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17 September 2011

Implications of the Palestinian U.N. drive



Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is striving for recognition of a fully-fledged Palestinian state at the United Nations against fierce opposition from Israel and the United States. (Reuters).
Here are some of the reasons behind the push as well as some of the possible consequences.

WHY DO THE PALESTINIANS WANT TO GO TO THE UNITED NATIONS?

Abbas says 20 years of U.S.-led peace talks have got nowhere and wants a vote in the United Nations to bestow the Palestinians with the cherished mantle of statehood. However, he recognizes that negotiations with Israel will still be needed to establish a properly functioning state.

Justifying the move, the Palestinians point to the success of a Western-backed, two-year plan to build institutions ready for statehood which they say is now finished.

THE PALESTINIANS WANT RECOGNITION ON 1967 LINES. WHY?

The Palestinian Authority (PA) says placing their state firmly in the context of territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war will provide clear terms of reference and mean Israel will no longer be able to call the land "disputed." Instead, it will make clear it is occupied. Israel fears this will enable Palestinians to start legal proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against some 500,000 Israelis who live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

HOW DOES THE U.N. ADMIT NEW MEMBER STATES?

Countries seeking to join the United Nations usually present an application to the U.N. secretary-general, who passes it to the Security Council to assess and vote on. If the 15-nation council approves the membership request, it is passed to the General Assembly for approval. A membership request needs a two-thirds majority, or 129 votes, for approval.

A country cannot join the United Nations unless both the Security Council and General Assembly approve its application.

COULD THE PALESTINIANS JOIN THE U.N.?

In theory, yes. But Washington has made clear it would veto such a request, meaning it has no chance of success. Even if the Palestinians secured a two-thirds majority of votes in the General Assembly, there is no getting around the need for prior approval of the Security Council.

IS "NON-MEMBER STATE" STATUS AN OPTION?

In addition to applying to become a full U.N. member state, the Palestinians could also seek upgraded observer status as a non-member state. That is what the Vatican has. Such status, U.N. envoys say, could be interpreted as implicit U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood because the assembly would be acknowledging that the Palestinians control an actual state.

The advantage of this option is that it would require only a simple majority of the 193-nation General Assembly, not a two-thirds majority. Abbas said on Friday that more than 126 states already recognize the state of Palestine, meaning he could probably win such a vote with ease.

WHAT WOULD BE THE ADVANTAGE OF THAT?

Besides granting them the all-important title "state," diplomats say it might enable the Palestinians to join the ICC, from which it could pursue legal cases against Israel over the partial blockade of Gaza or the settlements.

ARE THERE ANY DISADVANTAGES FOR THE PALESTINIANS?

There are potential pitfalls. For example, Israel could counter sue the Palestinians in the ICC over missiles fired at it out of Gaza, which is run by the Hamas Islamist group.

Some critics have warned of legal consequences for the Palestinians themselves, arguing the move could jeopardize the rights of refugees in the Palestinian diaspora and the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Others have dismissed those arguments.

Also, the U.N. vote will not change things on the ground in the Palestinian territories -- a reality which could further undermine the standing of the Palestinian leadership when the dust settles. Some Israelis have warned disappointment could fuel anti-Israeli violence and even spark a new Intifada. PA officials have dismissed that prospect.

COULD ISRAEL OR WASHINGTON EXACT PUNISHMENT ON THE PA?

Israeli officials have suggested a range of possible measures, including limiting travel privileges for Palestinian leaders seeking to exit the West Bank, halting the transfer of crucial tax revenues to the Palestinians and even annexing West Bank settlement blocs to try to sidestep ICC legal action. Some U.S. officials have warned that they might cut their annual aid to the Palestinian Authority, which runs to some $450 million. It is far from clear if they will enact these threats. Depriving the PA of funds, for example, would rapidly push it to financial collapse, which would provoke instability. In the case of bankruptcy, some leading Palestinians argue that the PA should hand over the keys of the big West Bank cities to Israel and tell it to pay for the on-going occupation.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer and Lou Charbonneau- (Reuters)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/16/us-palestinians-israel-un-implications-idUSTRE78F4V320110916
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Another 'Symbolic Victory': Abbas' New Political Gambit


By Ramzy Baroud – Arab News

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided to go to the United Nations to request the admission of Palestine as a full member, he appeared to have had an epiphany. Had he finally realized that for the past two decades he and his party, Fatah, have gone down a road to nowhere?

