Monday, August 22, 2011

U.N. Recognition Is Good For Palestinians

By Daoud Kuttab
In their frantic efforts to stop the Palestinian leadership from going to the United Nations to gain recognition, Israeli officials and propagandists are imposing what appears to be a mistaken choice.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on Palestinians to engage in direct talks. He has even offered to meet Palestinian officials anywhere if they choose direct talks instead of unilateral action. On the surface, this seems logical. Behind the rhetoric it is obvious that Netanyahu’s offer is a continuation of Israel’s policy of obfuscation and political maneuvering.
Palestinians have been in direct negotiations with Israel since the Madrid peace conference of 1991. Despite the signing of a five-year interim agreement in 1993, Palestinians are nowhere nearer to establishing a state today than they were back then.
With the exception of some administrative and municipal responsibilities and autonomy in major populated areas, during the post-1993 period the Israeli occupiers continued to control the movement of people and goods within Palestinian areas and between Palestinian areas and the rest of the world. This military control is a 44-year-old unilateral action that contravenes international law and violates the spirit and text of multilateral and bilateral agreements.
Not only did direct talks fail to produce the desired results, their continuation contributed to masking widespread theft of land. And Palestinian lands continue to be confiscated. Jewish settlements are still being built (the construction of 300 new housing units has just been approved in the settlement of Ariel) and the security wall still strangulates Palestinians. The International Court of Justice at the Hague has ruled that the wall built inside Palestinian territory is illegal under international law.
American and Israeli officials have used different methods to dissuade Palestinians from following through on their intention of obtaining statehood at the U.N. Both carrots and sticks (more sticks) have been dangled in an attempt to get Palestinians to change their mind. However, for once Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership seem determined to press on.
It is still not clear which precise route the Palestinians will follow. Will they go to the Security Council on Sept. 20, when the Lebanese government will hold the council’s presidency, and ask to be recognized as a state? There has been much information indicating that the United States would likely veto such a request. However, addressing the Palestine National Council two weeks ago, Abbas said that no American official had told him so directly.
It is also possible that before or after a Security Council vote the Palestinians will go to the U.N. General Assembly. The assembly cannot recognize states (the way the Security Council does), but if two-thirds of the member states agree, they can recognize Palestine as a state with observer status, similar to the Vatican. After such a vote – and Palestinians are confident they have a two-thirds majority – the Palestinians might try to invoke the rarely-used Uniting for Peace resolution, which the General Assembly is entitled to approve. According to the resolution, the General Assembly can immediately examine and issue non-binding recommendations addressing issues affecting international peace and security on which the permanent Security Council members are unable to achieve unanimity.
If such a resolution is approved, the international community may be obliged to impose sanctions against any party denying Palestine the right to be a fully functional and sovereign state.
The Palestinians’ desire to obtain a U.N. vote on statehood (in whatever form) does not mean they cannot embark on direct negotiations with Israel. Palestinian spokesmen, including Abbas, have said they see no reason why representatives of a newly approved state cannot negotiate with representatives of the state of Israel.
What is not clear, though, is whether after September the Palestinians will be represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinian Authority, or some other entity. The Palestinian Authority, established as part of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the PLO, is the address that most of the world recognizes and deals with. This will likely remain the case after the U.N. vote.
Threats by Israel that it will cease recognizing the Oslo Accords were quickly withdrawn when it became clear that such a measure would not deter Palestinians. In fact, the Israelis saw that Oslo does more for Israel (especially on security coordination) than for Palestinians.
Despite the overblown Israeli hype, Palestinians in the occupied territories are not holding their breath as to what will happen in September. Israel and its army will continue to rule Palestinian territories no matter what the international community says. Palestinians can and will have direct talks with Israel regardless of what status they hold after the U.N. vote. The Palestinian move at the U.N. will not, on its own, bring about a state. But it does reflect Palestinian and international aspirations, therefore it will strengthen the Palestinian position when it does return to those talks.
-This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 22/08/2011
-Daoud Kuttab is founder and director of the Community Media Network, an NGO dedicated to advancing independent media through new and alternative platforms. This commentary is published by permission from the author

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