Does Palestinian Authority’s UN 'statehood' bid endanger Palestinian rights?

Palestinian Authority envoy to the United Nations Riyad Mansour.

By Ali Abunimah

August 8, 2011 -- Electronic Intifada -- The Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC), the steering group of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, has issued further guidance in the run up to the Palestinian Authority’s effort to gain UN membership for a “State of Palestine” in September.

The BNC statement implicitly warns that recognition of any “state” that did not include full recognition of all Palestinian rights and the right of all Palestinians everywhere to be represented, could violate or negate those rights.

The statement further warns that governments around the world cannot use symbolic recognition of a Palestinian “state” to evade their responsibilities.

States that offer recognition of Palestinian statehood and continue business as usual with Israel are beyond hypocritical; they betray their own basic legal and political obligations to end Israel’s grave and persistent violations of international law and Palestinian rights.

Protecting self-determination for all Palestinians

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority’s (PA) effort to seek UN recognition of “statehood” unilaterally, without consulting the Palestinian people from which the PA has absolutely no mandate, has raised fears among Palestinians that the move could actually harm Palestinian rights.

If the UN votes to admit the “State of Palestine”, it is likely that the unelected representatives of the Palestinian Authority would be seated in the General Assembly instead of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which currently holds the Palestine observer seat at the UN.

This would be a severe blow to the potential for realising Palestinian rights in the long run through international bodies: whereas the PLO ostensibly represents all Palestinians, the PA “state” would only represent its “citizens” – residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Of course in reality this “state” would not represent anyone since it would have absolutely no control of the territory on which it purports to exist and its “government” – what is now the Palestinian Authority – would remain subject to the blackmail and pressure of its financiers and external political sponsors.

Recognising this danger, the BNC states:

The most fundamental, inalienable right of the people of Palestine is the right to self determination. Ending the occupation is one pillar in exercising that right. The right to self-determination, which in the case of Palestinians is represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), is commonly defined as the right of “all peoples … freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” It is a right held by all Palestinians, irrespective of their current location, by virtue of international law and the principles of popular sovereignty and democracy. All Palestinians, including the refugees in the shatat (diaspora) and Palestinian citizens of Israel, have a right to participate in and be represented by –- in the UN and elsewhere -– a democratic PLO that determines the political status and pursues the economic, social and cultural development of the entire Palestinian people.

Therefore, the statement warns:

Until the Palestinian people exercises its right to self determination, the PLO remains the sole legitimate representative that represents all Palestinians in the UN and in other international, regional and multinational forums. No alternative will be accepted by the great majority of the Palestinian people.

In other words, a “State of Palestine” must not be allowed to replace or usurp the right to representation and self-determination of the whole Palestinian people through a reconstituted PLO.

Of course, as Palestinians frequently point out, the PLO today is largely defunct, its offices usurped and held for life by the very people who run the PA. But legally, the PLO remains the only body and framework for representing all Palestinians, and protecting the possibility for the PLO to be revived in a truly representative form is absolutely vital.

There is no doubt that the PA “statehood” bid at the UN – which enjoys no Palestinian consensus behind it – represents a direct threat to this possibility.

What does self-determination look like?

The BNC reiterates that, “At a minimum, exercising the right to self determination by all Palestinians” entails:

  1. ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in 1967;
  2. honouring the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality by ending the Israeli system of legalised and institutionalised racial discrimination (which conforms to the UN definition of apartheid); and
  3. respecting and enabling the implementation of the UN-sanctioned right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they were expelled.

These demands are of course the same as those contained in the widely supported 2005 Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, and unlike the narrow focus on “statehood”, encompass the rights of all segments of the Palestinian people.

Friends of Palestine weigh in

The BNC had already issued a statement on the question of “statehood” on June 1, 2011, however it may have felt the need to issue further guidance as Palestine solidarity groups around the world have questioned whether or not to support the measure.

Some have already taken positions. The Netherlands Palestine Committee (known by its Dutch initials NPK) issued an August 3 statement on the question of statehood indicating it would not support the move.

If recognition of the Palestinian State by the United Nations -- at the initiative of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) -- would take place within the context of recognition of the rights of the Palestinian People -- and would include the right of return of the refugees and equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel -- and concrete steps towards the realisation of those rights, the Netherlands Palestine Committee (NPK) would then support such a measure.

Given that this in no way appears to be the case -- implying that the majority of the Palestinian People would be deprived of realizing their rights- - NPK cannot consider this as a positive development.

This position must not be confused with the rejection by Israel and its Western allies who, at the same time, continually refuse to take action against Israel’s structural violation of international law and/or are themselves complicit (translation from Dutch provided by NPK).

I will be speaking on the question of Palestinian “statehood” in the Netherlands, sponsored by NPK in September.

Meanwhile Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) issued an action alert urging supporters to press the US government not to veto UN admittance of the “State of Palestine”.

The JVP letter, which was issued before the latest BNC statement came out, claims:

The Palestinians are seeking membership in the United Nations as a way to enhance their ability to press for freedom and justice.

It does not note that it is not “the Palestinians” making this move but the unelected, unaccountable PA leaders who have no mandate whatsoever from the vast majority of living Palestinians. It continues:

We know that the vote is just one step, and only a beginning. It won’t stop the growing pace of Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It won’t suddenly mean there is a viable Palestinian state, or freedom for those in Gaza, or a just resolution to the problem of refugees.

But it will recognise the right to Palestinian self-determination, give our movement additional tools in moving toward a truly just resolution, and give fresh hope to all the people of Palestine and Israel who deserve to live in freedom and democracy.

It is hoped that JVP will take into account the BNC statement that the price of admission of an imaginary Palestinian “state” to the UN, may be the real rights and futures of Palestinians to actual self-determination.

Further reading

Some recent key articles on the question of Palestinian “statehood” and self-determination. Reflecting an emerging consensus, most warn of the dangers of the move, but those offering support or qualified support are also included.