What neither government mentions -- but what Eban, who also served as head of the Israeli mission to the United Nations, knew -- is that Palestine already is essentially a nation in the eyes of the international body. As set forth in a decades-long procession of decisions in not just the Palestine-obsessed General Assembly, but also the U.S.-dominated Security Council, the West Bank and Gaza possess the same rights of self-determination as any nation. Palestine -- and it is known officially as "Palestine" at the U.N. -- participates in General Assembly and Security Council debates and enjoys a permanent mission. Merely making this formal, as Abbas wants, would change little at Turtle Bay -- and, if history is any indication, less on the ground.
It's often said that Palestine defines the United Nations as much as any other issue. That's incorrect. No other issue comes close. In his memoir A Life in Peace and War, U.N. war horse Brian Urquhart observes, "The Palestine problem has haunted the development of the United Nations ever since 1948" and "has twisted the organization's image and fragmented its reputation and prestige." The United Nations' first special committee was set up to deal with Palestine; its peacekeeping model was created there; its greatest son, Ralph Bunche, made his name there, and for his efforts was the first U.N. employee to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The United Nations Resolutions on Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict compilation runs to five volumes (as of 1998).
No less, the United Nations defines Palestine. I spent March on assignment in the Gaza Strip, where the U.N. Relief and Works Agency is indispensable to life. Not only does it service the strip's refugee camps, where hundreds of thousands still live, but it runs Gaza's best schools, builds apartment blocks, and is the second-largest employer after the government.
The United Nations first resolved to create a state for Palestinians alongside Israel in 1947, in Resolution 181, the partition resolution, as it was known (before that, the League of Nations' Mandate for Palestine, written in 1920, provided for Palestinian self-rule), but efforts in that direction since -- and the U.N.'s concomitant rebukes of Israel -- have served as nothing else has to belittle the institution in Israeli and American estimation. Some of the United States' best politicians have fallen prey to this contemptuous attitude. (Former New York senator and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Daniel Patrick Moynihan named his memoir about life at Turtle Bay A Dangerous Place.)