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September 21, 2011
As discussions at the UN about the future status of the Palestinian Occupied Territories heat up, observers from the region have expressed little optimism about the final outcome of the current efforts of Palestinian officials. Some of this pessimism is grounded in the difficult realities of UN Security Council politics. But much of it has to do with the question of what happens next and whether the efforts will have been worthwhile. In Israel, the reaction has generally been one of opposition, while elsewhere in the region commentators hope the move will at least break the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In the Palestinian territories, the statehood bid, as expressed in an article by Rashid Shahin for Maan News, is viewed with mixed feelings: “Just a few days before heading to New York for full United Nations membership, suspicions about the benefit of the statehood bid continue to be debated between Palestinians…. Supporters say the step will enhance the Palestinian position in the UN, and will pave the way for them to be members in the different organizations of the UN, including the International Court of Justice, something which will strengthen their legal position and allow them to move more freely....Opponents of the plan have their own reasons, which they believe are very solid, especially with their suspicions regarding the credibility of the Palestinian leaders....It is believed that changing the status from an entity, the PLO, to a state, Palestine, is nothing more than a symbolic or moral step. It is not going to be the cure or the healing of the Palestinian catastrophe.”
In a debate sponsored by the Bitter Lemons website, Saleh Abdel Jawad argues, “We have also become so sensitive to the claim that we have missed "historical opportunities" that we are ready to accept anything that looks vaguely like an opening....As for this new move, we all know that there is no possibility whatsoever that Palestine will become a full member of the UN, so long as the U.S. has veto power in the Security Council. In this case, the benefits of the other available scenarios (for example, a status enabling the Palestinians to legally challenge Israel, etc.) do not make up for the losses.”
Commenting in the same debate, Ghassan Khatib believes that “with this week's start of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian leadership can rightly say that it has begun to reap fruit from its decision to take the Palestinian cause to the international community…. For the Palestinians, this was equal to leaving their people at the mercy of the brutal Israeli occupation. For all these reasons, we hope that the Palestinian move to the United Nations is the beginning of a process of internationalizing the conflict, with sustained international attention from officials and the public. These external voices need to act as stewards of the international community's vision of two states and international legality, removing obstacles to progress like illegal Israeli settlement expansion.”
In Israel, suspicions about motives, timing, and possibilities are shared by most observers. Even the veteran Haaretz News contributor Akiva Eldar wonders about how much the real landscape will change after the UN debate: “Israel's struggle against the granting of even a symbolic expression of Palestinian sovereignty implies that a Palestinian attempt to change reality will run into opposition....When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returns from New York with a United Nations decision recognizing a Palestinian state or an observer/non-member nation in his pocket, he will be forced, as always, to land at Jordan's international airport in Amman and travel from there to the Israeli border station on the Hussein (formerly Allenby ) Bridge. Israeli police will examine the cars in his entourage, flip through the passports and VIP documents (if Israel hasn't canceled them as part of its punishment process) and send them on their way — until the next Israeli army check post. The Palestinians are aware that one of the first steps they must take in order for their sovereignty to be worth more than a piece of paper is to establish an international airport.”
Writing for the conservative Jerusalem Post, Alan Baker and Dan Diker point out what in their view amounts to a “Palestinian gambit and UN hypocrisy…. Clearly Abu Mazen and his colleagues are coming to the international community with “unclean hands” and without the bona fides that one might expect from an entity that seeks to be a respected member of the exclusive club of sovereign states.... What is worse, however, is the willingness of that international community, as typified by the United Nations, to turn a blind eye and enable itself to be steam-rolled into playing the Palestinian game and allowing them to get away with it….It is high time that the international community resolves to stop catering to the illegal whims of the Palestinian leadership in the mistaken hope that by allowing them to manipulate international institutions they might change their ways and adopt accepted norms.”
Highlighting the current rifts in the Palestinian political arena, Yigal Walt, in an op-ed for the other Israeli daily Yedioth Ahranoth, asks, “Who exactly does Abbas represent? And what significance, if any at all, do his moves carry given that the strongest camp within Palestinian society shuns him and his leadership? ...The latest developments raise more question marks about much of the world’s willingness of support the Palestinian bid....The latest events prove that the much-maligned UN has reached a nadir and cannot be taken seriously any longer. The global organization created with such promise following World War II has become a ludicrous hub of narrow political interests that have nothing to do with decency, morality or the truth. The time has come for the world to end this farce and seek a different solution.
Finally, on the pages of the same newspaper, Asaf Romirowsky argues, “The Palestinian statehood bid is based on an irrational worldview, a flawed interpretation of history…. Talk is cheap. Land and lives are precious. If the Palestinians genuinely want to talk about statehood they need to come to terms with accepting and recognizing Israel and first get their own territories under control, stop firing rockets at Israeli towns, and start creating a decent civil society….Pragmatically, the larger issue of Palestinian statehood raises a basic question — do Palestinians really want a state and are they prepared to take responsibility for their own people under such a rubric? In accordance with the reality of Through the Looking-Glass, where time and space can be turned around, the answer would be yes, but at the expense of Israel’s creation to begin with.”
Views expressed by others in the neighborhood seem to support the current bid at the UN, although they remain agnostic about its final outcome. Linda Heard in an op-ed for Arab News suggests there is more to win than lose: “The Palestinian bid will divide wheat from chaff.… The game may be lost even before the kick-off but this doesn’t mean the attempt doesn’t have great value....In other words, in the event the Palestinian Authority succeed in upgrading their nation status in the UN General Assembly to “nonvoting observer state” subsequent to its bid in the UNSC, Ros-Lehtinen would retaliate by stripping the UN of funding....Mahmoud Abbas may have much to lose by defying Washington and Tel Aviv but he may also have more to gain. After 60 years of oppression and humiliation, it’s beyond time that he held fast to his principles, gained the respect of his people and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Oman Tribune editorial also believes the move is the right one: “From developments that we have seen so far in the occupied Palestinian territories and the West Bank and Gaza, there doesn’t appear to be any hope left of a revival of the two parties returning to the negotiating table…. So, is there any ground left for a return to negotiations? For the Israelis, it’s like having their cake and eating it too. The ground situation has now gone beyond the freezing settlement activity stage; the atmosphere is one of such distrust as to make it virtually impossible for mediating parties to reignite a dialogue. Going to the UN with their statehood bid may be fraught with danger, like establishment of their state from 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and losing funding from donor countries, but it’s the only recourse left to them.”
Similarly, The National editorial urges the Palestinian authorities to move forward: “Statehood vote should not die in Security Council….The only thing more difficult now would be to back off... Many will look back over decades of negotiations and point fingers at Israeli intransigence and Washington's uncritical support for it. But the Palestinians' weak and divided leadership is also to blame. Stalled progress on Fatah-Hamas reconciliation means any UN vote will be marked by an asterisk….With so few options and so little leverage, the Palestinian Authority rightly chose action at the United Nations as a better way forward.”
But in an editorial that sums up both the fears of an Israeli and US backlash against the PA as well as need to move forward, The Peninsula staff believes that “the Palestinian leader deserves huge praise for one thing: for remaining resolute in his objective even under huge pressure and open threats from Israel, the United States and their allies….Any road forward could be costly.…Israel is already drawing up a series of punishments against Palestinians, which includes the withholding of tax revenues which it collects on behalf of Palestinians. Washington too might stop millions in aid, as it has already threatened. All these would land the Palestinian Authority in a difficult situation. But Abbas needs to devise a strategy to overcome these problems. He should not waver in the midst of threats. As one Palestinian official put it, freedom can’t be sacrificed for money.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.