UN General Assembly 2011: Palestinian Statehood Bid Explained

The Question Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is expected to request that the United Nations recognize Palestine as a full member of the organization in his scheduled speech before the world body on Friday. If the U.N. accepts the proposal, Palestine will become an independent state, receiving the full rights that other member states currently enjoy.

The new Palestinian state would return to the borders before the War of 1967, which means the Palestinian state would include the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

The Procedure To gain recognition, Palestinian representatives need to complete three steps. Firstly, Palestinian President Abbas must submit a letter to the U.N. secretary general in which he formally states his request and describes Palestine as a "peace-loving state" that accepts the U.N. charter. Abbas is expected to submit this letter after his speech before the world body on Friday. The secretary general would then examine the letter and pass it on to the Security Council. Secondly, the Council would have to approve the request with at least nine out of fifteen votes, and without any of the Council's permanent members casting a veto. In a third phase, the request would need to win a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly -- the conference of all U.N. member states.

Is Palestine Likely To Become A State On Friday? No. The United States, a permanent member of the Security Council, already has announced that it does not support the Palestinian "unilateral" initiative. As President Obama reaffirmed in his speech before the U.N. on Wednesday, the U.S. believes that a Palestinian state only can come about as the result of negotiations with Israel. The U.S. will veto the Palestinian initiative, and this veto ensures that the Palestinians' move to become a full member of the United Nations will fail.

There are, however, a few alternatives.

It is unlikely that Palestinian President Abbas will step back from his full U.N. membership request, as doing so would undermine the political capital he holds with his base. At the same time, the United States is desperate to prevent a vote at the Security Council, as a veto would significantly damage the already tarnished reputation of the U.S. in the Middle East.

President Obama is therefore expected to ask the Palestinian representatives to drop the statehood claim after Abbas delivers his speech before the United Nations. French President Sarkozy, in the meantime, has suggested that Palestinians could relinquish their initiative and instead agree to a one-year timetable for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace accord. Alternatively, Abbas could decide to directly file a petition with the General Assembly to be recognized as a non-state observer member of the United Nations, much like the position the Vatican currently holds. This would give Palestine certain international judiciary privileges without granting it full statehood.

What Does Israel Think? Israel considers the Palestinian initiative an attempt to delegitimize the country and bypass it in negotiations. Israelis are also concerned the move would allow Palestinians to challenge Israel in international organizations and courts.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story referred to "the borders Israel and Palestine shared before the War of 1967." No State of Palestine existed in 1967.