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Cole writes: "The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to accord Palestine the status of 'Observer State' on Thursday, with 138 countries voting in favor of the measure, 41 abstaining, and only 9 voting against."

A young Palestinian waves a flag. (photo: Getty Images)
A young Palestinian waves a flag. (photo: Getty Images)

Europe Leads UN Vote for Palestinian Statehood

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

30 November 12


he United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to accord Palestine the status of "Observer State" on Thursday, with 138 countries voting in favor of the measure, 41 abstaining, and only 9 voting against. The US and Israel were decisively marginalized, as Italy and Sweden joined France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and several other European countries in voting for the new status. Continental Western Europe and Scandinavia were almost unanimous in supporting the Palestinians, in a kind of declaration of independence from the Obama administration. Even Germany, which for historical reasons is typically reluctant to buck Israel, voted to abstain rather than to oppose.

From the Israeli press, it appears that many government and press figures are absolutely stunned and in a state of angry disbelief over the magnitude of this diplomatic defeat. The Israeli Right wing is so out of touch with how its aggressive policies are seen by the outside world and so self-righteous and arrogant that it even launched a Facebook page urging a boycott of Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli merely for tweeting during the recent Gaza war, "I pray for the safety of the citizens on both sides and for the day when we will live in peace and harmony. Amen." Caring about human beings from the other side, or praying for peace are apparently verboten in "Strong Israel." (Somehow I think Ms. Rafaeli's fan base is secure, inside and outside Israel).

How the World voted:

Green: In favor; Red: Against; Yellow: Abstain; Blue: Absent; Grey: Non-Members

The UNGA vote will not have a big immediate effect on the lives of Palestinians toiling under Israeli occupation. But over time, if the Palestinian leadership deploys it wisely, the new status could have an incremental effect, especially affecting Israel's relationship to Europe. Europe itself now has the opportunity to play the kind of honest broker between the two sides that the US pretended to but almost never did (Jimmy Carter a partial exception).

Many European countries have elevated the Palestine mission in their capitals to the status of full embassy. Palestine's new status as UN observer state could well become a basis for it being given further embassies in Europe. Being an embassy rather than a mission strengthens the legal status of Palestine, including in national courts and EU tribunals.

Israel's economy is deeply dependent on its relationship to Europe, the largest single source of imports into Israel and the second-largest market for exports (after the United States). European investment in Israel is also significant, as are various agreements giving Israel access to European technological advances and promoting scientific and technological exchange.

The European Union imports 15 times more goods from Israeli setter enterprises in the Occupied West Bank than from the Palestinians themselves. Europe is therefore a major, hidden support for Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.

Much speculation has focused on whether Palestine will attempt to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, getting specific Israeli officials or officers indicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity. Such cases may well be brought, and if successful might more or less imprison the individual inside Israel, since traveling abroad would risk arrest by Interpol.

But actually, gaining the standing to provoke resolutions and statements from various United Nations bodies and committees is also important. Such documents can then be cited in the European Parliament and in national parliaments in Europe. Over time, a latticework of human rights law on the treatment of the Palestinians can be erected that might well cause Europeans to boycott settler-made goods or even Israel proper (after all, the settlers are being sent into Palestine by the Likud government). One Israeli strategy over the years has been to attempt to prevent the creation of such a body of resolutions, findings, and judgments (the US veto on the Security Council and the lack of Palestinian standing as a state to bring matters before the UNGA both aided in this Israeli quest for impunity).

A big problem with international law, such as the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Occupied populations (1949), the Apartheid convention, etc., is that they typically do not have attached to them any court in which a practical judgment of guilt can be rendered. The European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court are steps toward achieving such arenas of adjudication for claims of rights violation. But the European Court of Human Rights, e.g., has no mechanism for enforcing its rulings.

It seems to me that any court rulings against Israel will have their major effect through providing a basis for civil society organizations (unions, businesses, associations, NGOs) and parliaments to punish Israeli war crimes, Apartheid crimes, and crimes against humanity through boycotts. Over time, such steps could begin having a major impact on settler enterprises and even on the Israeli economy itself (which is fragile and highly dependent on foreign trade with Europe, since its goods are often shunned in the Middle East).

An example is the recent demand of the youth wing of the Swedish Social Democratic Party that Sweden boycott all settler-made goods. (Sweden, a little unexpectedly, voted for the UNGA resolution yesterday). If such demands proliferate, and the next generation of Europeans feels so strongly on this issue, the settlers could end up bankrupted.

How this could work is clear on a small scale is apparent in the 2010 European Court of Justice ruling that goods from the Occupied West Bank do not fall under the European Union's preferential trade provisions for Israeli goods. What is important here is that German authorities declined to allow the British firm Brita to import mineral water tariff-free into Germany because they believe it originated with a settler company in the West Bank. The German decision was upheld by the ECJ.

