The State of Palestine
By Julie Holm for MIFTAH
September 13, 2011

The question on everyone’s mind this week is what will happen when the Palestinians apply for statehood at the UN. It is a complicated game in which nothing seems completely clear; there are loopholes, vetoes and relations between states to consider. It is not a question to be solved based on international law and regulations only. Politics and international relations are just some pieces of the puzzle.

In the midst of this political quagmire, there is one voice that should not be forgotten; that of the Palestinians themselves. Is it not the people who form the basis of the nation on which a state is built? Even though the Palestinian people are far from having a united voice in the UN-statehood bid, they are the ones who should be heard the most. Here in Ramallah, cars are decorated with flags that say “UN 194” and there are rallies and demonstrations to make the world aware of the Palestinian wish to become the world’s 194th state. When I talk to Palestinians however, I meet a lot of skepticism about whether this will actually change anything.

The legal framework surrounding the recognition of a state is one thing, listening to the people who are living in that state is something else. I have met Palestinians living in many different parts of the world: Asia, the US, Europe, North-Africa, the Middle East, and of course Palestine. They all have one thing in common; they are Palestinians. It is this powerful national identity found among the Palestinian people, in and outside of Palestine, which truly comprises the basis of the Palestinian state that is soon up for recognition at the UN. Whether a state or not, Palestine is a nation of people with a common heritage, history and culture. At the core of the Palestinian bid for statehood are the Palestinians. The question now, is whether recognition of statehood in the UN will actually make a difference in the everyday life of Palestinians living under occupation or for the refugees who are not allowed to return to their homeland.

In this light one could be tempted to ask a simple question that yields a very complicated answer: What makes a state? And further, who decides when a state is a state? In the past two years Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has been working to build a Palestinian state with strong institutions and a public administration that according to both the World Bank and the EU have equipped Palestine to become a state. Looking at the history of the UN, one sees that previously, states which have not lived up to the formal criteria have been granted statehood while states which have met this same criteria have been turned down. This goes to show that as with everything else in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this is a very politicized question. Moreover, it is not a clear cut definition; is it the law, the international community or those with the most power in the UN who decide when a state is a state?

Still, one thing is certain. As the Palestinian bid for statehood goes to the UN next week, the world will be watching, following the development closely and trying to guess what the outcomes will be and how that will affect the Palestinian people. Most likely there will be no immediate difference on the ground. Recognizing Palestine as the world’s 194th state however, could have important long term consequences on Palestine’s position in the international community and in relations with Israel. All things said, even in this whirlwind of ambiguity, one thing remains for sure; recognizing Palestine as an actual state can only be a step in the right direction.

Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at