What does UN mem­ber­ship mean for Pales­tine and is choos­ing to go this route in the best in­ter­ests of the peo­ple?

Southasia - - News - By Aman Singh

How ef­fec­tive will pro­longed ne­go­ti­a­tions and a UN mem­ber­ship for Pales­tine be in achiev­ing state­hood?

Since Mah­moud Ab­bas, the be­lea­guered head of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity, made clear his in­ten­tion to uni­lat­er­ally seek recog­ni­tion and mem­ber­ship of the United Na­tions for the state of Pales­tine, he has faced an un­ceas­ing up­roar from al­most ev­ery di­rec­tion. His Amer­i­can al­lies, along with the Is­raelis, in­sist that UN mem­ber­ship and recog­ni­tion of a Pales­tinian state would never have any prac­ti­cal mean­ing and that peace and state­hood can only come through di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Of course, they are cor­rect. UN mem­ber­ship would not trans­late into any tan­gi­ble changes for the Palestin- ians. The West Bank would carry on un­der Is­raeli mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion and Is­raeli set­tlers would con­tinue to il­le­gally build and ex­pand their colonies on the very land that the UN would sup­pos­edly rec­og­nize as right­fully be­long­ing to the Pales­tini­ans. Ad­di­tion­ally, the re­quest for UN mem­ber- ship car­ries sig­nif­i­cant risks for the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity. Is­rael and the US have al­ready threat­ened to halt Is­raeli trans­fers of Pales­tinian im­port taxes and block valu­able in­ter­na­tional aid. This aid, amount­ing to a bil­lion dol­lars an­nu­ally, is cru­cial to the PA’S abil­ity to pay salaries and pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices in the West Bank. In the face of such strong in­tim­i­da­tion and un­clear ben­e­fits, one can­not help but won­der why the Pales­tini­ans so adamantly in­sist on push­ing for UN mem­ber­ship? Many com­men­ta­tors in the US and Is­rael have fo­cused on Mah­moud Ab­bas and have painted his UN push as reck­less po­lit­i­cal ma-

neu­ver­ing. While Ab­bas has surely ex­ploited the sit­u­a­tion in or­der to res­ur­rect his po­lit­i­cal legacy, dis­miss­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of UN mem­ber­ship purely on the po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions of one man, re­sults in a very su­per­fi­cial read­ing of the cur­rent Pales­tinian sit­u­a­tion. In­de­pen­dently seek­ing UN mem­ber­ship in­stead of con­tin­u­ing en­gage­ment in di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions, may sig­nal ac­cep­tance by the lead­er­ship in Ra­mal­lah of a fact that or­di­nary Pales­tini­ans have known for quite some time: ne­go­ti­a­tions in their cur­rent setup have not worked and in­spire lit­tle hope to ever de­liver a Pales­tinian state.

Any­one who has spent time in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries is keenly aware of the stark im­bal­ance of power be­tween the two par­ties. With com­plete mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal con­trol on the ground, the Is­raelis dom­i­nate di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions by con­trol­ling the land in ques­tion and there­fore be­ing the ul­ti­mate ar­bi­tra­tors in its divi­sion. The Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity, with a lim­ited ad­min­is­tra­tive man­date, is pow­er­less to ad­dress key is­sues such as set­tle­ment growth and must seek the per­mis­sion of the Is­raeli mil­i­tary to even is­sue a Pales­tinian iden­tity card. Amer­i­can me­di­a­tion fur­ther strength­ens Is­rael’s dom­i­nant po­si­tion in di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions. As ex­em­pli­fied by its threat to veto Pales­tinian mem­ber­ship in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, the US has con­sis­tently demon­strated its fa­voritism to­wards the in­ter­ests of Is­rael at the ex­pense of those of the Pales­tini­ans.