That Israel was only interested in him as a conduit to achieve its colonial endeavor in the remaining 22 percent of historical Palestine? That his national project — predicated on the ever elusive “peace process” — achieved neither peace nor justice?

Abbas claims to be serious this time. Despite all US attempts at intimidation (for example, by threatening to withhold funds), and despite the intensifying of Israeli tactics (including the further arming of illegal Jewish settlers to combat possible Palestinian mobilization in the West Bank), Abbas simply could not be persuaded against seeking a UN membership this September.

“We are going to the Security Council. We need to have full membership in the United Nations... we need a state, and we need a seat at the UN,” Abbas told Palestinians in a televised speech on Sept. 16.

For months, Palestinian intellectuals, historians, legal experts and academicians have warned against Abbas’s haphazard, understudied move. Some have argued that if Abbas’ UN adventure is a tactical maneuver, its legal repercussions are too grave a price to pay for little or no returns. If “Palestine” replaces the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) — currently recognized by the UN as the sole representative of the Palestinian people — then Palestinians risk losing the only unifying body they all have in common (its replacement representing only two million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank).

“Most damaging is that this initiative changes our ability as a people to represent the totality of our inalienable rights,” said Abdel Razzaq Takriti, activist and political historian at Oxford University (according to Ma’an news agency, Sept. 3).  “The simple act of replacing the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people with a state removes the claims of the PLO to sovereign status as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

The PLO, which for decades served as a bulwark of the Palestinian national struggle, continues to exist today, but only in theory. The PA, which was founded in 1994 as a temporary authority to oversee a Palestinian transition to statehood has slowly but decidedly hijacked and undercut PLO institutions.

More, the PA itself has neither legitimacy nor credibility. Whatever remained of the latter was lost during the Israeli war on Gaza and the publishing of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera and the Guardian. The papers showed that the very individuals now championing a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN once regularly collaborated with Israel to crack down on Palestinian resistance. They helped Israel undermine Palestinian democracy, isolate democratically-elected Hamas, give away the refugees’ right of return, and worse, deprive Palestinians from any meaningful sovereignty in occupied East Jerusalem.  

As for its lack of legitimacy, the matter requires no leaked documents. In fact, Fatah’s refusal to concede to 2006 election results led to the circumstances that exasperated a civil war in Gaza. Gaza’s besiegement (a direct consequence of the elections and the civil war) continues to serve both Israel and the PA equally. The latter is functioning in the West Bank with no popular mandate, Another 'Symbolic Victory': Abbas' New Political Gambit


surviving on international handouts and “security coordination” with the Israeli Army. Even Abbas’s term as a president of the PA has expired.

All of this summons an urgent question: How can an authority that lacks the legal legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinian people take on a role that could change the course of the entire Palestinian national project?

A leaked legal opinion by Oxford University law professor Guy Goodwin-Gill warned of the legal consequences of Abbas’ bid, including the sidelining of the PLO. Goodwin-Gill intended to “flag the matters requiring attention, if a substantial proportion of the people are not to be accidentally disenfranchised.” An equally worrisome issue is the PA’s history of acting in ways that contradict the interests of the Palestinian people. Years of such experience left most Palestinians with significantly less land and greatly reduced rights. On the other hand, a small segment of the Palestinian population prospered. Evidently, the “new rich” of Palestine were all affiliated with the PA, Fatah and the very few on top.

This iniquitous situation would have easily continued were it not for the so-called Arab Spring, which began demolishing the status quo governing Arab countries. Abbas’ corrupt regime was also a member of the ailing Arab political apparatus. Its existence, like others, was propped by American or other Western support. In order to avoid brewing anger in Palestine and the region, the Palestinian leadership was forced to present itself as breaking away from the old paradigm

More, the “the PA feels abandoned by the US which assigned it the role of collaborator with the Israeli occupation, and feels frozen in a “peace process” that does not seek an end goal,” according to Joseph Massad in Al Jazeera. “PA politicians opted for the UN vote to force the hand of the Americans and the Israelis, in the hope that a positive vote will grant the PA more political power and leverage to maximize its domination of the West Bank.”

The reasons behind the PA bid for statehood range between tactical politics (involving Israel and the US) and diverting attention from the PA’s own failures. The elitist politics almost complete discount the Palestinian people. If Palestinians truly mattered to Abbas, he would have started by unifying Palestinian factions, reenergizing (as opposed to stifling) civil society, and setting in motion the process needed to reform the PLO (as opposed to destroying its hard-earned international legitimacy).

