Status of Palestinian Statehood

This concept refers to the current international political status of the Palestinian entity en route to accession to full sovereignty.


The concept status of Palestinian statehood refers to the current international political status of the Palestinian entity en route to accession to statehood and being a sovereign state.

Summary of Status of Palestinian Statehood

Currently, the Palestinian entity is not a sovereign state since it:

  • Has only partially fulfilled the criteria for statehood;
  • Has not been fully recognized by the international community; but

A future Palestinian state has been endorsed within the framework of the Roadmap (see Nascent State).

Background – Accession to Statehood

Accession to Statehood occurs when the following two conditions are met:

  • A political entity declares itself as a politically independent state; and
  • A critical mass of the international community recognizes that the entity has effectively satisfied the criteria for statehood.

In practice, an entity’s accession to statehood requires both (1) effectiveness of the new state, i.e. de facto control; and (2) the positive attitude of existing states, i.e. de jure recognition: (see Realms of Statehood)

De facto – Statehood, under international law, requires satisfaction of the following criteria2:

  • a permanent population;
  • defined territory;
  • government; and
  • capacity to enter into relations with other states. Hence, a political entity that effectively meets these criteria is, de facto, a state.3

De jure4 – The act of recognition5 by existing states acknowledges that a new state has satisfied the criteria for statehood and confers upon it the legal status as a state.6

De Facto Status (Effectiveness) of Palestinian Statehood

Current elements of the Palestinian entity and people partially fulfill the aforementioned de facto criteria for statehood:

Criteria for StatehoodRequirementPalestinian Fulfillment
PopulationA well-defined resident population. Palestinian population in West Bank (~2.4 mill.), Gaza (~1.4 mill.) and East Jerusalem (~0.2 mill.) is well-defined de jure and de facto.7
TerritoryA territorial base from which to operate but not necessarily permanently defined boundaries.8The Palestinian Authority (PA) has full ground control of Area A and civilian control of Area B, except for the Outstanding Issues including the external perimeter and the airspace.9Following the Disengagement Plan, Palestinians will have full control all of Gaza.
GovernmentEffective authority which is in control of its internal affairs. The PA has a democratically elected leader, legislative branch (elected in 1996) and municipal leadership that govern its internal affairs.All internal affairs of the Palestinian people are governed by the PA.
Following the “Disengagement Plan”, in Gaza, the Palestinian leadership will have full control of external affairs as well.
Capacity to Enter into Relations with Other StatesRecognition by other states in order to engage in relations with them.Formally, according to the “Interim Agreement“, the PA does not have power to conduct foreign affairs and is represented by the PLO.10 In practice, the PA leadership has extensive and intensive foreign relations.

De Jure Status (Attitude of Existing States) of Palestinian Statehood

The Palestinians have partially fulfilled both criteria for accession to statehood: the PLO declared Palestinian independence; and the international community has expressed elements of recognition of both the PLO and PA.

Declaration – 1988 PLO Declaration of Independence at Algiers - On 11/15/88, a Palestinian state was declared by PLO leader Yasser Arafat at a meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers (The Algiers Declaration).

Recognition – International Recognition of the Palestinian Entity - The PLO was recognized as the Sole Legitimate Representative of the Palestinian People by the Arab League (10/74), the United Nations (UN) (11/74), as well as by Israel and the United States (US) (9/93).11

The European Community (EC) recognized a Palestinian Right of Self-Determination (06/80)12 and the UN acknowledged the 1988 Algiers Declaration and the Palestinian right to sovereignty (12/88).13 However, Palestinian independence was not fully recognized by the UN, EC, US, or Israel.

Since the Bush Vision of the Middle East (06/02) and the 2003 Herzliya Speech (12/03) of PM Sharon, both the US and Israel have officially endorsed the Two-State Solution leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Collective conditional recognition14 of a future Palestinian state is embodied in the 2003 Performance-Based Roadmap issued by the Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) and accepted by Israel. The Roadmap includes a transitional phase that establishes a Palestinian State with Provisional Borders (PSPB) with attributes of sovereignty (See 2nd Phase of the Roadmap) prior to a sovereign Palestinian State (See 3rd Phase of the Roadmap).

Why is there no Palestinian State today?

There are a number of arguments as to why the PA does not meet the requirements of statehood:

  • Moment of Inversion Towards a Palestinian State – Israel and the Palestinians are experiencing an inversion in their attitude towards the establishment of a Palestinian State.
  • In the past – Palestinians demanded a state, even with provisional borders, which Israel opposed.
  • Currently – the Palestinians oppose a state with provisional borders15 while Israel desires implementation of the Roadmap, which calls for the establishment of a PSPB.
  • Furthermore, while the official Palestinian position remains committed to the principle of the Two-State Solution, alternative Palestinian voices of opposition to a Palestinian state have grown stronger16 (See FEW: Palestinian State – The Inversion; Moment of Inversion toward Palestinian Statehood; One-State Threat).
  • Agreements with Israel – According to agreements signed during the Oslo Process, primarily the Interim Agreement, the PA is not a state. Its permanent political status was designated as one of the Outstanding Issues to be resolved within the Permanent Status Agreement.17
  • Limited Effectiveness of the PA – The PA has varying attributes of sovereignty in Areas A, B or C that fall short of full sovereignty:

