Today, Palestine is set to be recognised as a nation for the first time. Barring some unforeseen surprise, the UN general assembly is expected to approve Palestine's status upgrade to a non-member observer state by a wide margin.
This will be a massive breakthrough for the Palestinian people and the world – one that will breathe new life into the flagging yet vital two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, and provide the Palestinians with essential legal remedies against occupation. If everyone treats this historic event as the game-changer it is, two long-suffering nations will be one step closer to living side-by-side in peace.
The long road to UN recognition
For decades, the Palestinian people have been stateless, victims of war and Israeli expansion and misled by false Arab allies, their own leadership and a failed peace process. In recent years, talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders ground to a halt, settlement growth in the West Bank continued, and horrific bouts of violence recurred in Gaza.
When Palestinians fought against Israeli occupation with bullets and bombs, the Israeli government said it wouldn't negotiate with terrorists. But when the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad, tried negotiation and diplomacy, Israel's hardline government responded not by extending a hand, but by accelerating the growth of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Abbas refused to continue negotiating while Israel was establishing these "facts on the ground", talks stalled and have gone nowhere since 2010.
Last year, Abbas stuck to his diplomatic approach, asking the UN security council to grant Palestine full recognition as a UN member nation. That effort failed under threat of a US veto. But this year, by seeking a type of recognition short of full UN membership, the Palestinian Authority needs only a majority of the general assembly's 193 members to support it. More than 100 countries have already pledged their support.
Israel is fiercely opposed to Palestine's UN manoeuvre, saying a final territorial agreement can only come through direct negotiations (which have been hopelessly stalled for years). There have even been threats from the Israeli government to topple the Palestinian Authority if Abbas proceeds. Israel's staunchest ally, the US, has joined the fight and is exerting lots of pressure of its own. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton recently appealed directly to Abbas not to go ahead with the UN bid. It's worth remembering that when Unesco – the UN body for education, science and culture – welcomed Palestine into its ranks last year the US cut off all funding, crippling the organisation.
The US has also been cranking up the pressure on Europe to reject the Palestinian UN bid. A diplomatic memorandum circulated at the UN warned EU governments the move would be "extremely counterproductive".
Why the focus on Europe? Because although the vote is likely to pass, with the US firmly against it, the vote's legitimacy is widely seen to lie in the hands of the European powers.
The good news is, key European leaders are now standing up to the bullying and following the clear will of their citizens: France and Spain have already signalled their support for Palestine. The UK, under increasing pressure to be on the right side of history, says it could support Palestinian statehood, but only if Abbas agrees not to seek membership of the international criminal court or the international court of justice, which could be used to prosecute Israel for war crimes and illegal settlement growth. That's a truly unfair stipulation from the British, that tries to bargain away an entire people’s right to justice.
Why this is very big deal
Winning recognition from the UN has been dismissed by some observers as merely symbolic, but that's far from the truth.
Of course, an affirmative vote would be symbolic. But it would also present Palestine with increased access to the UN and other global institutions, of which the international courts are an important example. Having a forum to seek rulings on Israel's violations of international law over past decades will make a big difference, says Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “The day after, life will not be the same,” he told reporters in September. “Yes, occupation will continue, settlements will continue, the crimes of settlers may continue. But there will be consequences.”
The vote's most potent effect will be to offer new life to the two-state solution – long understood to be the most just and workable resolution to the tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only by establishing a free and independent Palestine, with secure borders and security agreements, can these two countries live together peacefully.
The vision of two states has faded in recent years, eclipsed by settlement growth, divided Palestinian leadership and Israel's myopic focus on Iran's nuclear programme. But with Palestine recognised by the world, the two-state option necessarily springs back to life. And a faith in diplomacy and negotiation would be validated as the real tools for justice and peace.
Not only that, but the vote will give Palestinian citizens the sense of dignity and hope they richly deserve after decades of grinding occupation.
Read more: This Q&A from the BBC gives a good overview of what's at stake.
Sources: Washington Post, Business Insider, Voice of America, UNGA, Council on Foreign Relations, Guardian, AFP, Arab News, New York Times, Elders, BBC