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Palestine, When is Your Birthday?

Published on December 5, 2012        Author: 

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 Col. (Retired) Liron A. Libman, LL.M, is a former Head of the International Law Department of the Israeli Defense Forces.

On 29 November, in what some reports described as a historic vote, the UN General Assembly accorded to “Palestine” the status of a “non-member observer state” in the organization. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has enjoyed an observer status in the UN since 1974. Since 1988 the PLO mission to the UN was designated “Palestine”. Therefore, the supposed novelty is the UN recognition of Palestine as a state.

I do not want to discuss here the question of Palestinian statehood itself: whether “Palestine” has the objective qualification of a state under international law. Rather, I want to concentrate on the Palestinian official view as to the date when the Palestinian state was established. Many states celebrate their national day on that date, so in simple words, I ask when will the Palestinians celebrate their Independence Day?

I start my inquiry with the epilogue of Dr. Abbas, chairperson of the PLO, in his speech to the General Assembly:

“Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two States and became the birth certificate for Israel.

The United Nations General Assembly is called upon today to issue the birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine.”

Dr. Abbas asked the General Assembly to grant a “birth certificate” to the state of Palestine. Taking this metaphor seriously, this implies that the Palestinian state already exists. To the best of my knowledge (as a father, if I may add), first, a child is born and only afterwards can the happy parents receive a birth certificate. The certificate is an official acknowledgement of a fait accompli.

However, Dr. Abbas paralleled the resolution he asks for with General Assembly resolution 181(II) of 29 November 1947, which he views as the birth certificate of the state of Israel. The problem is that clearly resolution 181(II) did not recognize an existing state of Israel, but rather recommended the future establishment of a Jewish state (alongside an Arab state) upon the termination of the British Mandate. The resolution even set a timetable for the coming into existence of the two future states.  Israel was established only about six months later, on 14 May 1948, when the Jewish People’s Council approved the Declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel. Clearly, resolution 181(II) was not the birth certificate of the state of Israel.

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