  • Israel – certain powers and responsibilities were formally left in the hands of Israel such as control over borders and entry points, airspace, water, customs, and external security. In addition, in the course of the "Second Palestinian Uprising", Israel seized additional aspects of sovereignty formerly in the hands of the PA.
  • PLO – other powers and responsibilities, primarily regarding foreign affairs, are formally in the hands of the PLO,18 although in recent years the PA has de-facto assumed control over some of these powers.

Lack of a Critical Mass of Recognition

While the international community endorses the vision of the Two-State Solution, a Palestinian State has not been recognized in practice by leading and relevant states:19 · The US, Israel and other leading European countries did not recognize Palestinian independence; and· The UN did not grant full membership to the PLO. Although the permanent political status of the PA has already been determined as statehood (See "Roadmap", "Nascent State", "UNSCR 1397"), there is a lack of clarity as to what benchmarks would have to be met for Palestinian statehood to be realized and recognized.

Annex: Timeline of the Debate over Palestinian Statehood

Nov. 13, 1974Right to Sovereignty and National IndependenceYasser Arafat addresses the UN General Assembly the first representative of a stateless organization to do so. UN formally supports the Palestinians’ right to “sovereignty and national independence”.
June 12-13, 1980European Recognition of Palestinian Right-to-Self-Determination – Through its Venice Declaration, the European Community (EC) recognized the Palestinian Right of Self-Determination
Nov. 15, 1988Declaration of Independence – In Algiers, Tunisia, the PLO proclaims the “State of Palestine” on the West Bank and the Gaza strip. By the end of the year, the government-in-exile is recognized by 94 nations.
Dec. 13 , 1988 Acknowledging Israel’s Right to Exist – Arafat reverses decades of PLO polemic by renouncing terrorism and acknowledging Israel’s right to exist in Geneva, opening the door to diplomatic negotiations.
Sept. 13, 1993Declaration of Principles – Israel and PLO agree to mutual recognition. Over the next years, Israel withdraws from “Area A” and hands it over to Palestinian self-rule.
January 20, 1996PA Elections – Arafat is elected Ra’ees of the Palestinian Authority. About three-fourths of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza vote, with Arafat garnering 88% support.
October 23, 1998Wye Summit – Arafat and Netanyahu settle several important interim issues. However, the issues of Palestinian statehood, borders, and Jerusalem were not resolved. Arafat threatened to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state.
March 11,1999US opposition to unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood – US Senate approves a resolution asking President Clinton to oppose any unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state.
April 27,1999Palestinians opt not to declare statehood – The Palestinian Central Council convenes in a special session and decides against declaring Palestinian statehood the following week. May 4 marks the end of the five-year transitional period stipulated in the Oslo accords, which was to have resulted in a final peace accord.
Sept. 4, 1999Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum (Article 10) – Both sides agree not to take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in accordance with the Interim Agreement.
July 2000Failed attempt at Camp David – Israeli PM Barak, US President Clinton and Palestinian Chairman Arafat meet at Camp David in a failed attempt to hammer out a “Permanent Status Agreement“.
March-April 2002Loss of PA sovereignty – In retaliation for suicide bombings, Israel mounts operation “Defensive Shield” in the West Bank and confines Chairman Arafat in his Ramallah compound.
June 24, 2002Bush’s Vision to the Middle East – US President George W. Bush calls for Israeli withdrawal and reforms of Palestinian governance which will lead to Palestinian statehood in the context of the “Two-State Solution”.
December 18, 2002Sharon’s Herzliya Speech endorsing Two-State Solution – Israeli PM Sharon’s Herzeliya Speech speaking of a Two-State Solution and embracing the Bush Vision to the Middle East.
April 30, 2003Quartet’s Roadmap – The Quartet (US, UN, EU, and Russia) presents the Roadmap for Peace between Israel and PA calling for the establishment of a PSPB prior to the conclusion of a “Permanent Status Agreement“.
Nov. 19 2003UN endorses Roadmap – UN Security Council Resolution 1515 is passed in support of the Roadmap.
April 15, 2004Bush endorses “Disengagement Plan” – Bush mentions “the establishment of a Palestinian state” while calling on the PA to “show the political will to make the withdrawal from Gaza a success and to deliver on their road map responsibilities, especially regarding security”.
Nov. 11, 2004Yasser Arafat dies.
Jan. 9, 2005Mahmoud Abbas elected President of the Palestinian Authority.
May 26, 2005Mahmoud Abbas visits US President George W. Bush at the White House, an important symbolic gesture signaling US support for Abbas and Palestinian aspirations. Bush refers to Abbas as “President”.

