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Will the UN vote change anything for Palestinians?

Roger Waters, center, founding member of Pink Floyd, meets U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, second from right, sits waiting for the start of a meeting on Palestine, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 in New York.

Bebeto Matthews/AP

By many calculations of today's vote at the United Nations, Palestinians are poised to emerge victorious – with a majority of member countries set to vote in favour of a resolution that Palestinians believe carries an implicit recognition of statehood.

Efforts by the United States, Canada and Israel to dissuade the Palestinians from bringing forth the resolution have fallen short.

But even as people in the West Bank and Gaza prepare to celebrate, there are questions over how Palestinians will use their newfound status at the UN. The effect could be decidedly anti-climactic.

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"If I was a Palestinian living in Gaza or West Bank, I'd ask why my leaders are trotting off to New York again for a bit of theatre that has little or no effect on the ground," said Carne Ross, founder and executive director of Independent Diplomat, a non-profit advisory group that works with states, NGOs and political groups.

Today's vote is not expected to bring Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table. Direct negotiations have not happened in two years, and issues like Israeli settlements, final borders, Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem are nowhere near being resolved. Going to the United Nations, Mr. Ross argues, has achieved little in the past.

"I'm afraid I'm rather cynical about it. I feel the Palestinians have a very long record of going to the UN. The outcome of those decisions has been nil," he said.

The key part of today's resolution concerns the Palestinian request for an upgrade at the United Nations from its current status as a non-member "entity" that has observer status to a non-member "state."

It is not quite the full member state-status that Palestinians sought and failed to achieve a year ago, but it is seen as symbolic and a step closer in that direction – so the argument goes.

But Mr. Ross, who spent 4 1/2 years with the United Kingdom delegation at the UN Security Council, argues that some are reading too much into the resolution.

"You don't implicitly recognize a state – you either do or you don't," he said, adding, "Palestine is not a state – and the resolution does not make Palestine a state."

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The expectation is that Palestinians will use their new status to join UN agencies and to seek membership at the International Criminal Court (ICC) with the intention of drawing greater scrutiny to Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians have said they are in no rush to join the ICC and use that access with the aim of investigating Israeli actions.

The ICC rejected a request by the Palestinian Authority earlier this year to investigate alleged war crimes during the 2008-2009 Israeli military operation in Gaza.

Mr. Ross argues that it is far from clear that the ICC, which has a "very conservative" record in the investigations in chooses to open, would exercise its jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories. As well, today's resolution does not say a word about the ICC, he adds.

Signing up to the ICC would require a state signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. There are questions over whether today's resolution and its implied statehood would allow Palestinians to join the ICC.

Another expectation is that Palestinians will use their symbolic victory and newfound status to join UN agencies and organizations where they will have a greater voice to make their arguments.

"It will make membership easier, but not automatic by any means," said Mr. Ross, who is helping the world's newest country, South Sudan, navigate the complexities of joining UN agencies. Each UN body has its own complicated membership procedures, he added.

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Beyond the complexity, there might be other reasons agencies will have to think carefully before admitting Palestine.

When the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted Palestine as a member last year, the U.S. withheld $60 million in funding – representing a fifth of the organization's budget.

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About the Author

Affan Chowdhry is the Globe's multimedia reporter specializing in foreign news. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked at the BBC World Service in London creating international news and current affairs programs and online content for a global audience. More


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