Are Palestinians ‘ready’ for statehood? U.N. says yes.

Under the 1933 Montevideo Convention,  the closest thing in international law to a codified definition of what it means to be a country, an entity must have the following things to qualify for statehood: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Under the 1933 Montevideo Convention,  the closest thing in international law to a codified definition of what it means to be a country, an entity must have the following things to qualify for statehood: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

A, c, and d definitely apply to the Palestinian territories. B depends on your definition of "defined," but a theoretical Palestinian state certainly wouldn't be the only one in the world with some unresolved border disputes. So if the Palestinian Authority were to declare itself an independent state, as it plans to in the next few years, would it meet the criteria?

A new U.N. study says yes, the Palestinians qualify for statehood, but also to suggest yet another set of criteria for the process, crediting the PA with achieving sufficient progress in the following areas over recent years:

Under the 1933 Montevideo Convention,  the closest thing in international law to a codified definition of what it means to be a country, an entity must have the following things to qualify for statehood: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

A, c, and d definitely apply to the Palestinian territories. B depends on your definition of "defined," but a theoretical Palestinian state certainly wouldn’t be the only one in the world with some unresolved border disputes. So if the Palestinian Authority were to declare itself an independent state, as it plans to in the next few years, would it meet the criteria?

A new U.N. study says yes, the Palestinians qualify for statehood, but also to suggest yet another set of criteria for the process, crediting the PA with achieving sufficient progress in the following areas over recent years:

1. governance, rule of law & human rights;  
2. livelihoods & productive sectors;  
3. education & culture;  
4. health;  
5. social protection; and  
6. infrastructure & water

Applying this set of qualifications to Palestinian statehood raises the question of what aspiring states not currently recognized by the U.N. would pass the bar: Taiwan certainly, perhaps Northern Cyprus too. A better question: what currently-recognized states wouldn’t make the cut. There are more than a handful of U.N. member states with lower standards of governance, economic development, and healthcare than the Palestinian Territories.

The U.N. has welcomed South Sudan’s vote for independence, but is there any chance that one of the world’s least developed regions would make the cut for sovereignty if it had to demonstrate the kind of economic and political progress seen on the West Bank in recent years?

I point this out not to argue against the PA’s qualifications for statehood, but to note once again the often arbitrary criteria applied to international sovereignty. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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