As a nonmember observer state – akin to the UN status the Vatican holds – Palestine would not be a voting member of the General Assembly, but would have the right to apply for membership in UN legal institutions, including the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.
It’s that eventuality – and the prospect of Palestine seeking to sue Israel over settlement construction or other issues it sees as violations of international law – that prompted Israeli and American opposition. Indeed, Prime Minister Cameron's condition for a "yes" vote is a commitment from the Palestinians not to seek membership in judicial institutions.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated US opposition to the Palestinian UN bid last week, insisting that negotiations with Israel are the only means of achieving meaningful statehood. This week the US publicly called the UN move a “mistake.”
“We share the concern that we have not been able to move forward” in negotiations for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “It is in that spirit that we have been encouraging President Abbas to come to the negotiating table with the Israelis without preconditions. That’s the way to take this forward,” she added, “not in the GA,” the General Assembly.
Israel remains opposed to the UN bid, but it has tempered its once ferocious opposition and in recent days has portrayed the vote as inconsequential – a shift that reflects Israel's desire not to alienate Western countries that vote for the initiative.