As the September UN vote in New York approaches, Palestinian responses have sharply diverged.
1. The Last Push for Recognition
Possibly millions of people have been signing petitions, pressuring their parliamentary or congressional representatives and generally pulling out all the stops to gather votes at the UN. And indeed, every vote will sharpen the contradictions inherent in the drama.
Israel and the US, who have kept the Palestinians talking about a separate state for over two decades, will now show themselves up as having no intention whatsoever of granting it even in the most nominal, symbolic form. Every vote for recognition of the existence of Palestine, and its claim to sovereignty in the lands that Israel took by unilateral force in 1967, underlines the sheer obduracy of the “no” vote and its veto. And every vote should be banked as a promise of future support to isolate Israel.
Unlike the regular “breakdowns of talks”, this will demonstrate on a world stage that there is no Two State Solution and there never was one. And at that very moment the huge global support for Palestine will also be in full view.
2. Dire warnings of Risks
At the same time as this “last push for statehood” excitement, the realists have been issuing timely warnings.
A number of legal analyses point to the dangers of messing with the established (if ignored) rights of Palestine under international law, and the risk that if by any chance the vote were carried, central planks such as the Right of Return could be kicked away. For as soon as a Palestinian state was recognised, so also would Israel’s grip on the lands it conquered in 1948, which to this day have no more legal standing than an Armistice Line. With that validity will come its right to define who can and cannot be a citizen. And in its book, that would be anyone and everyone in the world, except a Palestinian. And as for the Palestinians in Israel, they would be on their own.
The “international community” could then draw a line under the Palestinian issue, leaving BDS to go down the plughole of history.
And all that for what? New negotiations?
You’d think Israel would have jumped at this chance, supported the motion, rallied the votes for it. The fact that it has done the very opposite shows how committed it is, and always has been, to keeping its ill-gotten territorial and material gains and preventing any mention of the1967 borders and a separate state. (Yes, there’s precious water and lucrative gas at stake as well as sentiment.)
Apart from the legal hazards, there is the politics. The US Palestine Community Network has queried the PA leaders’ rights to do this, stressing that only the PLO can represent the Palestinian people, and that even the PLO is in need of refreshing its mandate. They call for all Palestinian organisations, and the solidarity campaigns, to “reject fully and unequivocally the Statehood initiative as a distraction that unjustifiably and irresponsibly endangers Palestinian rights and institutions” and to participate in its campaign for direct elections to the Palestine National Council in both Palestine and the diaspora (shatat). And they too will be marching to the UN.
3. The Common Ground
In one sense, there may be no divergence at all. The Ramallah enclave have been playing a dangerous game in raising expectations that cannot be fulfilled. And these expectations can only rebound against them. The main question is, how and in what form?
A year or so ago, when the last red-carpet “negotiations” fell apart, the PA listed five cards that it still had to play. At the bottom of the heap, after a UN statehood bid, came the threat to wind up the Palestine Authority and campaign for civil rights in the one single country that Israel has created.
Noura Erekat (Sun 28 August) summed it up in just five words: Statehood blocked: Equality Struggle Ahead. The UN’s “Failure to support Palestinian statehood” she writes “only hastens the transformation of the struggle from one over sovereignty to one for equal rights.”
So the two divergent impulses and dreams could and should come together, once the drama has played itself out in New York. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the PA leaders to stick to their Plan F. They will more likely be heading back to the red carpet.
Switching the points and turning the struggle around will not be easy in any case. However doubtful most Palestinians have been about the value of the statehood bid, it has won support because it has felt right, because the opposition of Israel and the USA was so outrageous, because recognition seems the very least they deserve, and because it fits with the desperate desire to get the bullies and tormentors off their backs.
In any other context a demand for the right to vote would be obvious, except that this would be a demand to vote for the Knesset in what amounts to de facto annexation into Israel.
But the appearance is deceptive. The thing Israel wants least is to give up its political control. And a powerful grassroots struggle for the right to vote would really test its propaganda machine and be very hard to resist. Whereas a two state deal of any sort would hand Israel a historic victory and leave the Palestinians tied hand and foot. So the least radical-looking option of annexation is actually the truly revolutionary one. And it is, of course, the only one that holds out any hope of a return of exiles to the country, and a return of the country to its historic self.
There will not be a better time than the September UN vote to start this turn from a national territorial struggle to a fight for the right to vote, for equal rights for all under one law, and for an end to the borders and barriers.
Ideally, the vote will be followed instantly by powerful statements put out by Palestinian exile organisations, by NGOs, political parties, Fateh and Hamas, the PLO and the BNC, calling on the world to support them in a new struggle for freedom and democracy. A single joint document would be good, but they can’t go wrong with Noura Erekat’s five-word summary: Statehood blocked, equality struggle ahead.
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