A combination of mistakes -- whether through ignorance or design -- and significant omissions of fact have left the American public misinformed about why the Palestinians have gone to the United Nations and what they are trying to achieve.
The biggest error repeated across the media in hundreds of headlines and stories is that the Palestinians are seeking statehood at the U.N. In fact, Palestine is already legally a sovereign state and is seeking membership of the United Nations, not statehood. The United Nations does not grant or recognize statehood. Only states can recognize other states bilaterally. The U.N. can only confer membership or "non-member, observer state" status to already-existing states. The U.N. Charter is clear. Article 4 says that only existing states may apply for U.N. membership.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accepted an application for U.N. membership from PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on September 23. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent the application to the Security Council, which began deliberating on it three days later.
The very act of the secretary-general accepting the membership application is an acknowledgement from the U.N. that Palestine is already a state, since only states can apply.
The Montevideo Convention of 1933 lays out the requirements for statehood: a population living on a defined territory with a government that can enter into relations with other governments. The Palestinians have all three. Though its borders with Israel are not set, other countries with border disputes have been admitted as U.N. members, such as Pakistan and India. Trygve Lie, the first U.N. secretary-general, also wrote a 1950 memo that states do not need universal recognition to apply.
Palestine declared its independence on November 15, 1988, a fact found nowhere in the American mainstream reporting of the past week. A Palestinian walked out of the Al Asqa Mosque that day in Al Quds/Jerusalem and read the declaration aloud, much as someone read the American Declaration of Independence to a crowd in the courtyard of the Philadelphia State House on July 4, 1776.
Almost immediately 100 nations recognized an independent Palestinian state. Since then 30 more nations have recognized Palestine, some having opened Palestinian embassies in their capitals. This crucial fact too was not reported in the U.S. media. For Palestinians and those countries that recognize them, Israeli troops are occupying a sovereign nation.
It was the same as when Morocco and then France and other nations recognized an independent United States years before the war against Britain was won. For Americans and those nations recognizing America, British troops became an occupation force, not an army defending British territory.
The problem for the Americans then and for the Palestinians now is that the occupying nation and the world's biggest power are not among the 130 who've recognized them.
If there were a United Nations in 1777 the Americans could have applied for membership. And if Britain had a veto on the Security Council then as it does now, it would have blocked that membership.
Today neither the occupying power, Israel, nor the world's biggest power, the U.S., recognizes Palestinian statehood. Thus the U.S. has vowed to veto the Palestinians' membership resolution in the Security Council.
The U.S. had furiously lobbied to prevent the Palestinians from coming to the U.N. at all, including Congress threatening to cut off all aid. Having failed, Washington is now trying to delay a vote as long as possible while lobbying the several non-permanent members of the Security Council to abstain, or vote against.
But the Palestinians knew from the start the U.N. process would take weeks and have so far not backtracked on their plan one inch.
Membership in the U.N. requires a recommendation from the 15-member Security Council, secured with nine votes in favor and no vetoes. If the recommendation passes, the 193-seat General Assembly must approve with a two-thirds majority. Eight votes in favor or less would kill the Security Council membership resolution, sparing the U.S. from a veto that would cost them dearly on the Arab street.
Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Lebanon are among the Security Council members who have formally recognized Palestine and are firm about voting in favor. The U.S. isn't bothering with them. But Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia and Gabon have also recognized Palestine and are under extreme American, and in the case of Gabon, French pressure to at least abstain.
Falling short of eight votes would be an embarrassment for the Palestinians, but the Security Council route is only the first step. After a sure defeat in the Security Council, two options in the General Assembly remain.