The inalienable right of the people of Palestine to self-determination is indisputable. It has a solid basis in international law, UN resolutions and enjoys overall international legitimacy. Yet, the Palestinian right to self-determination has been systemically denied for decades as a result of Israel’s occupation, and the international community has not assumed its responsibility to fulfill this fundamental right. A significant step in that direction is the recognition of the State of Palestine. This question and answer document highlights this important matter for justice, peace and security.
“The State of Palestine herewith declares that it believes in the settlement of regional and international disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with the U.N. Charter and resolutions. With prejudice to its natural right to defend its territorial integrity and independence, it therefore rejects the threat or use of force, violence and terrorism against its territorial integrity or political independence, as it also rejects their use against territorial integrity of other states.”
(From the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, 15 November 1988)
“Any future peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians cannot be a return to business as usual. If they are, they will be doomed to failure. Instead they must start on a fresh basis, one based firmly on international law and universal human rights with clear parameters and an agreed deadline for their conclusion.”
(The Elders on Support for Recognizing the State of Palestine).
1. Why is it important to recognize the State of Palestine?
The fulfilment of the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination is long overdue as a basic human right, and the recognition of the State of Palestine is a fundamental step in that direction. The recognition of the State of Palestine also helps protect the prospects of a political solution based on two-states on the 1967 border. With Israel, the occupying power, moving ahead with plans of further annexation of occupied territory, it is crucial for the international community to take concrete steps towards ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Ultimately, recognizing the State of Palestine reaffirms the importance of diplomacy, international law and UN resolutions in peacemaking efforts.
2. What are the borders of the State of Palestine?
The State of Palestine, in accordance with the Palestinian peace initiative of the Palestinian National Council in 1988 and UNGA Resolution 67/19, is composed of the territory occupied by Israel in 1967, which includes the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Under international law, Israel has no sovereign rights over the land of the State of Palestine, which is equivalent to a mere 22% of historic Palestine. It is for this reason the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988 is known as the “Historic Compromise.”
3. Do states have the authority under international law to recognize the State of Palestine?
Yes. Every sovereign state has authority to recognize other states through the conduct of diplomatic relations. The recognition of the State of Palestine is a step toward the fulfilment of the right to self-determination. Every state has an obligation to bring an end to any impediment to the Palestinian people’s exercise of this fundamental right, as clearly established under international law and reaffirmed in the International Court of Justice 2004 Advisory Opinion regarding the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory.
4. Would recognition of the State of Palestine impose additional responsibilities on the international community?
The recognition of the State of Palestine does not impose new responsibilities on states, as Third Party States have existing obligations under international law toward the occupied Palestinian population, including ensuring respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention, not recognizing the unlawful situation created by Israel, and actively cooperating to bring the situation to an end, among other obligations. Third State responsibility of non-recognition was recently highlighted by UNSC 2334 which required states to distinguish in their official dealings between occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. The anticipated UN database (mandated by UNHRC 31/36, 2016) of businesses involved in the settlement enterprise is one mechanism that will assist States’ in fulfilling their obligations under international law.
Recognition will certainly enhance the possibilities of cooperation between Palestine and other states, which will undoubtedly strengthen the institutions of the state, multilateralism, peace and diplomacy.
5. Is recognition of Palestine meaningless in the current reality of occupation and possibility of further annexation of lands belonging to the State of Palestine?
No. The presence of a foreign colonial-occupation does not eliminate the existence of the State of Palestine. Recognition of the State of Palestine does not signify a recognition of the current reality of Israeli settlements and siege, rather, and in addition to being the recognition of the Palestinian right to self-determination, it places Palestine on a more level playing field to negotiate final status issues with Israel. Palestine is not the first country that has been subjected to a foreign occupation. The status of France, Poland, Iraq and Namibia as states was never questioned by the international community when they were under a foreign occupation.
6. Should the recognition of the State of Palestine be linked to Israeli announcements of further annexation of occupied Palestinian territory?
No, as annexation of Palestinian territory has been ongoing since Israel occupied in 1967, irrespective of recent or expected Israeli announcements of the same. For example, immediately following the 1967 war, Israel unilaterally expanded the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and formally declared the annexation of the city to Israel. In 1980, the annexation of Jerusalem was reaffirmed with the passage of the “Basic Law,” which declared Jerusalem the “complete and unified” capital of Israel. The continued expansion and entrenchment of the illegal settlement enterprise also represents the ongoing de facto annexation of Palestinian territory, as it deprives the Palestinian people of the ability to exercise their right to self-determination.
Notably, on 18 July 2018, the Israeli parliament passed the “Jewish Nation-State Law”, which proclaims that the Jewish people alone have the right to self-determination in Israel, considers “the development of Jewish settlements as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation,” and reaffirms Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It also uses the term “Land of Israel,” suggesting that its application extends beyond the Green Line to occupied Palestinian territory. The law is therefore designed to provide constitutional cover and legitimacy for Israeli annexation plans.
Despite, numerous United Nations resolutions condemning Israeli violations of international law, including the non-recognition of Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, the international community has failed to act allowing Israel’s culture of impunity to prevail. This has served to systematically deny Palestinians their right to self-determination.
7. How many states currently recognize the State of Palestine?
To date, 139 countries recognize the State of Palestine, including 9 out of the 10 most populated countries in the world. Over 80% of the world’s population lives in countries that have recognized the State of Palestine. The list includes a variety of nations such as South Africa, China, India, Sweden, Russia, Iceland, the Holy See and Brazil, among others, in addition to the entirety of the Arab League and the vast majority of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The latest country to recognize Palestine is Saint Kitts and Nevis.
8. Would the recognition of the State of Palestine undermine the prospects of a Peace Process?
On the contrary. Recognition of the State of Palestine does not undermine the prospects of a Peace Process and should not be viewed as an outcome of any Peace Process, as it is an inalienable right of the people of Palestine. The outcome of any meaningful Peace Process is the creation of a peaceful solution between two sovereign and independent states. Israel’s claims that international recognition of Palestine may undermine the Peace Process are unfounded and reflect the official Israeli position, which actively undermines and rejects the exercise and respect of the rights of the Palestinian people.
9. Does recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border undermine the rights of the Palestinian people living in Israel, refugees and the Diaspora?
No. The exercise of the Palestinian right to have a state does not eliminate other rights under international law, including the right of Palestinian citizens in Israel to be treated as equal citizens and the rights of Palestinian refugees, including their individual rights, in accordance with UNGA resolution 194 and the Arab Peace Initiative as part of a comprehensive peace formula.
 The Elders was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007 and represents a group of “global leaders working together for peace and human rights”. The quote is from an Opinion Piece signed by two of its members, former US President Jimmy Carter and former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. Available at https://theelders.org/news/recognition-palestinian-state last accessed on 12 January 2020.