Bolton Sets Reporter Straight on ‘Palestine’: ‘It’s Not a State’

By Patrick Goodenough | October 3, 2018 | 7:59pm EDT
A ‘State of Palestine’ name plate is seen at a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development meeting in Geneva. (Photo: UNCTAD)

( – A White House reporter took issue Wednesday with John Bolton for referring to the “so-called State of Palestine,” prompting the National Security Advisor to explain that it is, in fact, “not a state.”

Appearing in the briefing room to speak about the administration decision to terminate a 63-year-old Treaty of Amity with Iran, Bolton also announced the withdrawal from a Vienna Convention optional protocol relating to dispute resolution. He said the step was being taken in response to a case brought before the International Court of Justice “by the so-called State of Palestine” in response to the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem.

A reporter later questioned his use of the modifier.

Noting that President Trump in New York last week expressed support for a “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, she asked Bolton whether using the term “so-called” was productive in furtherance of that goal.

“It’s accurate,” Bolton said. “It is not a state.”

Bolton noted that the self-rule entity led by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas does not control defined boundaries or “fulfil the normal functions of government.”

“It does not meet the customary international law test of statehood,” he said. “There are a whole host of reasons why it’s not a state.”

“It could become a state – as the president said – but that requires diplomatic negotiations with Israel and others.”

Bolton said the position he was laying out has been the position of U.S. administrations ever since Palestinian leaders declared statehood in 1988.

“We don’t recognize it as the State of Palestine. We have consistently – across Democratic and Republican administrations – opposed the admission of ‘Palestine’ to the United Nations as a state because it’s not a state.”

The position set out by Bolton flies in the face of United Nations practice for decades.

A U.N. General Assembly resolution in 1974 declared the PLO to be the official representative of the Palestinian people and invited it to participate in meetings as an observer. Under a 1988 resolution, the U.N. began referring to the PLO observer as “Palestine.”

In 2011, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization became the first U.N. agency to admit “Palestine” as a full member.

The decision triggered U.S. laws passed in 1990 and 1994 that prohibit federal funding for “the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states,” and for “any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.”

UNESCO has received no U.S. funding since, and last October the Trump administration withdrew from the agency altogether.

Members of the Palestinian delegation to the U.N. cheer the results of a vote granting ‘Palestine’ non-voting observer status on November 29, 2012. (UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

In 2012, the General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian delegation’s status from “observer entity” to “non-member observer state,” and in 2015 it voted to allow the PLO flag to fly among those of sovereign member-states in New York and at other U.N. offices around the world.

Also in 2015 the International Criminal Court admitted “Palestine” as a member, despite Israel’s argument that it is not a sovereign state.

Some U.N. supporters like to refer to General Assembly resolutions as constituting international law, although they are in fact non-binding. (UNGA resolutions can lead indirectly to the introduction of international law. For instance the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted as a UNGA resolution in 1948, over time became accepted as custom, and thus international law.)

Recognition as a state requires four criteria to be met, according to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: permanent population; defined territory; effective government; and capacity to enter into relations with other states.

As alluded to by Bolton, the area controlled by the P.A. – or Hamas in Gaza – objectively does not meet those conditions.

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