Expect to see more such decisions by governments in Europe, and by its courts. The Palestinian victory at the UN will likely begin creating a whole set of new opportunities for the Palestinians to make their case in the most important Israeli market. your social media marketing partner


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+48 # NanFan 2012-11-30 10:30
Wahoo! Good for Europe and ALL that made this historic decision to recognize and empower Palestine via the construct of the UN.

All of the benefits will aid them, but the most important would be to 1) Call out the Israeli government officials on war crimes in the International Court, and to do this through massive boycotts worldwide of Israeli settler-made goods.

Great article, Juan! Great day for the world. And bravo to Europe states who voted for Palestine to be recognized in the UN as an observer State.

Finally! And shame, shame on the US and Canada! What does Israel really do for your countries that warrants this ongoing support from you? NOTHING but more violence and war. NOTHING!

+10 # Activista 2012-11-30 21:35
Finally! And shame, shame on the US and Canada and Czech Republic - world should boycott them (aka sanctions).
+40 # jmac9 2012-11-30 10:43
Israel is the problem. Israel is a terrorist state.
Odd isn’t it that the Jews, brutalized by Christians for over a thousand years and massacred by Nazis, turns around and brutalizes the Arab-Islamic Palestinians.
why is there any harassing of Iran when Israel has 200 nuclear weapons – in a country the size of New Jersey.
Israel refuses to allow nuclear inspection of its facilities
Israel refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferati on treaty
Israel is guilty of war crimes – it used cluster bombs, depleted uranium bullets/shells, and phosphorus against the Palestinians all given to them by the USA.
Israel gets USA welfare of $3 Billion a year – with no accounting of where the money goes.
That Berlin wall of shame that Israel has built to make it’s Apartheid system of racism was paid for by American taxpayers.
The USA has vetoed over 70 UN resolutions that were trying to hold Israel accountable for its terrorism against the Palestinians.
And Lest we forget - It was the minority population Jews who in 1948 - drove off the majority population Arab-Islamic Palestinians from the lands that the Palestinians had held for over a 1000 years.
Finally some group of Arab-Islamics decided to attack the money bags that support the Israeli terrorism against the Palestinian people – hello September 11.
+13 # vt143 2012-11-30 17:14
Odd isn’t it that the Jews, brutalized by Christians for over a thousand years and massacred by Nazis, turns around and brutalizes the Arab-Islamic Palestinians.

You see the same dynamic among individuals who have been abused: they often become abusers themselves. Many people who have been abused as children go on to become abusers themselves. It seems odd, that one who has suffered then inflicts the same suffering on others. It takes a strong person (nation) to stop the cycle of abuse.
+9 # genierae 2012-11-30 11:06
Thank God, finally the Palestinians get a break! The Great Awakening is happening and people are not going to put up with bullies such as Israel anymore. Next step is to abolish the Security Council and let the General Assembly rule on everything. One country, one vote. The US still has a unique role to play, leading the world with honor and distinction, but first the great leveling.
+20 # reiverpacific 2012-11-30 11:20
Were it not for conservative Harper, I think that Canada might have been green too -any Canadians on RSN have an opinion about this?
I'm almost pleasantly surprise that Cameron's UK at least kept out -but when Scotland, as a basically socialist country pulls fully away from England, it will surely join the Republic of Ireland in supporting Palestinian statehood.
Maybe the UK is abstaining as the progenitors of the current location of an imposed Israeli "homeland" in the first place after they carved up what they perceived as "their" chunk of post WW11 Middle East.
The rest is good and very telling.
One thing that the map utterly emphasizes is the stunningly small land area under so much long-term conflict and weighty consideration.
Sadly, I have a feeling that Obama privately supports at least a peaceful solution for a secure Palestinian land free from LIKUD's warmongering but is not about to alienate the far-too-powerfu l and wealthy pro-Israel Leiberman-lubri cated lobby here -but what do I know-? Maybe just wishful thinking on my part.
+14 # Archie1954 2012-11-30 12:38
Canada's media is decidely anti Palestinian. I can't imagine why? Harper is an extremist, right wing, evangelical who is twisting our foreign policy to suit his religious ideology. Everyone has a right to believe what they wish but not to redefine a nation's international standing in the world to pay homage to his beliefs.
+9 # Mannstein 2012-11-30 21:53
The Mossad murdered my acquaintance Jerry Bull who had dual US Canadian citizenship in Brussels Belgium and neither Canada nor the US did didly sqwat. Mossad agents also used falsified Canadian passports in the past. Again Canada did nothing. All Western politicians are under their thumb.
+8 # Archie1954 2012-12-01 00:19
The Israelis also murdered a Canadian military officer acting as a UN observor, Hess Von Krudener. The Canadian government did nothing as usual because as far as it is concerned the Israelis have carte blanche to murder as amny Canadians as they so desire.
+7 # sibbaldflats 2012-11-30 19:49
The Harper neocons were, in the last vote, elected with 39% of the ballots cast and aided by a split in Canada's centre-left. It's true Harper is a fundamentalist Christian, but their unconditional, slavering support for Israel goes beyond that. They see it as a way to win the Jewish vote in central and eastern Canada but even more, it's part of their right-wing ideological DNA. They're true believers. Even when Israel murdered a Canadian peacekeeping soldier and a Canadian family in their 2006 onslaught on Lebanon, Harper was quick to make excuses for the killers and strongly backed their actions, calling the massacre of civilians "measured." His outrageous treason has never been a big issue in Canada.
The Harperites will bend on a number of things, but on Israel, they will never yield an inch, no matter how badly it impacts Canada's fortunes on the world stage and morally degrades their country. Canada's population - despite an overwhelmingly pro-Israel right-wing media - is much in favour of a more even-handed approach but the Harperites know it's not an issue that will cost them power. They've now become Israel's most slavish ally, though not a powerful one by any means. Many Canadians recognize the urgent need to defeat the Harperites in the next election, to be held in about 2-1/2 years. But sad to say, the current and even increasing fracturing of the opposition vote will likely ensure their reign - and a Parliamentary majority at that.
+15 # America 2012-11-30 12:01
Cheers! There is hope yet in this world. Thank you social media and good mass communcations Israel's bullyism was noted and not condoned by the rest of the world.
Shame Obama!! Shame !! for siding with these warmongers and wasting our taxpayer monies sending arms and supporting their war campaign.