1 For a detailed history of the debate on Palestinian statehood, see the Annex at the end of this document.

2 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, 1933.

3 For example, Taiwan is a De-Facto State since it effectively satisfies the criteria for statehood, but lacks de jure sovereignty, as it is not recognized by leading members of the international community.

4 The practice of recognition may be viewed as emanating from two distinct theories:· Declaratory – The Act of Recognition is just an acceptance by states of a reality on the ground, meaning that de facto the state has already come into being.· Constitutive – Collective Recognition is what endows an entity with its status of statehood.See: Malcolm Shaw. International Law. Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 185.

5 The concept Act of Recognition refers to the declaration by which one existing state:·
  • Formally acknowledge the political status of another entity as a State; and
  • Takes upon itself the legal consequences of the recognition under international law in its relations with the new state (See Inherent State Rights and Duties).

6 For example, Somalia is a state de jure, but has no recognized central government authority, president or national currency.

7 CIA World Fact Book (West Bank, Gaza Strip).

8 Shaw, ibid., p. 179-180.

9 According to the Interim Agreement (Article XI – “Land”, Paragraphs 1-3), the West Bank and Gaza will be divided into three areas:· Area A – Palestinian security and civilian jurisdiction; · Area B – Palestinian civilian jurisdiction and Israeli security control; Area C – Israeli security and civilian jurisdiction.

10 See the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (5/94) (Article VI

Powers and Responsibilities, Paragraph 2) and the

“Interim Agreement” (9/95) (Chapter 1 – the Council,

Article IX – Powers and Responsibilities of the Council,

Paragraph 5; Chapter 3 – Legal Affairs, Article XVII –

Jurisdiction, Paragraph 1, Section a).

11 For further elaboration regarding the status of the

PLO and the process that led to this standing, see Sole

Legitimate Representative of the Palestinian People.

12 In 1980, the EC issued the Venice Declaration

recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination

(See here).

13 The UN General Assembly Resolution (UNGAR) 43/177 stated that the Palestinian people have the right to declare a state according to UNGAR 181 (The Partition Plan). The vote passed with 104 in favor, two against (US and Israel) and 36 abstentions. The UN decision also included a provision raising the PLO’s observer status by replacing the title PLO with Palestine. In addition, the idea of Palestinian statehood has been recognized by several UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) – including UNSCR 242 and 338, UNSCR 1397 and UNSCR 1515.

14 Existing states can choose to adopt several policies vis-à-vis recognition of a new state (See Shaw, ibid, p. 387, 390.):
Full recognition – complete acceptance of the entity’s factual status as a state.Conditional recognition – – “Nascent State” – recognition that the permanent political status of a political entity will be statehood but it will only be realized when certain conditions are met, as in the cases of East Timor or the PLO/PA.
Non-recognition – a state will not be recognized due to hostility. In cases where a state does not recognize another state, it may expressly declare that a particular act by no means implies formal recognition.
15 Mahmoud Abbas said, “If it is up to me, I will reject it…it’s better for us and for the Israelis to go directly to final status. I told Mr. Sharon that it’s better for both sides to establish this back channel to deal with final status.” See: Steven Erlanger, “Abbas Declares War With Israel Effectively Over”, New York Times (Section A; Column 2; Foreign Desk; Pg. 1) (14/02/05). (here)
See also: “Fatah Central Committee affirms rejection of 'temporary' Palestinian state” (06/30/05), Report on Voice of Palestine radio, (here).

16 See, e.g., Michael Tarazi, “Why Not Two Peoples

One State?,” New York Times, 3/10/04; Ahmad

Samih Khalidi, “A One-State Solution,” The Guardian,

29/9/03; Mcgril Chris, “Intifada leader uses courtroom

to point to one-state solution”, The Guardian,

30/9/03; Judy Tony, “Israel: The Alternative”, The

New York Review of Books, Vol. 50, No. 16


17 According to the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum

(Article 10) – Both sides agree not to take any step

that will change the status of the West Bank and the

Gaza Strip in accordance with the Interim Agreement.

18 During the Oslo Process Israel was against the establishment of a Palestinian state and prevented the acquisition of symbols of statehood by the PA:- According to the Declaration of Principles (9/93) (Article V, Paragraph 3), relations between Palestinians and 3rd parties was one of the Outstanding Issues, to be resolved in the Permanent Status Agreement;- According to the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (5/94) (Article VI – Powers and Responsibilities, Paragraph 2) and the Interim Agreement (9/95) (Chapter 1 – the Council, Article IX – Powers and Responsibilities of the Council, Paragraph 5; Chapter 3 – Legal Affairs, Article XVII – Jurisdiction, Paragraph 1, Section a):1) The PA will not have responsibility or power to conduct foreign affairs, including placing representation abroad such as embassies, consulates, summon or receive diplomatic teams and consulates or perform any diplomatic functions;2) The PLO will manage all negotiations and sign all agreements with other countries and with international organizations on behalf of the PA.

19 Shaw, ibid, p. 222.