Pro­longed ne­go­ti­a­tions not only leave the Pales­tini­ans in a weaker diplo­matic po­si­tion but also buy the Is­raelis time to pre­de­ter­mine the bor­ders by “chang­ing the facts on the ground” through in­creased Jewish set­tle­ment of con­tested Pales­tinian neigh­bor­hoods in East Jerusalem and key ar­eas of the West Bank. The an­nounce­ment of the con­struc­tion of 1100 new homes in oc­cu­pied East Jerusalem by the Ne­tanyahu ad­min­is­tra­tion shortly af­ter the UN meet­ing un­der­scores the un­will­ing­ness of the cur­rent govern­ment to take any of the steps re­quired for the cre­ation of a Pales­tinian state. For many Pales­tini­ans, the peace process has be­come a mere in­ter­na­tional cover for Is­rael as it gob­bles up their land.

The cur­rent diplo­matic for­mula leaves the Pales­tini­ans fight­ing for the few crumbs that may re­main of the West Bank at the time of an even­tual ac­cord. But af­ter 30 years of ne­go­ti­a­tions, the likely re­sult of a Pales­tinian state looks less and less ap­peal­ing. The ef­fect of grow­ing set­tle­ments, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing set­tler-only roads and check­points, will likely be a some­what shat­tered and sliced ver­sion of the 1967 West Bank that Is­rael orig­i­nally seized. This is with­out even con­sid­er­ing what por­tion, if any, of East Jerusalem will be left by the time the Is­raeli ad­min­is­tra­tion fin­ishes its loop of set­tle­ments in and around the few re­main­ing Arab neigh­bor­hoods of the city, which no Is­raeli govern­ment plans to de­con­struct.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Ne­tanyahu govern­ment al­ready states that any Pales­tinian state must be demil­i­ta­rized, should not con­trol its airspace and bor­ders, and be ac­com­pa­nied by an Is­raeli mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Jor­dan Val­ley. A Pales­tinian state also would prob­a­bly have very lit­tle claim over the water in reser­voirs be­neath the West Bank or those of the Jor­dan River. The end re­sult will be a state that will lack true sovereignty and will in all like­li­hood not be able to sus­tain it­self far into the fu­ture. This will leave any state born through the cur­rent diplo­matic for­mula open to the con­tin­ued dom­i­na­tion and con­trol of Is­rael, which could lead to a re­newed cy­cle of vi­o­lence and pos­si­bly negate the en­tire process.

With all the afore­men­tioned dis­ad­van­tages in­her­ent in any ne­go­ti­a­tion un­der the present frame­work, it is clear that con­tin­ued par­tic­i­pa­tion in a peace process dom­i­nated by the US and Is­rael is not in the best in­ter­ests of the Pales­tinian peo­ple. While re­quests to the United Na­tions will not pro­vide any im­me­di­ate im­prove­ments on the ground, 30 years of fail­ure in ad­dress­ing any of the main con­cerns of the Pales­tini­ans have shown that ne­go­ti­a­tions won’t ei­ther. Yet the UN bid can be a first step in a new strat­egy that seeks to re­lieve the suf­fer­ing of the Pales­tini­ans un­der Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion by mo­bi­liz­ing re­gional and in­ter­na­tional sup­port to make a strate­gic push for greater ac­count­abil­ity of Is­rael’s ac­tions. This will re­quire in­creased uti­liza­tion of in­ter­na­tional law and in­sti­tu­tions, and less de­pen­dence on the United States. If the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship wishes to gain state­hood, dig­nity and peace for their peo­ple, they can­not de­pend on the same bro­ken process of the past. They will need to chart a new course, and the ap­pli­ca­tion sub­mit­ted by Mah­moud Ab­bas will hope­fully il­lus­trate a first step in that di­rec­tion.

The end re­sult will be a state that will lack true sovereignty and

will in all like­li­hood not be able to sus­tain it­self far into the


The writer is a re­search as­sis­tant on is­sues of non-dis­crim­i­na­tion, re­li­gious free­dom and le­gal re­form for a hu­man rights group in Cairo, Egypt.

Quest for recog­ni­tion.

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