(This story was updated on 14 January to report on the response received from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office)
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UNA-UK Chairman, has written to the Foreign Secretary encouraging the UK to support Palestine's bid to become a UN 'non-member observer state', due to be presented to the General Assembly on 29 November.
At present, the Palestinian Authority is classified as a permanent observer "entity" at the UN. Last year, its bid to become a full UN member state failed due to lack of support at the UN Security Council, which needs to recommend applications to the General Assembly. This year's bid for upgraded observer status requires only a simple majority at the Assembly.
Upgraded status would enable Palestine to participate in General Assembly debates. It could also improve its chances of joining UN agencies (UNESCO admitted Palestine as a member last year) and commentators have speculated as to whether this could pave the way for Palestine to bring cases at the International Criminal Court or International Court of Justice. However, it should be noted that even full UN membership does not confer “legal” statehood, which rests on recognition by other states.
In his letter, Sir Jeremy conveys the concerns of UNA-UK's members at the failure of the Oslo accords to deliver peace for the peoples of Israel and Palestine, and urges the UK to support the Palestinian bid for upgraded observer status.
He points out that the bid should not be seen as a barrier to negotiations but as a chance for the international community "to demonstrate that it believes the current situation to be intolerable, that it recognises that the basis for a negotiated settlement has not been found, and that it will start a new process to find a just and durable agreement".
He also calls on the UK government, regardless of its position on the vote, to press the US not to impose financial penalties on Palestine or the UN should the outcome of the vote be positive.
UPDATE: Minister Burt replies to Sir Jeremy Greenstock's letter on Palestine's UN status
In a reply to Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s letter, Minister Burt states that the UK government respects the General Assembly vote on 29 November 2012, according non-member observer state status to Palestine.
Minister Burt explains that the UK government abstained from the General Assembly vote in the absence of an assurance by Palestine to not pursue immediate action against Israel before the International Criminal Court and other UN agencies. The UK government supports the peace process and a “two state solution”. It encourages Israel to not react adversely to the General Assembly resolution and to return to negotiations with Palestine.
The UK government also criticises the Israeli government’s decision “to build 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, to unfreeze planning in the area known as E1 and to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority”.