Democracy Now! debate: Does UN statehood bid advance or undermine Palestinian struggle?
September 23, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to officially submit a statehood request to the United Nations in defiance of U.S. and Israeli threats... While supporters have hailed the bid as a step forward in the struggle to end the Israeli occupation and bring peace to the Middle East, critics call it a ploy by the Palestinian Authority to cling to power while undermining the rights of Palestinian refugees. We host a debate with two leading Palestinian analysts: Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the website The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, and Mouin Rabbani of the Institute for Palestine Studies and the webzine Jadaliyya. See also http://links.org.au/node/2453.
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JUAN GONZALEZ: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to officially submit a statehood request to the United Nations Security Council later today. The United States has vowed to veto the move.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them, on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.
JUAN GONZALEZ: A new poll shows the Obama administration’s stance on Palestinian recognition at the United Nations is more extreme than that of a strong majority of Israeli citizens. A joint Israeli-Palestinian poll shows 69 percent of Israelis think their government should accept U.N. recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The survey also found 83 percent of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories supported the bid. Many Palestinians have expressed concern about the U.S. decision but remain committed to their goal.
KIMUR, Ramallah Resident: [translated] We have brought a lot to the table, and we have conceded a lot. We have given up on 78 percent of the land of historical Palestine for the state of Israel. What else do they want? They want us to leave. We will not leave. We will stay. And we will not be afraid of America, Israel or any other threats, whether they are to cut off donations or American aid. We will persist to remain on this land.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Israeli Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Danny Danon praised President Obama’s speech at the United Nations and warned Israel will have a strong reaction to the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership.
DANNY DANON: There is no hope in the near future. This is the reality for the near future. Until we will not see a viable partner among the Palestinians, there will be no real, genuine peace. It is not popular to say it. We all want change, peace, tomorrow morning. It’s not going to happen tomorrow morning. We will have to wait until we will see a real partner among the Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said President Mahmoud Abbas will not be deterred and hopes the U.S. will not continue to be opposed to his country’s bid for statehood.
SAEB EREKAT: I would hope that the U.S. would revisit its position, because if we want to seek a Middle East that’s democratic, free, void of extremists and so on, we cannot maintain the status quo. The U.S. cannot continue treating Israel as a country above the laws of man. And that’s the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more on the proposal for Palestinian statehood set to go before the U.N. Security Council, we’re joined by two guests. Ali Abunimah is the co-founder of news and analysis website, The Electronic Intifada, and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He’s in Cleveland. We’re also joined by Mouin Rabbani in Washington, D.C., visiting scholar at the Institute for Palestine Studies. He is also co-editor of Jadaliyya ezine. Previously he worked as Palestine director of the Palestinian American Research Center.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s go first to Washington, D.C., to Mouin Rabbani. What is your take on what is happening today at the United Nations, Mahmoud Abbas presenting his statehood bid?
MOUIN RABBANI: Yeah, well, the Palestinian leadership today is going to deposit an application for full membership in the United Nations at the Security Council. And it seems that the Security Council, at the behest of Washington, will sit on it, while Washington seeks to garner enough votes in opposition to this proposal, so it doesn’t have to exercise a veto. And it seems that the Palestinian leadership is not going to increase the pressure by also going to the General Assembly.
I have to say I think the main issue here is not the bid for recognition or statehood. I think the key issue here is the extent to which this initiative creates space and possibility for the internationalization of the question of Palestine in all its dimensions. In other words, a beginning of an irrevocable turn away from the Oslo process, which time and again has proven that it serves as nothing more than a political cover for the consolidation of Israeli control and the deepening colonization of the Occupied Territories.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ali Abunimah, you have been a vocal opponent or critic of this move by the Palestinians. Why?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Good morning, Juan. Good morning, Amy and Mouin.
Well, if we take what the PA, the Palestinian Authority, leadership say at face value, they say that their goal here was to try to break the status quo and to sort of return to negotiations, but on much better and more reasonable terms. That’s what they said. And if we evaluate it by those criteria, it’s been a complete disaster, because, in fact, what we saw from President Obama was a speech that was more pro-Israel than anything we have ever seen from him, which is saying something. And that was not a speech by a president of the United States addressing a world body with any sincerity about bringing an end to the conflict. That was a candidate running in an election where he is being very falsely and unfairly accused of not being pro-Israel enough. And that showed in the speech. So, the Palestinian Authority, rather than having ended the Oslo status quo, will go back home having achieved nothing and having simply demonstrated that it remains a captive of a situation where Palestinians are expected to carry out security, so-called security, for the Israeli occupation, are totally dependent on European Union and United States financing, and therefore financial blackmail, and have closed off all avenues for political action. And so, I see, really, this as a total failure.
