Fact check: John Bolton's claim about Palestine

John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor, said in a White House press briefing on October 3rd that Palestine is “not a state now. It does not meet the customary international law test of statehood.” He was responding to a reporter who asked about his calling Palestine a “so-called state”. This check will evaluate the claim, and another related but distinct claim he made.

(at 10:20 and he reiterates it at 10:32)

John Bolton White House Press Briefing 10/3/18

John Bolton White House Press Briefing 10/3/18

Claim 1:

“Palestine is not a state.”

Fact check:

To get a full idea of what he meant, we need to look at the entire context.

Bolton’s claim is: “It’s [Palestine] not a state now. It does not meet the customary international law test of statehood. It doesn’t control defined boundaries. It doesn’t fulfill the normal functions of government. There are a whole host of reasons it’s not a state. It could become a state.”

By referring to international law, Bolton makes this claim of legal import. WikiTribune contacted experts to assess the accuracy of this claim: they were unanimous that he was simply mistaken. Palestine is a state. See John Quigley‘s (professor of International law at Moritz College of Ohio State) and John Dugard’s (former member of the UN International Law Commission) quotes in the comments section.

With regard to this legal question, Palestine meets all the criteria for statehood. Palestine has a defined territory. That territory is defined by the 1967 borders (also called the Green Line). Palestine also has a government and a permanent population.

Palestine can also form formal diplomatic relations with other states and are met with a supermajority of states recognizing Palestine (137 out of 193) as a state.  UN resolution 67/19, adopted in 2012, recognized Palestine as an observer state and it is member of  UNESCO, the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and OPCW which restricts membership to states. It is also party to many multilateral treaties which are restricted to members which are states.

This claim is False.

However, Bolton makes a second claim (at 10:56 in the video). “We [The United States] do not recognize it as the State of Palestine.”

Claim 2:

“The U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a state.”

Fact check:

Unlike the first claim which is one of legal relevance, this one is a “political” claim. Here Bolton is correct that the U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a state. The U.S. has an official two state policy. The U.S. will recognize Palestine once formal negotiations are settled between the Israeli government and Palestine’s. It’s important we distinguish these two claims.

This claim is True.

Further context:

There are only two recognized “observer states“: Palestine and the Holy See. They can observe but not vote in UN General Assembly resolutions. Even before Palestine was officially recognized as an observer state, it had formed many informal diplomatic relations with other countries. Here is a rundown of the legal issues surrounding statehood and how this relates to Palestine (source: The New York Times).

A list of countries that do currently recognize Palestinian statehood can be found here.

A list of countries that do not currently recognize Palestinian statehood can be found here.


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