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Q&A: Internationalisation

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What is the Palestinian strategy of 'Internationalisation', and what is it intended to achieve? Has it been successful? And how is it perceived by Israel?

What is ‘internationalisation’?

'Internationalisation' refers to the Palestinian strategy of using international legal mechanisms and membership of internationally-recognised bodies to assert Palestinian statehood.

Why has it been used as a strategy?

The two-state solution, which has been the foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since the Oslo agreement in 1993, was intended to lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. However, the Oslo process not only failed to proceed as planned, but has been undermined by continued Israeli settlement-building in areas that are supposed to form part of the future Palestinian state.

In response, Palestinians have sought alternative routes to self-determination. The aim of internationalisation is to use the weight of international law and the authority of international institutions to build global support for, and give increasingly tangible form to, Palestinian statehood.

Previous efforts

The Palestinians began pursuing recognition for the state of Palestine in the 1990s, when they lobbied European countries to recognise a potential Palestinian declaration of statehood.

In 2003, they initiated a resolution in the UN General Assembly in which they referred the issue of the legality of Israel’s separation wall to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In 2004, the ICJ found that the construction of the wall was contrary to international law.

The campaign to join the United Nations

In 2011, the UNESCO General Conference voted to admit Palestine as a member. This was significant not only in its implicit recognition of Palestinian statehood, but also in its recognition of the importance of Palestine’s cultural heritage in its own right, separate from Israel. The United States responded by withdrawing its share of UNESCO funding, which made up a fifth of the organisation’s total budget.

The UNESCO vote was part of the Palestinian bid for full recognition of statehood at the United Nations. The original aim was to gain full member-state status, based on the 1967 borders, through the UN Security Council. However, this attempt stalled due to the Security Council’s failure to reach a unanimous decision.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), then submitted a downgraded request to the UN General Assembly for non-member observer state status, which would allow Palestinian representatives to participate in General Assembly debates. This bid in November 2012 was successful, with 138 countries voting in favour, 9 opposing the bid and 41 abstaining. Since then, the Palestinians have pursued a policy of gaining full bilateral recognition from individual UN member states.

Palestine’s designation as a state by the UN, and its UNESCO membership, give the Palestinian leadership greater access to certain international mechanisms. For example, Palestine is now eligible to apply for membership of specialised agencies of the UN and other key international organisations. Initially this would likely involve signing international treaties seen as less ‘threatening’, such as the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the Geneva Conventions.

However, Israel has expressed concern that the Palestinians might use their new status to sign the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and push for an investigation into human rights violations by the Israeli military. Both Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator, and President Mahmoud Abbas, have publicly discussed the possibility of approaching the ICC.

How could this affect the current peace talks?

The Palestinian Authority agreed to temporary suspension of their internationalisation campaign, partly as an inducement for starting the current round of talks initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry. However the PA has warned that if the talks fail, or if Israeli settlement building continues, they will consider resuming the implementation of further steps in the internationalisation strategy.

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