The source of the opposition really came from a lot of Palestinians across the political spectrum who expressed fears that going to the United Nations to call for a state on a fraction of historic Palestine, without recognition of any other Palestinian rights, such as the rights of Palestinian refugees or the rights of Palestinian citizens in Israel, rather than advancing the cause of Palestine, could actually limit it and circumscribe it in the future because of unintended consequences. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to be a factor, after all, because this bid has gone absolutely nowhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Mouin Rabbani, your response?
MOUIN RABBANI: Well, you know, Ali is making the point that, for the Palestinian leadership, they’ve approached this entire issue as a tactical maneuver rather than a strategic initiative. And in that, he’s completely correct.
The point, rather, is, does this—does this initiative—or to the extent that it’s initiative, rather—create possibilities for a new dynamic for Palestinians to deal with the issues of occupation and self-determination and so on? And what I think you’ve seen in Palestinian society is a very broad desire to begin to move decisively away from the Oslo framework, which has been really, you know, bilateral negotiations, forever, about nothing, under unilateral American custodianship, with the U.S.—you know, Obama’s speech yesterday left even the Israelis in stunned disbelief about the extent of its pro-Israeli partisanship. So, no disagreement there. Rather, the issue is, you now have this initiative. This initiative creates possibilities, if the leadership is put under sufficient pressure by Palestinian society, to take it well beyond what the leadership intended. I think what Ali has been saying about the leadership is, more or less, essentially correct. But there—you know, the dynamic that’s created is by no means limited to what the leadership intends to do with it. And I think the key issue here is that this provides an opportunity to move away from Oslo and back towards the internationalization of the question of Palestine, where Palestinian—the issues of Palestinian self-determination are addressed on the basis of Palestinian rights as codified in a very large corpus of U.N. resolutions, rather than, you know, being codified in the pro-Israeli positions of the American administration and a Congress that has decisively gone off the deep end.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Ali Abunimah, what about this issue of bringing back the question of the—through the international community, of dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian question? I was struck a couple of days ago by an interview with Brzezinski, a former key official in the Carter administration, who said that he saw this as a possible turning point in terms of the loss of influence of the United States in the Middle East and the rise, basically, of the European powers to be—to take a lead in attempting to resolve the question.
ALI ABUNIMAH: I don’t think that’s right. On the contrary, the role the European Union has been playing has been absolutely abject in terms of trying to be sort of a deal maker to get Israel’s demands written into Quartet statements, the Quartet being the self-appointed ad hoc group of international officials that has unilaterally placed the—replaced the United Nations on the question of Palestine. And the European Union provides the largest subsidies to Israeli occupation under the guise of aid to the Palestinian Authorities. So I don’t see the Europeans playing that role.
But on the question of internationalization and changing the dynamic, I agree with Mouin that that’s what needs to happen. But, you know, listen to your—to the introduction to this debate, and we had someone called Saeb Erekat being quoted as the chief negotiator. I and the rest of the Palestinians thought that Saeb Erekat had resigned after the scandals of the Palestine Papers were revealed. And yet, there he still is, calling himself chief negotiator. I think that that demonstrates the lack of accountability of this Palestinian leadership, the lack of connection to the Palestinian people, the lack of responsiveness to the Palestinian people, particularly the Palestinian diaspora and Palestinian citizens of Israel, who have essentially been written out of the question of Palestine. And part of the disaster of the Oslo process has been to reduce and circumscribe the Palestinian cause to residents of the West Bank and Gaza—and now perhaps only residents of the West Bank, as even Gaza is consigned to the garbage can.
And what we really need to do, I think, is rebuild a Palestinian consensus and body politic based on the rights and demands of every segment of the Palestinian people, inside and outside the country, based on fundamental rights, not a demand for limited statehood, which ignores the rights of the majority of Palestinians. Can this bid jump-start that process? I don’t know. But I think there are other movements going on that have been much more dynamic and much more inclusive, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which was dismissed as very marginal just a couple of years ago but is now sufficiently frightening and threatening to Israel, that they’re enlisting the United States government to fight it, which, of course, the Obama administration has enthusiastically volunteered to do by pledging to help Israel fight so-called delegitimization. What they call delegitimization, we call a struggle for universal rights and self-determination of Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: Mouin Rabbani—
ALI ABUNIMAH: So I think there are other avenues that need to be explored. And this U.N. bid, I think, has, if anything, demonstrated the dead end of a diplomatic process within a U.N. system that is so hopelessly broken and rigged on behalf of the powerful.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Mouin Rabbani, your response, but also what you would have liked to have seen President Obama say?
