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Disillusioned with the US-led peace process, Palestinian leaders are seeking a UN resolution in September 2011 in favour of Palestinian statehood. The political implications of such a resolution are likely to be bigger than its legal ones. But despite the momentum gained by the Palestinian proposal, it is possible that external and internal opposition could delay the initiative.

The UK, along with the rest of the EU, has reserved its position on the question of recognition, considering that a truly viable Palestinian state requires negotiation with Israel. The US does not support the plan for the Palestinians to go to the UN, and Israel has called for it to be “forcefully opposed”.

The legal implications of a resolution would depend on whether it is from the General Assembly (recommendatory only) or from the Security Council (can be binding), and on the wording of the resolution.

A General Assembly resolution is likely to be passed, but would have little legal effect. If the resolution seeks full membership of the UN, it would need the US to vote in favour in the Security Council – highly unlikely at the moment. But even admission to the UN is formally an acknowledgement of statehood only for the purposes of the organisation (giving full speaking and voting rights in the UN and its subsidiary organisations and agencies), and does not constitute legal recognition as a state. Under international law, to be a state an entity must have a permanent population, a defined territory, effective government; and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. The last of these requirements effectively means that other states must recognise it as a state.

Either joining the UN or being recognised as a state would make some practical differences, but arguably the biggest impact of either would be symbolic.

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