September 23, 2011 by happyhenry
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will this week put a request to the United Nations for some form of increased recognition as a nation, and probably for full UN membership. He is doing this in his capacity as Chair of the PLO rather than – as has often been reported – his position in the Palestinian Authority.
There have been concerns expressed about supporting this move, even from supporters of Palestinian rights. These have included concerns from some Palestinians about whether it fully includes the Palestinians diaspora. Others have expressed concern about the Israeli reaction, with the possibility of a violent crack-down or even a re-occupation of those areas currently under PA control.
However opinion polls indicate that the initiative has the support of the majority of Palestinians (as well as of 70% of Israelis). Crucially it is a political initiative. People have been long calling for Palestinians to focus on non-violent methods and this fits clearly within that approach, and is partly inspired by the Arab spring. This is a political initiative to gain recognition as a people. The UN recognition is key in this, and not supporting this would be a denial of the existence of that people. The widespread support the proposal has received can only give Palestinians greater confidence and put pressure on the world to help find a solution.
The Israeli and US governments are in uproar about it, arguing that unilateral action is not the way forward and instead the focus should be on negotiations. However it is Netanyahu, through his refusal to halt settlement building, that has derailed the peace talks and it is clear that his government has no intention of reaching a solution. And the Israelis are certainly experienced in unilateral action: is the occupation by bi-lateral agreement?
Virtually every option open to the Palestinians has been blocked, leaving this approach as a potential log jam breaking initiative. It has come about because every other possibility has been eliminated. This Israeli government is not interested in serious negotiations, and the US government is not prepared to seriously challenge it. Instead the US vetoes even critical motions that are in agreement with US policy. Back in February the US was the sole vetoer of a resolution against the settlements. It was cleverly worded and used the Americans’ own phrases. The US government ended up in the absurd situation of vetoing a policy that used their own words and expressed their own policies.
There is a danger that the move for statehood could rebound terribly on the Palestinians. The Netanyahu government is currently very strong and may take action to punish the Palestinians. But there is no initiative, including the status quo, which could be guaranteed not to have terrible effects. The fact is that nothing else has worked. Any reservations are outweighed by the need to find a way to move beyond the current deadlock.
The Palestinians are reaching out, to the international community, to the US and to Israelis. A far-sighted Israeli government would welcome this move. The proposal implicitly recognises the 1967 border and so recognises the state of Israel (a recognition the PLO first gave over 20 years ago). It is an opportunity for a truly great Israeli leader to reach across the divide and finally seek to find a solution that recognises the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians. Imagine the transformation that could occur if the Israeli representative stood up at the United Nations and declared they supported this move. It is a tragedy that there is nobody on the Israeli government side prepared to take such a bold step.