MOUIN RABBANI: Well, you know, Ali makes some very relevant criticisms of the Palestinian leadership, and I think one could add many more to what he’s said. And, of course, what is an essential requirement here is a reconstruction of the Palestinian national movement on the basis of an inclusive and purposeful strategy, and all the rest of it. At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is that there is this initiative at the United Nations and that Palestinians now have an opportunity to take this initiative well beyond the objectives for which it was launched by the leadership and to seek to intelligently use this initiative to promote the re-internationalization of the question of Palestine by addressing the issues of self-determination and the end of occupation on the basis of Palestinian rights as codified in international law and U.N. resolutions. I don’t think that that issue should have to wait until we get the leadership that we want or that we deserve, and I don’t think that these two elements are necessarily contradictory.
Now, in terms of Obama’s speech, I mean, you know, it’s—again, Israelis themselves reacted with stunned disbelief that an American president would give a speech at the U.N. that left even Avigdor Lieberman delighted and saying, you know, Bibi Netanyahu is now going to have to rewrite his own speech, lest he come across as less Israeli than the American president.
So, again, you know, getting back to the larger question, one of the key values of going to the United Nations and promoting the internationalization of the question of Palestine is precisely to get away from this hopelessly compromised American role in—not in resolving this conflict, but which has in fact come down to a policy of transforming Israeli impunity and promoting Israeli impunity as a central plank of American Middle East policy and basically acting in support of perpetual Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. So there can be no solution within the current framework. There can be no solution, unless the American role is replaced by a genuinely international one. And I think that going to the United Nations represents an essential first step in that direction, complemented, of course, by many other strategies and tactics, some of which Ali has mentioned. But at the end of the day, one either has Oslo or one has internationalization, and I don’t think that there’s a third option between the two.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, Mouin Rabbani with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.
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Palestine: UN push a bid to save Oslo, Israel's isolation grows
By Tony Iltis
September 18, 2011 -- Green Left Weekly -- “We are going to the United Nations to request our legitimate right, obtaining full membership for Palestine in this organisation”, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Ramallah-based, internationally recognised Palestinian Authority (PA), declared in a September 16 televised address.
“We are going to the Security Council.”
Abbas has acknowledged the initiative is largely symbolic and that UN recognition of Palestinian sovereignty would not translate to actual control of territory.
The BBC reported on September 16 that he “aimed to play down expectations … adding that the move would not end Israel’s occupation”. It said, “he stressed the UN move was not a substitute for negotiations.”
The initiative specifically limits the claim for recognition of Palestinian sovereignty to 22% of Palestine ― the Palestinian territory not claimed by Israel after it was established in 1948.
Ma’an News Agency said on September 16: “Abbas said he wanted to see a Palestinian state recognised on the basis of the 1967 lines, comprising the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, adding that this would then enable the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel.”
The BBC said Abbas reassured the West: “We are not heading there to delegitimise Israel, no one can do this, it is a state with full membership at the UN.”
Abbas said that should the bid be vetoed in the UN Security Council, he would turn to the General Assembly where, Xinhua said on September 16, 126 countries out of 193 support what the PA is requesting.
However, the General Assembly does not have the power to confer full UN membership. It does have the power to grant recognition as a “non-member state”, a status now held by the Vatican.
The US has already indicated that it will use its veto.
Al Jazeera reported that White House spokesperson Jay Carney said on September 16: “The Palestinians will not, and cannot, achieve statehood through a declaration at the United Nations. It is a distraction, and in fact, it’s counterproductive.”
The September 17 Independent said Israel warned, “it will consider possible retaliation which could include … even, according to some ministers, ‘annexation’ of the main settlement blocs inside the West Bank”.
Abbas has promoted the UN recognition bid as a response to the failure of the peace talks between Israel and the PA that have taken place since the 1993 Oslo Agreement. This is due to the intransigence of Israel and its Western backers.
