote in the General Assembly or be a member of the Security Council.

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