A Ray of Hope for the Palestinians

UN recognition will not end the Israeli occupation but it could give the Palestinians more leverage in future negotiations.

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, September 23
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, September 23 (United Nations Information Center)

This Friday, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas will submit a formal request at the United Nations for recognition of statehood along the lines of the pre-1967 borders.

The Palestinians lost faith in direct negotiations with Israel a long time ago. After President Barack Obama’s one year time frame for a peace settlement collapsed this time last year, Abbas appears to have come to the realization that the only way for his people to edge closer to statehood is by drawing the entire international community into the process. Call it a unilateral move or a callous breach of the Oslo Accords — arguments that the Israelis have been peddling for the past couple of months — what the UN drive cannot be called is a strategic mistake. If anything, it will isolate the Israelis and the United States with most of the world endorsing Abbas’ proposal.

After hinting in press conferences and briefings that the United States would veto a Palestinian request for statehood at the Security Council, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland finally stated unequivocally last week that Washington’s power in the council will be used to block the effort. “It should not come as a shock to anyone that the United States oppose a move in New York by the Palestinians to try to establish a state that can only be achieved through negotiations,” she said. “So, yes, if something comes to a vote in the UN Security Council, the United States will veto.”

Anyone who has been following the Israeli-Palestinian track for a year will not take this declaration with any degree of shock. The Obama Administration, like the Israeli government, perceives a Palestinian UN campaign as a short cut intended to subvert the entire negotiating process. Technically, they are right — going to the United Nations and asking for a state is a whole lot easier than sitting down at a table and mashing out an agreement that is acceptable to both sides.

What Israel and the United States see as a short cut, the rest of the world (in particular, the developing world) sees as a chance to mobilize in pursuit of the principles that are enshrined in the United Nations Charter — human rights, state sovereignty, liberty, freedom from occupation and the freedom to move without being stopped at roadblocks for hours on end. The story of Palestine since 1967 has enamored the developing world and brought an issue that hits close to home in many of their own societies.

So while the Palestinians should not expect to see a state in the formal sense of the term — due to the American veto — what Abbas and his government can look forward to is an upgrade in their UN status. This means recognition in international bodies and councils and a right to file complaints with the International Criminal Court if Israeli settlement activity continues in the West Bank. Crimes that the Palestinians have long accused Israelis of conducting — settlement activity in particular — could actually be investigated.

Palestine would boost its credibility on the world stage, pick up more allies and join the international community in solving some of the world’s most brutal and inhumane conflicts — disease, environmental degradation, state-sponsored oppression, the killing of civilians and genocide.

More importantly, the Palestinian people will be that much closer to statehood. And if all goes according to plan, the added weight of UN membership may just provide Palestinian diplomats with the power they need to negotiate with the Israelis as near equals rather than as an occupied people without representation. The end result could just be the fair settlement that every major player in this conflict has wanted for the past sixty years — a secure, prosperous and peaceful state of Palestine living and working alongside a secure, prosperous and peaceful state of Israel.