However, the familiarity of the latest round of declarations and counter-declarations reflects that the bid is based on the same premise as the Oslo peace process. That is, the establishment of separate Israeli and Palestinian states in line with 1967 borders is the most realistic path to peace and Palestinian self-determination.
It is therefore up against the same obstacles.
In 1948, when Jewish settlers militarily established the state of Israel, driving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land, they did so over 78% of the country until then called Palestine.
The remaining 22% of Palestine ― the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip ― was held by Jordan and Egypt until Israel conquered it in 1967.
The “1967 borders” at the heart of both the Oslo peace process and the UN recognition bid existed for less than 20 years.
The greatest obstacle to any solution based on the 1967 borders is that they are irrelevant to the fact that all of what was called Palestine before 1948 is now under Israeli control.
Israel has shown no inclination to relinquish this control.
Since 1967, more than half of the West Bank has been annexed by Jewish-only settlements, Jewish-only roads, closed military areas, checkpoints and the “Apartheid Wall”. The wall doesn’t separate the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel, but separates West Bank Palestinian communities from each other and their land.
Current Palestinian demographics are the result of successive waves of Israeli ethnic cleansing since 1948. About half of Palestinians, more than 5 million people, live overseas, the majority in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Abbas’s statehood bid, like the various proposals in the post-Oslo negotiations, ignores the demand for the right of refugees to return.
Of the 5 million Palestinians inside the country, 2.5 million live in the West Bank, 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip and 1 million in pre-1967 Israel. Those living in Israel have Israeli citizenship, but with fewer rights than Jewish Israelis.
The high population density of the West Bank and Gaza reflects the high proportion of refugees from pre-1967 Israel and their descendants.
The Israeli Jewish population is also about 5 million ― about half a million live in the West Bank settlements with exactly the same citizenship rights as other Jewish Israelis.
In the West Bank, during the years of the peace process, the rate of Israeli land annexation, settlement building and demolition and expropriation of Palestinian houses increased.
This has been particularly the case in East Jerusalem. Israel has made it clear it is not willing to relinquish control of any of Jerusalem, the municipal boundaries of which have been expanded to include several West Bank villages.
Israel could create these “facts on the ground” because it is a nuclear-armed power that receives US$4 billion annual US military aid while its adversary is a subjected population.
A peace process premised on treating the two as equal parties in a conflict was always less about creating a solution than creating an illusion. Unfortunately, the UN initiative does not challenge this illusion.
Gaza blogger Sameeha Elwan, writing in a September 8 Electronic Intifada article, pointed out: “Less than half the Palestinian population live in the occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the territories to be declared as the Palestinian state.
“What will happen to the other millions who live outside this territory?”
She said it was not even representative of Palestinians living in the
West Bank and Gaza. “The last democratic elections for the PA took
place more than five years ago. The refusal by the US and Europe to
respect the results of that election has led to the severe fragmentation
of both Gaza and the West Bank, leaving Palestinians with two
governments, neither of which is representative of the total interests
and will of the Palestinian people.”
The Western dismissal of Abbas’ statehood bid showed the same undisguised pro-Israel bias that characterised the international mediators role during the Oslo peace process. But in the region, the Palestinians have become less isolated.
Israel’s diplomatic relations are in crisis with what were its two most significant allies in the region until recently.
On September 2, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the suspension of all military ties.
This was in response to Israel’s refusal to apologise over the Mavi Marmara incident in May last year. Israeli troops shot dead nine unarmed activists in international waters who were trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
On September 9, Egyptian diplomatic relations with Israel were effectively broken, not by the government, but by the people.
Protesters tore down the wall protecting the Israeli embassy and stormed the building, removing embassy files. Israel's ambassador and diplomatic staff fled Egypt by plane.
Protesters were enraged by Israel's killing of three Egyptian border guards, and the refusal of the Egyptian government to expel Israel's ambassador in response.
Since the 1979 Camp David Treaty, Egypt has been Israel’s closest regional ally.
The leaked “Palestine Papers” published by Al Jazeera in January, as well as documents published by WikiLeaks, showed former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and his secret police chief Omar Suleiman played key roles in conspiring with Israel and the West in using the peace process to thwart Palestinian national aspirations.
However, this collaboration contrasted with the pro-Palestinian sympathies of the Egyptian people. That made the mass uprising that toppled Mubarak and Suleiman this year a dangerous development for Israel.
The military government has maintained Mubarak’s pro-Israel stance, but has proved less able to contain popular feeling.
