Internal UN Memo Silent on Whether Palestinian Statehood Bid Goes Against Signed Int’l Agreements

By Patrick Goodenough | September 21, 2011 | 5:09 AM EDT

U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon meets with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas at U.N. headquarters in New York on September 19, 2011. (U.N. Photo by Eskinder Debebe

( – An internal U.N. memo guiding staff on the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition and membership expresses Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s support for the division of Jerusalem – even though numerous signed agreements emphasizes the issue is one for the parties themselves to negotiate in a final peace settlement.

The “dear colleagues” memo, sent last week by U.N. Undersecretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka, refrains from taking a position on the appropriateness of the Palestinian recognition bid. obtained a copy of Akasaka’s “for internal purposes only” memo, which aims to provide U.N. staffers with guidance “in answering questions from the media on this subject” of Abbas’ recognition bid.

It raises fresh questions about positions taken by Ban, fueling the perception that he may be taking sides in one of the world’s most intractable disputes. According to the world body, “independence, impartiality and integrity” are hallmarks of a U.N. secretary-general.

In a section on Jerusalem, Akasaka writes that Ban “believes that Jerusalem should emerge through negotiations as the capital of two states with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all.”

This is not the first time Ban has aired that view. He did so when addressing an international forum on Jerusalem in Morocco in October 2009, and again last March during a Mideast-focused meeting in Uruguay.

It’s a stance heavily at odds with one party to the dispute, and favoring the other.

Israel calls Jerusalem its “eternal, indivisible” capital, a claim it says dates back some 3,000 years, to the reign of the biblical King David from the city. It notes that while Jerusalem came under the control of many empires and powers over the millennia, history records that no nation other than the Jews ever declared the city to be its capital.

The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission to the U.N. Web site declares that “Jerusalem is the crux of the question of Palestine and the key to war and peace in the region.” (The PLO’s foundational covenant, adopted in 1964, contains no reference to the city.)

‘The persistence of occupation’

Under U.N. regulations, Ban this week must forward to the Security Council Abbas’ letter requesting membership for “Palestine.”

Palestinian leaders in various international agreements have pledged to seek a negotiated settlement, and the Israeli government argues that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative this week violates those commitments by attempting to bypass the agreed-upon process. (Abbas said on Monday that there was “no contradiction between negotiations and going to the U.N.”)

Asked during an al-Jazeera television interview last week whether the Palestinian recognition bid was a help or hindrance, Ban replied, “It is only natural that after such a long time, that Palestinian people have been frustrated and trying to reach some of their goals. But my only wish is that ... both parties could engage in further meaningful dialogue.”

In his memo, Akasaka outlines the implications should Abbas’ application succeed.

“If a Palestinian application for U.N. membership were successful, the new Member State would assume the obligations and rights of any other Member State in accordance with the U.N. Charter. It would participate in the normal workings of the Organization as a Member State, including having a vote at the General Assembly.”

Akasaka also explains what will happen if the Palestinian request for admission as a member-state fails in the U.N. Security Council.

“The [U.N.] General Assembly can of course directly debate and take decisions on other issues in accordance with its prerogatives (for example, calling on Member States to bilaterally recognize the State of Palestine, or enhancing the observer status that the Palestinians currently have in that body),” he writes.

Nowhere in the four-page document does Akasaka say whether Abbas’ bid complies with or goes against signed international agreements – or whether it will benefit or harm peace efforts.

He does say that the Palestinian entity is ready for statehood in key areas, but that Israeli actions are holding up progress in others.

“The U.N. has already declared that in six areas where it is most engaged (governance, rule of law and human rights; infrastructure and water; livelihoods; education and culture; health; social protection) governmental functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state,” he writes.

“However, the political track has stalled and key constraints related to the successful functioning of the institutions of a potential State of Palestine continue. These arise primarily from the persistence of occupation and the unresolved issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

On the economic situation in the self-rule areas, Akasaka notes 15 percent GDP growth in 2010, but says that “[m]ore Israeli steps to roll-back measures of occupation in the West Bank are needed, and more needs to be done to lift the closure of Gaza in line with resolution 1860.”

That Security Council resolution, passed in January 2009 with the U.S. abstaining, linked the “sustained reopening of the crossing points” between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza to intensified efforts to “prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition.”

Asked about his memo’s references to dividing Jerusalem and its silence on the issue of whether the Palestinian recognition bid contravenes or complies with previous signed pledges, Akasaka told Tuesday that the document was “an information note for U.N. officials about United Nations positions vis-a-vis the occupied Palestinian territory and the Middle East Peace Process.”

“The note compiles well-established public positions of the United Nations on these questions,” he added.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow