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What does Palestine’s ‘observer state’ status mean?

Dan LeRoy | Fulcrum Staff

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted to grant Palestine an “observer state” status on Nov. 29. This essentially means that Palestine is one level below being granted full state status at the UN, which is something the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been seeking for years. Their status is now equivalent to the Vatican City in the eyes of the UN.

The request by the PA was overwhelmingly supported by the international community—France, China, Spain, Brazil, India, and 133 other nations voted in favour. Forty-one nations, including Great Britain, abstained, while nine nations voted against.

What happened at the UN General Assembly was a positive step forward for global justice and peace; however, Zane Colt, the Ottawa city-wide president of the Israel Awareness Committee (IAC), believes  the situation on the ground hasn’t changed.

“You are not going to find peace in the Middle East in New York City,” said Colt.

Colt’s general view is that real recognition of Palestinian statehood is something Israel would like to eventually see in a two-state solution—whereby Israel has one state and Palestine another. But this is something that can only be obtained through direct negotiations with Israel.

In Colt’s view, the motion to grant Palestine an “observer state” status will not necessarily negatively affect things on the ground, as some critics have been warning, but will most definitely not do anything positive.

“The vote will ultimately change nothing,” said Colt.

Robert Prazeres, from the University of Ottawa chapter of Solidarity for Palestine Human Rights (SPHR), may have agreed with Colt that the new upgraded status at the UN is not likely to improve the situation on the ground, but he still believes the vote is an important one.

“While the UN motion is a positive one that can do no harm to either Israelis or Palestinians, as far as we are concerned the struggle for Palestinian rights continues much as it did before, regardless of the vote,” said Prazeres.

This sense of euphoria could be seen on TV, with footage of people dancing on the streets of Ramallah.

The SPHR claims that the vote will be important in highlighting the human rights violations occurring in the area and grant Palestine a voice and recognition in the International Criminal Court. SPHR hopes the news will open up more debate as to why countries, such as Canada and the US, would oppose such a peaceful and positive measure.

So what does all this mean for the average Canadian seeking a more peaceful world? It is hard to say. In my view, dialogue is always where peace lies. I know this may seem a little naive after more than 60 years of violence between these two groups and multiple summits and peace negotiations, but dialogue is the only approach that could eventually bring a real sense of state-to-state understanding and peace. We might as well keep on tirelessly firing off negotiations.

This vote at the UN will encourage more dialogue and more negotiations either at the International Court or in New York City. Regardless, the more aware we are of the untenable situation in the Middle East, the more minds and governments will be directed to helping eventually find a way to peace.