Popular feeling boiled over on August 18 when Israel killed the border guards.
During Mubarak’s rule, 23 border guards were killed by Israel with no consequences.
This time, the mass protests and embassy storming forced the evacuation of all 86 Israeli staff.
As the Ramallah-based PA seeks to save the discredited Oslo process through a diplomatic manoeuvre at the UN, the Egyptian people have taken matters into their own hands. They have helped reveal Israel's isolation in a region whose people are waking up.
“We have been living under occupation for more than six decades now and we believe it is time for the international community to help us realize our dream of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
“What is this UN bid? Is it meant to restore our rights, mainly the right to return of millions of refugees worldwide? Will a UN recognition of a Palestinian state on 1967 border lines allow us to take care of our Palestinian brothers and sisters in neighboring Arab countries like Jordan and Syria?”
These are the words, respectively of Luay, a 42-year-old Palestinian Authority employee and Iman Qaddada, a 22-year-old university student, both from Gaza City.
Luay, who did not give his last name, and Iman were reacting to the Palestinian Authority’s effort to seek full UN membership for a Palestinian state in New York this month.
While the PA has not published any text describing what a Palestinian state would mean practically, it is expected to ask the United Nations for recognition and membership for a state within the territories occupied by Israel in 1967: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Together, these territories comprise just 22 percent of historic Palestine.
US leads efforts to block UN bid
The bid, mobilized by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and backed by the Palestinian Authority, most of the Arab states and some others, is aimed, according to Abbas, to move beyond the current “peace process” impasse.
In a televised speech last Friday, Abbas said that “the move aims at internationalizing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after more than two decades of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have failed to achieve a two-state solution.”
However, Abbas maintained that he is willing to go back to the negotiation table with Israel regardless of what happens with the UN bid.
Upon arrival at the UN, where Abbas is expected to make a speech on 23 September, the PA delegation will be likely met with Washington’s veto power. US officials have said repeatedly that they will block any PA request for statehood at the UN Security Council.
The US government, according to media reports, were attempting to lobby enough UN Security Council members to vote against the Palestinian move to defeat it without the US having to use its veto.
Washington insists that a Palestinian state can only come about through negotiations, despite the fact that almost two decades of such US-brokered negotiations have failed to achieve any progress, and the Obama administration’s efforts over the past two years have resulted in complete failure as well.
Israeli retaliation withheld for now
Ghassan Khatib, spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, told The Electronic Intifada that the PA’s endeavor is meant to help resolve the conflict.
“I think the essence of the Palestinian move is an attempt to attract the international community to get involved in helping Palestinians and Israelis observe implementation of the international vision of peace that is based on a two-state solution,” Khatib said by telephone. “If the international community admits Palestine to the United Nations, then Israel has to show more sensitivity to international legitimacy, so Israel must agree to negotiating a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.”
Yet Israel itself is totally opposed to the bid, saying it would constitute a setback to long-standing peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.
On the ground, Israel has threatened to withhold tax money it collects from Palestinians on behalf of the PA, and further expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank and even declare a state of emergency, in addition to the military rule that has governed Palestinians living under occupation for decades.
Israel contends that the 1967 borders are “indefensible.” Nevertheless, the international Quartet for Middle East peace involving the United States, United Nations, the European Union and Russia, demanded that Israel refrain from any action until the results of the UN bid are clear. Israel has so far complied.
No consensus among main Palestinian factions
In the Gaza Strip, which has lived under a tight Israeli siege for the past four years, Palestinian political factions have different views regarding the UN bid.
The Hamas party — which administers Gaza and remains divided from Abbas’ Fatah faction, which has limited authority the West Bank — says it neither accepts nor opposes the UN move.
“We in the Hamas party consider the September bid as an individual step that is not based on any national Palestinian consensus and that it would not bring anything to the Palestinian cause,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a spoksesperson for Hamas in Gaza, told The Electronic Intifada.
“It also poses a threat to the national Palestinian rights, including the right of return. Such a step would likely negate previous UN resolutions like resolution 194, which guarantees the Palestinian people’s right to return. I do not believe that the Palestinian people want a seat at the UN, but rather they want freedom and self-determination on their own land,” Abu Zuhri added.
Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction, embraces armed struggle against Israel but is adhering to a current ceasefire. It rejects the UN move and considers it untimely, as Dawood Shehab, the group’s spokesperson in Gaza, explained.
