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Friday, 9 September 2011

'Vatican option' for a Palestinian state?

I'm intrigued to read in the Financial Times about the 'Vatican option', which would upgrade the Palestinians' UN mission from 'observer entity' to 'observer state', "the same rank enjoyed by the Holy See. Palestinian leaders believe the upgrade would mark an important step towards formal statehood and pave the way for Palestinian membership of other international organisations – including, most controversially, the International Criminal Court." 

The UN General Assembly could vote to do this on 20 September (when it is poised to vote on Palestinian statehood), and it would then actually happen. Whereas, if the General Assembly voted instead for a full upgrade to 'member state', it would have to go to the Security Council, where the US would veto it, because they want a Palestinian state to be created through Israeli/Palestinian peace talks, not through unilateral action by the Palestinians. 

My friends to the Right would accuse me of naivety if I 'supported' the Vatican option. Some friends to the Left probably wouldn't like it either, as they don't understand why the UN can't just create a Palestinian state immediately. When it comes to the International Criminal Court (ICC), there is a technical debate among lawyers as to whether (given how the ICC works) the Vatican option would actually give the Palestinians any greater access to the ICC - I don't know, as I'm not a lawyer. 

I want the ICC's rules to be applied fairly and equally in all parts of the world, including the UK, Israel, France, India, Guatemala, Micronesia - everywhere. In an ideal world, why should Palestinians not be able to complain to the ICC about the Israelis or about anybody else? Why should Israelis not be able to complain to the ICC about the Hamas regime in Gaza? 

But I understand Israel's desire not to be bombarded with attempted court cases that are politically motivated and have little to do with justice. I understand why Israel would see the ICC as just another stick for world opinion to beat it with. So I get why that matters. I cannot, however, get too worked up about the Palestinians getting greater access to the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and UNESCO. Indeed, given that Israel (including under its current government) has worked hard with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to create the institutions of Palestinian statehood, there are circumstances in which Israel itself would have welcomed greater Palestinian access to such bodies, as a step on the way to a negotiated two-state solution. 

These are not those circumstances. This, is, arguably, none of my business, as I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian. So it's not that I 'support' the Vatican option; it's that I can imagine a situation in which the parties themselves (Israel and Palestine, with the support of the US, the EU and the world community) were themselves both proposing it as a step on the way to the negotiated creation of a Palestinian state. That is not where we are, but if the two parties return to the negotiating table, is it where we can get to? Prime Minister Netanyahu said the other day: "(Palestinian President Abbas) can come to Jerusalem, I could go to Ramallah or we could both go to Brussels" in another call for direct peace talks without conditions. Surely it would be a good thing if President Abbas said yes to this immediately?


  1. "My friends to the Right would accuse me of naivety if I 'supported' the Vatican option. Some friends to the Left probably wouldn't like it either,"

    It's not a bad rule with Isreal/Palestine matters that if both sides are shouting "Betrayal" at you then your in about the right place.

    On the ICC - does it not have procedures for weeding out unfounded cases or complaints which fall outside its jurisdiction? Surely that's the way to deal with the situation you suggest

  2. Thank you. Yes, I think that the ICC only takes cases in countries whose own courts can't or won't take the cases. So I had previously heard that, if an Israeli citizen was accused of war crimes, the ICC would not investigate, because Israel's own judicial system would investigate, hence no need for the ICC to get involved.