“It is evident that Palestine needs newly elected leadership through an inclusive democratic process encompassing all Palestinians, not just those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” wrote leading Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta in the Middle East Monitor (July 10, 2011). This, in fact, should be the task at hand, not wasting time and energy pursing political gambits, which, at best will only yield symbolic victories.

Indeed, the Palestinian people are fed up with symbolic victories. They may have guaranteed Abbas and his men all the trappings of power, but they have failed to reclaim even one inch of occupied Palestine.

- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on Amazon.com.

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Statehood versus 'facts on the ground'
If Israel really wants to make peace with Palestinians, why does it reject every Palestinian effort to do so?
By Richard Falk 

Even if nothing further were to happen, the proposed Palestinian initiative for statehood, combined with the furious negative responses in Tel Aviv and Washington, has given a much-needed visibility to the ongoing daily ordeal of the Palestinian people, whether living under the rigours of occupation, consigned for decades to miserable refugee camps, or existing in the stressful limbo of exile.



Palestinians are divided as to the wisdom of applying for statehood at the UN [GALLO/GETTY]


The only genuine challenge facing the world community of states and the UN is how to end this ordeal - which has lasted now for 63 years - in a manner that produces a just and sustainable peace. It is the entanglement of geopolitics with this unmet challenge that signifies the moral, legal, and political inadequacy of the contemporary world order.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict, along with the continued presence of nuclear weaponry and the persistence of world poverty, exhibits the failure of international law and morality, as well as of common sense and enlightened realism, to guide the behaviour of leading sovereign states.

In the face of this failure, the frustrations, injustice, and extraordinary suffering experienced by the Palestinian people has come to dominate the moral and political imagination of the world. No issue has generated this level of solidarity among the peoples of the world since the anti-apartheid campaign toppled the racist regime in South Africa more than twenty years ago.

To the surprise of many and the comprehension of few, it is not only Israel that opposes this initiative of the Palestinian Authority (PA). A crucial part of the background is the division among Palestinians as to the wisdom and effects of the statehood initiative at the UN.

Criticism of the bid

Palestinian critics consider the statehood application diversionary and divisive, arguing that it will shrink the dispute to territorial issues, place approximately seven million Palestinian refugees and exile communities in permanent limbo, and allow Israel to treat the outcome of this UN shadow play as the end game in their long effort to transform what was to be a temporary occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank into a condition of permanent, if de facto, annexation. 

The question that underlies this debate is whether the diplomatic claim of statehood in this form legitimately represents the Palestinian people in their several dimensions, or merely fulfills, at a price, the ambitions of the PA. In the background is the organisational complexity of the Palestinian community, with the future of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) drawn into question.
Whereas the councils of the PLO include representatives of the Palestinian diaspora, the PA is a political formation intended to address the circumstances of occupation in the post-Oslo period, and has as its primary goal the promotion of the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces. To carry out this mission it has been seeking with some success (achieving favourable progress reports from the World Bank and IMF) to demonstrate that it possesses the institutional capabilities needed for stable governance, including maintaining security and preventing anti-Israeli activism.

How this sense of political priorities relates to the claims of refugees confined in camps in neighbouring Arab countries, as well as the several million Palestinians living around the world, seems to be the deepest issue dividing the Palestinian people as a whole. A closely related concern, but one that is more widely appreciated, is the refusal of Hamas to lend support to this initiative, despite the fanfare surrounding the unity agreement brokered by Egypt in early June.  

What Palestinian opponents of the statehood bid most fear is that the issue of representation will be wrongly resolved from their perspective. This issue of representation lies at the political core of the internal Palestinian struggle to achieve their rights under international law, above all to define the Palestinian "self" that is entitled to self-determination.

There are worries among Palestinians living outside of the occupied territories that the statehood bid, whatever its outcome, will have an adverse spillover effect on the still-unresolved representation issue. In addressing this concern, the non-participation of Hamas in this kind of Palestinian diplomacy cannot be ignored, nor can Hamas be dismissed due to its alleged refusal to accept an Israel that lies within its 1967 borders. 

It should be appreciated, without necessarily being accepted as reliable, that Hamas leaders have periodically indicated a willingness to sign onto a long-term coexistence agreement of up to 50 years if Israel withdraws completely to the Green Line that was treated as Israel's border until the 1967 War.

