After yesterday's declaration of an independent Palestinian state, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization now faces the task of gaining international recognition for that state. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat has asked for a visa to come to the United Nations later this month. He hopes to be in New York during the annual commemoration of the UN General Assembly's Nov. 29, 1947 decision - enshrined in Resolution 181 - to partition the British-mandate territory of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
That decision provided the legal basis for the creation of the state of Israel - and the PLO leader is expected to argue that until there is also an independent state of Palestine, the job is only half done.
It took 10 years for the PLO to gain Arab endorsement as the ``sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people'' in 1974. Now, more than 100 nations accord full diplomatic recognition to the PLO. And diplomats here predict that most of them will also recognize the Palestinian state.
Under traditional international law, diplomats say, the three criteria for the creation of a state are to have a people, a territory, and an authority which exercises effective control over them. While the PLO has not succeeded in its declared aim to liberate any part of occupied Palestine from Israeli control, there is not much doubt that the proclamation of a state would be endorsed by a referendum in the territories held by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The real question, UN sources say, is about a Palestinian state's prospects for admission to the UN. International recognition of the state is crucial to the Palestinian plan.
A European diplomat says the Palestinians have articulated a strong case: ``No reasonable person could doubt that [Tuesday's] declaration proposes is negotiations with Israel that would leave Israel territorially intact and create a new state within pre-1967 borders.''
But Israel remains adamantly opposed to a Palestinian state. And hard-line Israelis have previously stated that they neither want nor need recognition from the PLO. The US is also unlikely to soon change its position that Palestinian self-determination must be the outcome of negotiations with Israel. This argument may just have moved to different grounds, diplomats point out, because the Palestinians have in effect exercised their right to self-determination by their proclamation of an independent state.
Application for full UN membership must go through the UN Security Council, where the US would almost certainly exercise its veto power. It must also pass in the General Assembly by a two-thirds majority.
Under an earlier Palestinian plan, there had been consideration of a symbolic seat on the assembly floor for the state of Palestine, while the PLO would remain only an observer acting on behalf of that state.
But what is considered most likely now, diplomats say, is that the PLO observer mission will move for a simple change to becoming the observer state of Palestine. That would essentially be a change in name only, for until the formation of a government, the same PLO representatives would represent the state.
In the last two weeks the Palestinians have made a number of moves in assembly committees. One new resolution says that aid to the occupied territories should be given in consultation with the PLO and funneled through it.