It is over Israel... better start making peace with your neighbors. You are outnumbered. The good book says if you live by the sword you die by the sword
+14 # Erdajean 2012-11-30 12:21
Exactly what do Obama and Hillary think they are doing, supplying the brass knucks, sharp sticks and glowing approval for the bully on the world playground? Likud is the ugly mean-girl at the school picnic, and whatever would be the reason to play "Me Too!" to such an aggressor? Especially when there is nothing whatever to be gained for abetting such a beast.
Do we owe her unlimited foot-kissing, because she "likes us" enough to take our boundless gifts of money and armaments? Is that the way it works?
We hear that the Ruling Right of Israel is making threats against Palestinians and anyone else who reports abuse by Israel to the International Criminal Court.
Barack and Hillary, is this what makes you love these people above justice, world-standing and plain old common sense?
Thank you, Juan Cole, and to Europe and all who stood up for long-overdue fairness to Palestinians.
+12 # grouchy 2012-11-30 12:25
YEAH! As a first step.
-19 # logical1 2012-11-30 13:02
Juan Cole
I do not see any articles from you on the geonicide in Ruwanda or ethnic cleansing in Africa or elsewhere around the world.
It seems you have a bias against only Israel.
I am for a Palestinian state also. Would like to see a government with a constitution. Without such, a state there, is a sham.
+7 # Mannstein 2012-11-30 21:56
Ruwanda makes no claims that it is a liberal democracy unlike Israel.
-1 # stannadel 2012-12-01 04:15
So it's ok to commit crimes against humanity as long as you don't claim to be a liberal democracy?
+2 # Mannstein 2012-12-01 19:24
No, it is not OK to commit crimes against humanity if you're a dictatorship but if you claim to be the light unto the nations of the world you damn well better act the part or you'll be called out for what you realy are i.e. a hypocritical nation.
-1 # stannadel 2012-12-01 04:17
So it's ok to commit crimes against humanity as long as you don't claim to be a liberal democracy. That would have been good news for the defendants at Nuremberg.
0 # Mannstein 2012-12-01 19:30
If Nuremberg had not been a kangaroo court where the defendants were prosecuted for breaking post ex facto laws, Churchill, Truman, and Uncle Joe would have been forced to join the Germans in the dock.

The US Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials a high class lynching party.
-24 # shamar 2012-11-30 13:04
rsn tells us " that making the world better begins with responsible action". I would be more impressed, if articles like this one made an attempt at being balanced and abstained from unfounded summary judgements. Israel has had 60 years of constant attack, both militarily and by verbal and written demonizing. This article only continues the despicable practice.
+12 # allanmillard 2012-11-30 16:01
As a Canadian and former diplomat (who served in Israel a long time ago), I am deeply ashamed of the unprincipled stand of our current Conservative government. PM Harper was one of the first in the western world to condemn the democratically- elected Hamas government in Gaza early in 2006, and the bias just got worse every year. Harper even said the Israeli attack on Lebanon, complete with cluster munitions, was "balanced". The only bright side is that Canada is now so marginalized in world affairs as an American flunky that our vote in the UNGA is worthless. We like to keep company with the Marshall Islands and other great defenders of Israel.