Such an agreement is highly unlikely to overcome genuine Israeli anxieties or correspond to Israeli perceptions of Hamas and its intentions; furthermore, its implementation would thwart Israel's territorial ambitions by requiring the dismantlement of the settlements. At the same time, the realisation that what has been tried has not worked suggests that this admittedly imperfect alternative to negotiations in the search for a sustainable peace should not be unconditionally rejected.

Doesn't Israel want peace?

Against such a background, how can we explain the furious Israeli and US opposition to this Palestinian initiative? Should not Israel and the United States welcome, even encourage, this PA initiative as a way of reducing the conflict to its land-for-peace dimensions, maybe getting rid of the right of return issue once and for all?

Joseph Massad has perceptively analysed the statehood bid as presenting Israel with a win/win situation. Even so, the intensive US efforts to thwart the bid by vetoing or getting a majority to vote against it in the Security Council is easy to understand.

On any question that comes before the UN in which Israeli policy is seriously questioned or its behaviour is subject to criticism, the United States leaps to Israel's defense, regardless of the merits, whenever necessary using its veto power in the Security Council. This has been true during the Obama presidency on UN efforts to censure unlawful settlement expansion, to carry forward the accountability recommendations of the Goldstone Report, or to allow civil society to break the unlawful blockade that has entrapped the people of Gaza for more than four years.

Casting a veto here or working behind the scenes to cobble together a majority, as the respected international law expert Balakrishnan Rajagopal has noted in a recent column in the Huffington Post, is both politically imprudent and unmindful of UN members' responsibility to uphold the legal rights of every political community to enjoy the privileges of statehood if it qualifies as a state.

It is a tribute to the UN that the most important of these privileges is now access to the United Nations system with the status of a sovereign state. It should be observed that another highly-regarded international jurist, John Quigley, in a scholarly book published by Cambridge University Press two years ago, argued that Palestine was already a state from the perspective of international law, and had been so recognised by well over 100 governments.

This diplomatic crusade to block Palestinian statehood also undermines confidence in US claims to serve as a world leader promoting the global public good. This primacy of hard-power geopolitics will raise serious questions about the capacity of the UN to serve as a vehicle for the realisation of global justice and to uphold the basic rights of peoples.

'We the hegemon'

Need we be reminded once again that the inspiring opening words of the UN Charter, "we the peoples", has always given way to "we the governments"? More starkly since the end of the Cold War, as this controversy sadly highlights, it has been replaced by "we the hegemon". 

We should by now understand that the United States government does whatever Israel wants it to do, but why does Israel seem to mind so much if the Palestinian initiative were to succeed? After all, even the Netanyahu leadership claims it supports Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution.

And if the Palestinian critics of the PA are even partially correct, would not the further territorialisation of the conflict and its narrowing of the negotiating agenda serve Israeli interests?
Some believe the Israeli government is stalling negotiations so that they can create irreversible 'facts on the ground' [GALLO/GETTY]
This interpretation seems reinforced by Mahmoud Abbas' reassurances that PA security forces will prevent any Palestinian violence targeting Israelis, that the path to direct negotiations is more open than ever, and that this initiative in no way is meant to challenge the legitimacy of the Israeli state. Since the events of the Arab Spring, Israel has shown almost no capacity to act in support of its real interests in the region, as exemplified by its botched relations with Turkey and Egypt, and perhaps this response at the UN is just one more illustration. Such an explanation cannot be ruled out, but there are more sinister interpretations that seem more plausible given Israel's overall pattern of behaviour.

By insisting that only "direct negotiations" can produce statehood Israel is providing itself with a gold-plated pretext for refusing to negotiate at all for years to come. Netanyahu almost comically suggested that the delay could last 60 years. And for what reason? Another line of explanation gives the settler leadership its own veto power, and it has already vowed to carry out provocative "sovereignty marches" into the West Bank during the UN discussions. 

In this conflict, time has never been static, or neutral. Each extra day of occupation, refugee status and involuntary exile, in effect, lengthens a prison sentence imposed on the entirety of the Palestinian people. This is bad enough, but, in addition, Israel has taken consistent advantage of the passage of time to expand its unlawful settlements, alter the demographics of East Jerusalem in its favour, build a separation wall found to be a violation of international law by a vote of 14 to 1 in the World Court, and to isolate Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian territories and the world.