“In 1988, late Palestinian president [Yasser Arafat], declared a Palestinian state [during the Palestinian National Council meeting] in Algeria and more than 120 world countries recognized that state and so what?” Shehab said.
Like Hamas, Shehab said his group views the UN move by Abbas “an individual move without national Palestinian consensus.”
Shehab raised a number of other questions that have caused considerable doubts amid a broad spectrum of Palestinians: “What about the future of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] under a Palestinian state declaration, what about the problem of Palestinian refugees, what about the right of return?”
Shehab added, “All Palestinian factions within the PLO have aimed at liberating Palestine, not establishing a state; a state comes after liberating Palestine.”
Leftist Palestinian factions, which belong to the Abbas-controlled PLO, back the September bid, based on a longstanding position that Palestinian-Israeli peace talks should go through the UN.
Rabah Mhanna, who is one of the political leaders for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Gaza, appeared neither pessimistic nor optimistic about the statehood move at the UN.
“We consider the UN bid as a part of our ongoing struggle against the Israeli occupation,” Mhanna said. “Going to the UN should not end up with improving the bilateral peace negotiations under US patronage.”
Yet even Mhanna expressed doubts.
“Such a diplomatic battle requires first and foremost a Palestinian consensus,” he added. “However, we are concerned that a Palestinian state with a Palestinian government will be dealt with as an alternative to the Palestine Liberation Organization.”
Such a Palestinian consensus, as The Electronic Intifada’s interviews with various factions and broader debates indicate, is decidedly lacking.
A cause greater than a Palestinian state
Much of the doubt comes from concern of the potential effects of the PA’s move on the rights of the Palestinian people. Dr. Naji Shurrab, a Gaza-based political analyst, told The Electronic Intifada that moving the cause to the UN would not likely bring about a concrete progress.
Shurrab pointed out that the UN had passed numerous resolutions affirming Palestinian rights and the illegality of Israeli colonization over many decades but none had ever been enforced.
Given this history, Shurrab wondered what fate would await millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide if the UN recognized a Palestinian state limited to within the 1967 lines.
“Would the UN would allow the return of millions of Palestinian refugees to the boundaries of historical Palestine, from which these millions of people were displaced by Israel in 1948?” he asked rhetorically.
“I think that the Palestinian cause is greater than the Palestinian state,” Shurrab said. “I am not fully optimistic about such a state. The recognition of a Palestinian state would require Palestinians to recognize an Israeli Jewish state.” This could further risk Palestinian rights, as 1.5 million Palestinians live within Israel itself.
Shurrab also worried about the impact on support for the Palestinian cause. “I am afraid that this would allow the Arab states to free their hands of the Palestinian people’s problem,” he said. “So the Arab states would say then to the Palestinians, you now have your own state, which we helped you to attain, so you can rely on yourselves.”
Just days before Abbas arrives at the UN, it is clear that many Palestinians remain at best doubtful that the promised confrontation in New York will do anything to advance their rights and aspirations.
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.
How the PA's Statehood Bid Sidelines PalestiniansAli Abunimah
ALI ABUNIMAH is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He co-founded the Electronic Intifada  and is a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
The Palestinian Authority's bid to the United Nations for Palestinian statehood is, at least in theory, supposed to circumvent the failed peace process. But in two crucial respects, the ill-conceived gambit actually makes things worse, amplifying the flaws of the process it seeks to replace. First, it excludes the Palestinian people from the decision-making process. And second, it entirely disconnects the discourse about statehood from reality.
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. 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.
Underscoring the lack of public support, numerous Palestinian civil society organizations and grassroots leaders, academics, and activists have been loudly criticizing the strategy. The Boycott National Committee (BNC)  -- the steering group of the global Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel that has been endorsed by almost 200 Palestinian organizations -- warned in August that the UN bid could end up sidelining the PLO as the official representative of all Palestinians and in turn disenfranchise Palestinians inside Israel and the refugees in the diaspora. A widely disseminated legal opinion by the Oxford scholar Guy Goodwin-Gill underscored the point, arguing that the PLO could be displaced from the UN by a toothless and illusory "State of Palestine" that would, at most, nominally represent only Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip .
Others, such as the Palestinian Youth Movement -- an international coalition of young Palestinians  -- declared that it stood "steadfastly against" the UN bid because it could jeopardize "the rights and aspirations of over two-thirds of the Palestinian people who live as refugees in countries of refuge and in exile, to return to their original homes." Many, like the PYM, fear that unilaterally declaring a state along 1967 borders without any other guarantees of Palestinian rights would effectively cede the 78 percent of historic Palestine captured in 1948 to Israel and would keep refugees from returning to what would then be recognized de facto as an ethnically "Jewish state."
