lundi 3 octobre 2011

On Palestine and the UN bid

There are four major gains for the Palestinian cause that might be achieved through the ongoing battle at the United Nations, which will probably lead to the recognition of statehood for the Palestinians in the General Assembly, following ongoing attempts at passing a resolution through the Security Council.

- The first gain: Shifting the definition of Palestine (within the 1967 borders) from one of “occupied territory” as the focus of negotiations with the Israelis about its future has been, to a new formula as a “state under occupation.” Legally, this is a monumental shift, since this would put an end to the notion of “disputed lands,” just as it would end the interminable interpretations of U.N. Resolution 242 of 1967, instead recognizing Palestine as a single occupied state consisting of Gaza and the West Bank along with East Jerusalem—a state ravished of its lands, its waters, its air, and its “international borders.” This would mean, legally and unavoidably, that the settlements in their entirety are violations of the sovereignty of a state subjected to occupation, and so are the parts of the apartheid wall constructed over the territory of the West Bank.

- The second gain: Exacting the right of a Palestinian state to automatically join all international treaties and conventions, as well as international organizations of the United Nations, among others. Most important of these are the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, and UNESCO secondarily. The courts would provide the opportunity to raise periodic lawsuits against the occupation—its crimes, its violations, and its officials—, perhaps to the point of preventing many officers from the army and security forces (and even political leadership) from traveling abroad in the future, owing to fear of possible prosecution. As for UNESCO, it would pave the way for Palestine to register a number of locales (in Bethlehem, Hebron, Jerusalem, as well as other regions) as World Heritage sites, which in itself would offer protections against Israeli infringement.

- The third gain: Extricating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from its current negotiating context, where there is no hope for progress owing to the continuing refusal of Israel to any initiative and its continuing expansion of settlements and dismemberment of Palestinian lands, and where there is no other mediator besides an American administration which lacks the desire to put serious pressure on Israel or keep its promises of seeking a “two-state solution.” Future negotiations could be opened to increased international involvement, such as through the United Nations and other relevant international institutions, with a greater role for the Europeans and for a number of other rising countries in the world (Brazil, India, South Africa, for example). Furthermore, it might lead to the possibility of opening dozens of embassies, for the states that recognize Palestine, in East Jerusalem—or at least attempting to do so, and thereafter probably establishing missions or consulates in the cities of the West Bank as a temporary substitution. This would mean diplomatic confrontations between dozens of states and Israeli occupation authorities regarding the issue of recognition and its implications, in addition to creating a constituency of hundreds of employees (and thousands in connection with them, professionally and personally) in the lands of “the state subjected to occupation.” With this, would come agreements of economic and cultural cooperation between Palestine and other nations.

- The fourth gain: Extracting recognition of a distinctive Palestinian identity, a national and cultural identity connected to the land, for a people who have been questioned for over a century on whether they constitute “a people,” and who have been doubted on the question of whether being “Palestinian” means anything. This recognition of the identity of Palestinians and their belonging—geographically and historically—far exceeds mere symbolism, touching upon various legal and political issues.

Does this mean that the announcement of a state will change the daily life of Palestinians within the 1967 borders? Not necessarily, or rather, it likely will not—at least in the short term. Israeli violations will continue, and American support will most likely also persist. But from watching the Israeli fierce campaign against the Palestinian request, as well as the American efforts (replete with all kinds of pressure on the Palestinians to drop their request and on security council members to vote against it), it is apparent that the subject occupies a place of extreme importance in Tel Aviv and Washington, and that its significance has far exceeded attempts by some Palestinian and Arab parties to diminish or enervate it.

Does this mean, conversely, that the fractured and weak Palestinian leadership today, based on its overall performance, is competent to cope with what will follow the confrontation, in terms of challenges? Sadly, no. But this does not preclude praise for what this same leadership has done in past weeks, and for some traits required: audacity and a willingness to face menacing threats. And all this, likewise, should not prevent praise for the speech by President Mahmoud Abbas in New York and the coherence of its content. What would be useful now is to build upon the positive image stemming from the U.N. session to crystallize a new approach to restore to the flabby, dysfunctional Palestinian institutions—both within the 1967 borders and in refugees camps abroad—the essential role of drawing up the program for the media, cultural, political, and legal necessary work accompanying the diplomatic battle. Most important are the launch of a Palestinian Spring – during this Arab one - with regular protests and a popular civic and peaceful movement against the occupation, the wall, the settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian land, and the military checkpoints, and against the Palestinian divisiveness that splits Gaza from the West Bank.

So as not to remain just words suspended in the air, this requires intra-Palestinian initiatives to find common ground for working across factions, associations, and groups—and it demands completion of the internal Palestinian reconciliation, or at the very least, identifying who are responsible for its incompleteness, and subjecting them to accountability through popular pressure. Finally, this requires discussion, debate, and monitoring for all future steps and tasks, to maintain careful scrutiny against any negligence, complacency, or disregard…

Translated by Jeff Reger