Reasons for recognising Palestine

Why should Aotearoa recognise Palestine?

  • To bring Aotearoa NZ into line with most UN Member States.
  • To acknowledge that Palestine meets the legal criteria for statehood.
  • To stand up for the human rights of Palestinians.
  • To be consistent with the government’s support of a two-state solution.

Aligning with the majority of UN member states

In failing to recognise Palestine as a state, Aotearoa NZ is currently out of step with most UN member states and its own foreign policy position.

Currently, 138 of 193 – almost three in four – UN member states recognise Palestine, including Iceland, Sweden, South Africa, India, China, Chile and Argentina. Recently, the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and Italy have taken steps towards recognition. This overwhelming international support for Palestinian statehood recognises the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence and the efforts of the Palestinians to have the international community respect their right to self-determination under international law.[1]

Meeting the criteria for statehood

The criteria for statehood, under international law, are that a state should possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.[2] Many scholars agree that Palestine meets these criteria for statehood.[3] The commonest arguments against recognising Palestinian statehood rely on circumstances resulting directly from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. It is unfair and illogical for Aotearoa NZ, or any state, to denounce Israel’s occupation and settlement expansion as breaches of international law; yet, at the same time, use the effects of those breaches on the Palestinians and the control of their land as an argument against recognition of Palestinian statehood.

A permanent population

The international community recognises the Palestinian people.[4] Their population of five million has resided within its territory for centuries and shares a common culture, language, and identity.[5] Thousands of Palestinian refugees, displaced by Israel since 1948, reside in refugee camps outside its borders with no right of return. A vast diaspora of Palestinian people scattered across the globe, still identify with their homeland. Those who remain in Palestine face significant restrictions on their freedom of movement and the encroachment of illegal Israeli settlements on their land.

A defined territory

The UN has repeatedly emphasised that the 1967 lines–the territorial borders before Israel’s Six-Day War–represent the territory reserved for Palestine. Since 1967 Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. UN Security Council Resolution 2334, sponsored by Aotearoa NZ in 2016, condemned the expanding Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as “imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines”.  If Palestine cannot exercise complete control over its territory, it is because of Israel’s ongoing, illegal military occupation.

Governance & representation

In 1974, the UN General Assembly recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1994, Israel recognised the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established as part of the Oslo Accords. While the PA performs a government function in large parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israeli occupation forces seriously constrain its control and authority. Israel controls natural resources, revenue and the movement of people and goods. These limitations on the power of the PA are a direct consequence of the occupation.

Relations with other states

Palestine has a wide network of missions and embassies across the globe. It has full diplomatic relations with over 100 states, most of which are full embassy-status relationships. There is an Ambassador and Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. The current Ambassador, His Excellency Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, recently met with New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nanaia Mahuta.

Standing up for human rights

Aotearoa NZ professes to support a rules-based international order that is fundamental to the protection and realisation of the human rights of all peoples. Putting these values into practice means taking resolute action to stand up for Palestinian human rights, including their right to self-determination, and holding Israel to account for its long-running, widespread violations of international law.

Francesa Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territories, recently stated that “the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been steadily deteriorating, primarily as a result of gross violations of international law, including racial segregation and subjugation by the occupying power, Israel.” She described “the recognition of the Palestinian people’s fundamental right to determine their political, social and economic status and develop as a people, free from foreign occupation, rule and exploitation” as the “critical issue” in addressing the situation in Palestine.[6]

Promoting the two-state solution

Israel unilaterally declared statehood in 1948, triggering the first Arab-Israeli War and the ensuing Nakba (or “catastrophe” in Arabic) when Zionist militias drove over 750,000 Palestinians out of their homes and into refugee camps. In 1949 Aotearoa NZ recognised the state of Israel. However, consecutive governments of Aotearoa NZ have maintained that a Palestinian state would only be granted to the Palestinians as the final outcome of a peace process.

Apart from ignoring the right of Palestinian people to determine for themselves what a just resolution might be, this position defies logic and perpetuates the asymmetry between the negotiating parties. Israel enjoys sovereignty over its territory, Western diplomatic and economic support and controls the most powerful military force in the Middle East. Palestinians are stateless, oppressed, occupied and under the constant surveillance of the Israeli occupation forces.

Before 2014 Sweden adopted the same stance towards Palestine as Aotearoa NZ until it decided to recognise Palestine. The Swedish government now calls on other states to recognise Palestine, arguing that the two-state solution requires “mutual recognition and a desire for peaceful coexistence”.[7]  Recognition of Palestinian statehood is a prerequisite for a lasting peace founded on self-determination and justice for the Palestinian people.

Aotearoa NZ must recognise statehood now to put Palestine on an equal footing with Israel in our diplomatic relations and demonstrate our commitment to a rules-based international order. Statehood recognition also signals to Israel our intention to hold it accountable for disregarding these fundamental international institutions.




[1] UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (1960) states: “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they may freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

[2] Montevideo Convention of 1933, art 1.

[3] See, for example, Boyle, F. A. (1987). Creating the state of Palestine. The Palestine Yearbook of International Law, 4(1), 15–43.; Panganiban, S. K. (2016). Palestinian statehood: A study of statehood through the lens of the Montevideo Convention [Master’s Thesis, Virginia Tech].; Pitta, M. (2018). Statehood and recognition: The case of Palestine [Master’s Thesis, University of Barcelona].; Quigley, J. (2010). The statehood of Palestine: International law in the middle east conflict. Cambridge University Press; Whitbeck, J. V. (2011). The State of Palestine exists. Middle East Policy, 18(2), 62-66.

[4] United Nations (1981). The international status of the Palestinian people.

[5] Pitta, M. (2018). Statehood and recognition: The case of Palestine [Master’s Thesis, University of Barcelona].

[6] Albanese, F. (2022). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. United Nations.

[7]   Badarin, E. (2020). States recognition in foreign policy: The case of Sweden’s recognition of Palestine. Foreign Policy Analysis, 16(1), 78–97.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

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