May 25, 2018 | Policy Brief

“Palestine 194” Resumes, Signaling Palestinian Frustration

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), acting under the name of the “State of Palestine,” joined three international agencies and treaties this week: the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the Chemical Weapons Convention, administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). These moves are part of a longstanding PLO strategy, known as “Palestine 194,” to establish facts on the ground at the United Nations, with the hope of becoming the 194th country recognized by the UN.

The likelihood of such a strategy paying dividends is low. But its reemergence is a sign of growing Palestinian frustration in the wake of the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and rumors of a peace plan that may fall far short of Palestinian expectations. Indeed, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas usually pursues this strategy as a way of responding to U.S. or Israeli policies that displease him.

The Palestine 194 strategy first picked up steam when the “State of Palestine” gained non-member observer status at the UN General Assembly in 2012, after the United States effectively blocked the PLO from applying for full statehood at the Security Council.

Blocked from its ultimate objective, the PLO began applying to UN agencies. It joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a full-member state in October 2011. This action triggered American defunding of the organization due to Clinton-era American laws that prohibit funding UN agencies or affiliates that “grants full membership” to non-states.

As Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fell apart in April 2014, Abbas responded by joining 15 international organizations and treaties. The move angered the United States and Israel, which both assert that this unilateral effort is the wrong path to statehood. Rather, they contend that bilateral negotiations, brokered by the United States, are the only legitimate way to achieve the Palestinian dream.

Throughout the fits and starts of the Palestine 194 campaign, the PLO had held back from joining the International Criminal Court (ICC). But after the U.S. torpedoed a UN Security Council resolution in late 2014 that would have imposed a deadline for creating a Palestinian state, the Palestinians joined the Rome Statute for the ICC, along with 19 other treaties and organizations.

The Israelis were concerned that this maneuver could allow the Palestinians to sue Israel in the ICC. But they are protected, to a certain extent, by a U.S. law which prohibits the provision of Economic Support Fund (ESF) money if “the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation” against Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s submission of evidence this past week regarding the Gaza border riots may have violated this law.

Following the Trump administration’s December 2017 decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, the Palestinians began the process of joining 22 international treaties and conventions. Abbas actually signed the paperwork for three of them in May following the dedication of the new embassy in Jerusalem. The U.S. may now be faced with decisions about whether to continue to fund agencies at the United Nations if they accept Palestinian applications.

David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.