'Creating facts on the ground'

During the Oslo peace process that gave rise to the mantra of direct negotiations or nothing, Israel has more than doubled the settlement population, and steadfastly refuses to impose even a temporary freeze on expansion in the West Bank during negotiations, and has never been willing even to consider a freeze on settlement construction in East Jerusalem.

Israeli leaders talk openly, even boast, about "creating facts on the ground", more discreetly referred to by Hillary Clinton as "subsequent developments", and more realistically understood as the ratification of massive illegality. Such a political posture exposes the lie beneath an Israeli claim of a commitment to "direct negotiations" as a path to peace. Direct negotiations for almost 20 years have brought the parties no closer to peace, and arguably have had as their main effect the undermining of the conditions for a sustainable two-state solution.

What direct negotiations have done is to buy time for Israel's unacknowledged ambitions and to calm international criticisms of this prolonged and cruel occupation.

Unfortunately, however the diplomatic confrontation unfolds, little is likely to be resolved. The charade of direct negotiations remains on the table. Parties on all sides ignore the revelations of the Palestine Papers, published a few months ago by Al Jazeera English, that showed beyond reasonable doubt that even the supposedly more moderate Olmert government of Israel seemed totally disinterested in a resolution of the conflict, even in the face of repeated PA concessions on fundamental issues made in confidential backroom talks at the highest levels.

Add to this the mockery of fairness that arises from allowing the United States to play the role of intermediary, the "honest broker" in such negotiations. Imagine trying to settle a marriage breakup by asking the elder brother of the wealthy husband to arbitrate a fight over assets with his penniless wife. How could such a framework ever hope to achieve peace that is just and sustainable? And what seems deeply flawed in theory has been shown to be even worse in practice. The parties are further from peace than ever: Palestinian rights and expectations have been continuously shrunk as time passes, and the occupation helps to consolidate a permanent Israeli presence.

Gallows humour

In the end, these questions of tactics and principle bearing on the right of self-determination need to be resolved by the Palestinian people.

Neither Israel, the United States, nor even the United Nations can displace this fundamental Palestinian responsibility for selecting a road that they believe will lead to peace with justice. But it is a display of gallows humour to expect most Palestinians to look with favour at the resumption of peace talks under the framework that has been used since the Oslo framework was agreed upon in 1993.

It has repeatedly demonstrated the futility of direct negotiations, especially given the continuing refusal of Israel to make even the most minimal gestures of real commitment, such as suspending settlement expansion indefinitely and dropping their deal-breaking insistence on being confirmed as "a Jewish state", a claim that flies in the face of the presence in Israel of a Palestinian minority numbering more than 1.5 million.

If Israel is to retain its claim to be a democratic state, it must not insist on such an exclusivist formal identity. There is no way for claims of ethnic or religious exclusivity to be reconciled with the legal, moral, and political promise of human rights that have become the main signifiers of legitimate government at this time in history.     

Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).

He is currently serving his fourth year of a six-year term as a United Nations special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


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UN recognition of 'Palestine' is: a) The Greatest! b) The Worst! or c) Meh!
Editorials and opinion pieces span the gamut of views on the Palestinian Authority's United Nations statehood bid.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is pressing forward with plans to ask the United Nations to recognize "Palestine" as an independent state this week, leading to a diplomatic flurry in New York the likes of which are rarely seen.President Obama has promised to veto the Palestinian move in the UN Security Council, which will throw the matter to the General Assembly, which is likely to grant the PA enhanced standing there, though isn't able to deliver the full recognition that Mr. Abbas says he craves.

Israeli officials have descended on New York in a last ditch attempt to head off the vote.

Knesset Member Danny Danon, who belongs to the Likud party, is there, urging US politicians to support his desire that Israel annex the West Bank and push its Palestinian population centers onto Jordan (with Gaza to be given to Egypt in his plan), and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is scheduled to appear with Mr. Danon later today. Fox News reports that Governor Perry's speech is expected to include the following lines: "We are indignant that certain Middle Eastern leaders have discarded the principle of direction negotiations between the sovereign nation of Israel and the Palestinian leadership. And we are equally indignant that the Obama administration's Middle East policy of appeasement has encouraged such an ominous act of bad faith."

In fact, Abbas doesn't feel appeased at all. His aides say he feels backed into a corner by continued Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and the failure of the US in the past 18 years since the Oslo Accords were signed to prevent the inexorable march of new facts on the ground.