For the pro-Israel trolls on RSN I can only say that there is no moral balance in West Asia. I know the history. The Palestinian holocaust is no less a holocaust merely because the Zionists are taking a long time to consolidate Eretz Israel.

-4 # stannadel 2012-12-01 04:22
Holocaust? What was the Palestinian population in 1947 and 1967? What is it now? Some holocaust! We can oppose Israeli policies without engaging in idiotic exaggerations.
+2 # RMDC 2012-12-01 10:16
stann -- go read the UN convention against Genocide. You'll see what a holocaust is.
+1 # Mannstein 2012-12-01 19:33
If any other country were perpetrating the outrages Israel is on the Palestinians that country would have been bombed by the US and NATO long ago. It would be toast.
+4 # DurangoKid 2012-11-30 16:24
This could backfire. If the Israeli hardliners think they're backed into a corner, they could retaliate by an all-out effort to eliminate the Palestinians once and for all. All it would take is to draw one of their neighbors into a war and wipe out Gaza as collateral damage. Oopsie. Israel's biggest ally and benefactor, the US, routinely ignores the World Court when its rulings run counter to US interests. The short answer is whoever challenges Israel will also have to answer to the US. This vote in the UN has upped the stakes. Also keep in mind that any issue that requires the attention of the Security Council still has to overcome a US veto. You can bet the Department of State is already looking into ways to get around this.

It's good to have some accountability for Israel's actions in the occupied lands. It won't come without a price.
+6 # beestingCan 2012-11-30 17:14
To # logical1
Pray tell, does Israel have a constitution? Methink not. At the moment, the Likud platform is the Israeli government roadmap: No sovereign Palestinian state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. So...???
+2 # fhunter 2012-11-30 19:43
The Russian Jews, immigrated in large numbers after the collapse of the Soviet Union, found a paradise on the West Bank. They are not going to give it up. They can keep the Likud in power forever.
+3 # Activista 2012-11-30 21:46
Today (11/30/2012) US senators voted 94-0 to make the new sanctions against Iran part of an annual $$$$ defense policy bill.
This made me so sick - but reading the pro Palestinians comments above reversed it - I do belong to America. Americans government is oligarchy/anti people. Hope for Amrican Spring - thanks ALL above.
+4 # RMDC 2012-12-01 10:14
This is a great day for the UN which has finally done the right thing. Support for Palestinians has always been strong in the US general assembly so this does not indicate a change in world opinion.

WHat is says is that the "peace process" with Israel is dead. Israel is not a "partner for peace" and will never concede any form of recognition to Palestinians. Many of us have known it was dead since 1948. The right wing zionists who have controlled Israel for all of its history intend to spread the jewish state to all of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean (including parts of Syria and lebanon). They will never stop unless forced.

Palestine will be recognized as a nation by means that don't include Israel. Why should Israel have any power to decide whether or not Palestine is a state? The UN can grant statehood to Palestine tomorrow, if it were not for the US and UK on the Security Council. But this is the first step.

Palestinians now will have the ability to bring criminal actions of Israel before the UN and world judicial bodies. Israel will have to face up to its crimes.
+2 # Beobachter 2012-12-01 15:25
Soon after Israel was created in 1948, it had a population of 600,000. In 1953, the Israeli Knesset granted a right to citizenship to Jews the world over. Consequently, and in great part as a result of immigration following the fall of the Soviet Union, Israel's population now has grown to 7,000,000! But ... where to locate them all???

Ironically, for decades Israel has been on a quest for "Lebensraum". Through brutal occupation and annexation, it has been attempting to create "Greater Israel", the longtime goal of the Zionist movement since its founding in Austria in 1890.

And, Israel and the U.S. have been calling on, indeed, forcing the helpless and hopeless Palestinians to pay the price to achieve that end.

Will the day ever come when American politicians, both in Congress and the White House, are no longer so intimidated by, and bought off by, Israel's surrogates here in the U.S. that they will dare to say "No!" to AIPAC, et al, and begin to act in the Middle East in America's best interests for a change?
+2 # Mannstein 2012-12-01 19:50
"Will the day ever come when American politicians, both in Congress and the White House, are no longer so intimidated by, and bought off by, Israel's surrogates here in the U.S. that they will dare to say "No!" to AIPAC, et al, and begin to act in the Middle East in America's best interests for a change?"

Don't hold your breath they are all afraid including the Europens of the Samson Option.

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