Of course, there may be no clearer evidence of the distance between the UN bid and the actual will of the Palestinians than the secrecy of the process. Today, just days before the application is filed with the UN, the Palestinian public remains in the dark about exactly what the PA is proposing. No draft text has been shared with the Palestinian people. Instead the text is being negotiated with the Palestinian Authority's donors as if they, not the Palestinian people, are its true constituency.
More fundamentally, though, the entire discussion of statehood ignores the facts on the ground. For starters, the PA fails the traditional criteria for statehood laid out in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: it controls neither territory nor external borders (except for the tiny enclaves it polices under the supervision of Israeli occupation forces). It is prohibited under the 1993 Oslo Accords from freely entering into relations with other states. As for possessing a permanent population, the majority of the Palestinian people are prohibited by Israel from entering the area on which the PA purports to claim statehood solely because they are not Jews (under Israel's discriminatory Law of Return, Jews from anywhere in the world can settle virtually anywhere in Israel or the occupied territories, while native-born Palestinian refugees and their children are excluded). The PA cannot issue passports or identity documents; Israeli authorities control the population registry. No matter how the UN votes, Israel will continue to build settlements in the West Bank and maintain its siege of Gaza. As all this suggests, any discussion of real sovereignty is a fantasy.
Nor is the strategy likely to produce even formal UN membership or recognition. That would require approval by the Security Council, which the Obama administration has vowed to veto. The alternative is some sort of symbolic resolution in the UN General Assembly upgrading the status of the existing Palestinian UN observer mission -- a decision with little practical effect. Such an outcome will hardly be worth all the energy and fuss, especially when there are other measures that the UN could take that would have much greater impact. For example, Palestinians would be better off asking for strict enforcement of existing but long ignored Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 465 , which was passed in 1980 and calls on Israel to "dismantle the existing settlements" in the occupied territories and determines that all Israel's measures "to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity" and are flagrant violations of international law.
Ultimately, any successful strategy should focus not on statehood but on rights. In its statement on the UN bid, the BNC emphasized that regardless of what happens in September, the global solidarity struggle must continue until Israel respects Palestinian rights and obeys international law in three specific ways: ending the occupation of Arab lands that began in 1967 and dismantling the West Bank wall that was ruled illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice ; removing all forms of legal and social discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and guaranteeing full equal rights; and offering full respect for Palestinian refugee rights, including the right of return. Palestinians and Israelis are not in a situation of equals negotiating an end to a dispute but are, respectively, colonized and colonizer, much as blacks and whites were in South Africa. This truth must be recognized, and pushing for such recognition would resonate far more with the Palestinian public than empty statehood talk.
Indeed, such a strategy has worried Israel enough that it has enlisted the U.S. in the fight against what Israeli leaders term "delegitimization." "Delegitimizers" are supposedly not seeking justice and full human and political rights for Palestinians, but rather seeking the collapse of Israel -- much like East Germany or apartheid South Africa -- through political and legal assaults. According to Israel and groups supporting it in the United States, virtually all Palestine solidarity activism, especially BDS, is "delegitimization." Some Israelis, including even former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have warned that fighting a movement calling for universal civil and political rights would only make Israel look more, not less, like an apartheid state, worsening its situation. But Israeli elites have come up with no plausible response to the reality that within a few short years -- because of Palestinian population growth and Israeli settlement construction -- a Jewish minority will be ruling over a disenfranchised and subordinated Palestinian majority in a country that cannot be partitioned.
The plans for truncated and circumscribed Palestinian statehood,
which successive American and Israeli governments have been prepared to
discuss, fall far short of minimal Palestinian demands and have no hope
of being implemented (as the dramatic failure of the Obama
administration's peace effort in its first two years underscores). Even
President Obama, in his speech to the Israeli lobbying group AIPAC last
May, called the status quo "unsustainable." But he offered no
These, then, are the lines along which the battle for the future of Palestine are going to be fought, no matter how many U.S. envoys head to Ramallah and Jerusalem to try to revive negotiations in which no one believes. Meanwhile, the UN bid should be seen not as the means to give birth to the Palestinian state but as the formal funeral of the two-state solution and the peace process that was supposed to bring it about.