Ahead of this weeks fireworks, here is some recent opinion on what's going on.

Avi Shlaim, a University of Oxford scholar of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict argues in a roundup of opinion at Al Jazeera that recognition may be the best way forward for establishing a Palestinian state.

"The bid for statehood is not changing anything on the ground, but in the international arena. It will change the terms of the debate and tilt the balance of power internationally against Israel and in favor of Palestinians. It is mainly a symbolic act. It will change the dynamic in a very symbolic way," he says. "Why are Israel and the US so hysterical about the UN bid if it doesn’t make a difference? They are hysterical about it because until now, for the past 20 years, they have had everything their way. There was the American-sponsored peace process, which was leading nowhere slowly, and Israel was carrying on with its expansionist agenda and pretending to be involved in a peace process. Now this has ended."

Gershon Baskin, writing in the Jerusalem Post, largely agrees that this could be a positive step and says Israel, if it responds well, has little to fear.

"The Palestinians are going to the United Nations because they have lost faith (just as Israel has) in the ability to create their state and reach independence through negotiations with Israel without clear terms of reference for an agreement," Mr. Baskin writes. "The Palestinians are going to the UN because they have learned from Israel’s own experience. Israel’s birth certificate was issued in the United Nations (just as the same resolution issued the Palestinian’s certificate of birth). In May 1948 David Ben Gurion unilaterally declared independence. This was an act of defiance not only against the Arab states that rejected it militarily, but also against many friendly states, including the United States which advised against it... They are going to the United Nations in order to preserve what might be the very last chance to have a two states for two peoples solution to this conflict."

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, meanwhile, presented likely General Assembly approval (the Obama administration has promised to veto the bid in the Security Council) in apocalyptic terms and urged the US to close the Palestinian representative office in Washington and defund the United Nation's in response.

"A vote at the UN won't create a Palestinian state and will likely retard the creation of one, perhaps for years. It won't remove any Israeli settlements from the West Bank and might well give Jerusalem reason to accelerate the pace of construction. It could also lead Israel to take various punitive measures against the Palestinians, including freezing tax transfers worth about $100 million a month. The US Congress might follow by cutting off the $600 million in annual aid to the Palestinians," the Journal said. "What Palestinians seek out of a U.N. vote isn't an affirmation of their right to a state, but rather another tool in their perpetual campaign to harass, delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel. "We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years," (Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud) Abbas said the other day. That's another way of saying that the "occupation," in Mr. Abbas's view, began with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and not with Israel's takeover of the West Bank and Gaza after a war that threatened Israel's existence in 1967."

Ali Abunimah, a pro-Palestinian activist and author, sees the UN vote as a dangerous and distracting waste of time.

"Most discussions of the UN bid pit Israel and the United States on one side, fiercely opposing it, and Palestinian officials and allied governments on the other. But this simplistic portrayal ignores the fact that among the Palestinian people themselves there is precious little support for the effort," he writes. "The opposition, and there is a great deal of it, stems from three main sources: the vague bid could lead to unintended consequences; pursuing statehood above all else endangers equality and refugee rights; and there is no democratic mandate for the Palestinian Authority to act on behalf of Palestinians or to gamble with their rights and future."
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What Palestinian state?

Most Palestinians wonder what would actually change 'on the ground' if the UN grants Palestine statehood.
By Lori A. Allen

Palestinians differ about whether the bid for statehood will change the situation 'on the ground' 

For the past few weeks, a world of analysts and academics has been fretting and strutting hypotheses about the PLO's state-declaring endeavors at the UN. Across the pages of esteemed broadsheets, verbally diarrhetic blogs, and well-crafted op-ed sites, they bandy questions about the political and legal fall-out of this manoeuvre. 

Will it be a declaration of a "state"? Or something that may quack and waddle like a state but doesn't have quite enough feathers to fly like a state?

With its focus on the 1967 borders, has the Palestinian Authority (PA) finally fully succumbed to the revocation of refugee rights and reparation? Will the US veto the proposal for Palestinians' full UN membership on the grounds that it is "counterproductive", revealing, yet again, that they are not an "honest broker"? Can their credibility in the Middle East dwindle yet further? 

Some of these ponderous queries have been resolved with the September 16 speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said, "we are going to the United Nations to request our legitimate right, obtaining full membership for Palestine in this organisation". And now the rightness or wrongness of that decision has sparked a new round of words, both of support and condemnation.

