"I have visited Israel and the Palestinian Territory on a regular basis over the last six years. After many open talks, I have got to know their leaders, and personal ties have developed between us. We may disagree in both camps, but I believe both know that Norway is not taking sides: we are a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians.
I cannot remember a time when the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives and understanding of what is needed to achieve peace were more contradictory. Each side says it is ready to resume negotiations immediately, but that the other side is not. It is clear that both cannot be right.
This is disheartening. For the great majority of Israelis and Palestinians still say that they want peace, that they are prepared to accept the compromises that almost everyone believes will be necessary.
And I believe that the absence of a solution is a problem for both parties, both peoples, and for the whole region, as men and women throughout the Middle East are rising up against authoritarian leaders and demanding respect for human rights, decent living conditions and democracy.
An important issue this autumn is the Palestinians’ intention of raising the question of their right to an independent state in the UN. Around 120 states have now recognised the Palestinian state. The Palestinian President says he is considering submitting a request for membership of the UN to the Security Council. He has also indicated that he may request the UN General Assembly to upgrade Palestinian status in the UN to that of non-member state observer.
The Palestinians’ argument is that the international community has long supported their right to their own state and a two-state solution to the conflict. They are now winning recognition for their governance, but they maintain that Israeli activities in the occupied territory, including the settlements, constitute a serious obstacle.
While negotiations are in a deadlock, the Palestinians have witnessed an intensification of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank, particularly around East Jerusalem, despite the fact that the Security Council determined in 1980 that this policy is in violation of international law. They point out that if the settlements continue, the physical basis for a Palestinian state in the West Bank will soon disappear.
Israel, on the other hand, argues strongly against the Palestinian intention of raising this issue in the UN. Israel’s view is that this would be a unilateral step in conflict with the condition that the Palestinian state is to be established on the basis of negotiations.
Israel points out that the Palestinians are divided between President Abbas’ government in the West Bank and Hamas’ control of Gaza. The US shares Israel’s scepticism and has announced that it would veto Palestinian membership of the UN in a Security Council vote.
At this moment, we do not know what course of action the Palestinians will take; neither do we know how a Palestinian proposal would be worded. This is why Norway has not decided how it would vote in the General Assembly. We must first see the text and consider what it says.
One of the factors we will take into careful consideration is the process by which Israel became a member of the UN. There are obvious differences between the situation in 1949 and our own time, but certain aspects are nevertheless interesting.
In 1949, Norway was both a member of the UN General Assembly and a member of the Security Council. Israel approached the UN after the establishment of a Jewish state had been declared in 1948. This unilateral declaration was itself based on a UN resolution. It was followed by a period of war with the neighbouring states until the 1949 Armistice Agreements established demarcation lines. These are often referred to as the green line or the pre-1967 borders. They constitute the territorial basis that has been recognised by the international community for negotiations between the parties in order to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement.
In its negotiations with the UN, Israel maintained that the recognition of a state and its membership of the UN did not depend on the clarification of outstanding border issues. Then, as now, the question of the status of Jerusalem had not been settled, neither had the situation of the refugees. The Israeli view was that these matters would have to be decided through negotiations, but preferably under the auspices of the UN and with Israel as a UN member.
At the time, Norway expressed doubts about the timing of the recognition of Israel, but decided to trust the declarations made by the Israeli representative regarding the implementation of UN resolutions. Norway and Iceland voted for the admission of Israel to the UN, and Denmark and Sweden abstained.
Now that the Palestinians are raising the case of their status, there are still a number of unresolved issues in relation to Israel. These cannot be determined by a resolution, but only through negotiations.
The Palestinians are aware of this, and they will probably also acknowledge this when – as is most likely – they present their case to the UN."