Over teas, araks, and social networking sites, regular people are also debating the proposal. It seems to me that their critiques articulate more precisely the fundamental issues of representative government and the real meaning of statehood. Two questions are especially important:

Question one

What gives the PA or the PLO the right to bid for UN membership for a state led by those who do not have the mandate of the majority of the people?

"I've never voted in an election for Mahmoud Abbas. Who says he represents me?"

"I've never voted in an election for Mahmoud Abbas. Who says he represents me?" a busy working mom from a Beirut refugee camp said to me yesterday. "If I'd voted for him, I'd have to respect his decisions. But I've never voted in any election."

Palestinian refugees outside the occupied Palestinian territory, who are disenfranchised in every sense of the word, have never had the chance to choose their representatives. Neither in their host countries, nor in their historic homeland of Palestine. Not in Lebanon, not in Jordan. Not in Syria, where Palestinian refugees "have the same duties and responsibilities as Syrian citizens other than nationality and political rights."  

Question two

What kind of state is bidding for this UN membership?

Many Palestinians in the West Bank are also dismissive of the UN bid. With some well-placed scare quotes, a friend from Ramallah expressed his sarcastic disdain over Facebook: "What do we need from a 'State' as we have a 'president' and 'security forces' and 'cabinet(s)'. So, we have everything." A smiley-face, and then a frowny-face emoticon followed, in case I did not grasp his full pess-optimist, satirical meaning.  

But I think I did.  In the West Bank he lives with a PA "president" whose legal mandate within the confines of the occupied Palestinian territory ran out in January 2009, (or January 2010, by some accounts). My Facebook friend lives in a place where "security forces" might be better labelled "insecurity forces".

They have become the object of fear, leading many to watch what they say in public, or adopt a suspicious silence once common in places like the German Democratic Republic or today's Syria. As a West Bank university professor described the situation to me, state-building in Palestine is being undertaken in a way that focuses on "the power part of the state but not the state. Building the regime not the citizens." And the "cabinet(s)" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are led by rival parties, severely hampering their oversight powers.  

Is this the state most Palestinians want or deserve?  

There are also many Palestinians who have supported and celebrated the demand for full UN membership. It is important symbolically to have their rights to sovereignty recognised internationally. And it could be important practically if they were allowed to bring cases directly to the International Criminal Court. But regardless of the outcome of the UN vote on September 23, most Palestinians will remain under occupation in the West Bank, under occupation and full siege in the Gaza Strip, marginalised in refugee camps across the Arab world, and in ghettos in Israel as well as Europe.


Even if the UN votes for statehood, many Palestinians believe that Israel will still control the occupied territories 

Small but real answers

While all the official analysts and intellectuals comment on the mysterious motives and obscure strategies of official politicians, some other Palestinians are trying to build a state in other, less remarked upon ways. And unlike the Palestinian leadership, they have some kind of long-term strategy, still vague though it may be.

"Yes, we want a state, but it has to be the right state that fits our people."

Young woman from a Beirut refugee camp

"Yes, we want a state, but it has to be the right state that fits our people," a young woman from that same Beirut refugee camp explained to me. And a first step to ensuring a state that fits, that means something for all Palestinians, is ensuring that Palestinians know who they are, what they stand for, and that all Palestinians count. This young woman sees her work with an oral history project as being a fundamental element of state-building. Gathering the stories of old people and protecting the heritage of Palestinians is a means to preserving their identity as a people, and their right to all of historic Palestine. 

Maybe a state needs a united nation before they can make use of the United Nations.

My Facebook friend in the West Bank has also been working for a state. In cooperation with Palestinians dispersed throughout the region, they are developing a website that will offer Palestinians a "virtual state" online that presents information on all the villages that used to be Palestine, village names and why they were named thus, even the tools that people used to use in their daily life. The "virtual state" that these grass-roots ethnographers are assembling, unlike the make-believe state that Abbas heads, will be available to Palestinians wherever they have internet.

Projects like these are happening all over. Another is a camp youth center that brings young refugees out of their cantonised isolation to discuss together what democracy and human rights really mean to them - to build their own vision of a state in which they will want to take part.  

Of course, none of these state projects offer services, sovereignty or security. But they are attempts to protect a Palestinian identity that includes recognition of all Palestinians.

Lori Allen is Lecturer of Contemporary Middle Eastern Politics and Society in the Deptartment of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
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