As the United Nations met to discuss the bid for Palestinian statehood, Israeli leaders in the Knesset met to approve ten new Jewish-only settlements in the Negev – a move that would necessitate the expulsion of 30,000 Bedouins.
Between October 2010 and July 2011, 2,149 homes were built in the West Bank and since then settlement building has doubled again. Amid all of this, the US ambassador greeted the UN by condemning the Palestinians for their “unwise and diversionary gambit”. Needless to say the “diversionary gambit” of expelling 30,000 people from their homes was not mentioned.
It is not yet clear how the application to make Palestine the 194th member of the UN will pan out. The nominal state would be based on the 1967 borders – before the Six Day War – including the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
When he arrived at the UN Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), said he was under “tremendous pressure” to drop the bid. President Obama meanwhile was frantically trying to explain why “we believe action at the United Nations is not the way”. It is expected that, while a majority of assembly members would support admitting the state of Palestine, within the Security Council the US, Britain and others would veto it. There is also a chance that the sudden eagerness of Israel to resume peace talks could lead to a temporary compromise.
Either way Abbas has, perhaps unintentionally, exposed the hypocrisy of many world leaders. Brazil, for example, has recently intensified its arms trade with Israel while also recognising a Palestinian state. It has also exposed the hypocrisy of governments which reject the statehood bid, despite repeatedly called for a two-state solution – exactly what Abbas has proposed.
Since the 1979 Camp David talks Israel has refused to accept a Palestinian state based in the West Bank and Gaza. Even following the 1993 Oslo Accords when the PLO accepted Israel’s occupation in return for a state based on a 20 percent fragment of historic Palestine, Israel responded by taking more land.
Every US president, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, has at some point called for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Now that Abbas has actually proposed such a state, the real motives of the US and Israel in prolonging peace talks with no actual action becomes clear. So why has Abbas decided to bring the bid to the UN now, while such hypocrisy remains routine?
The storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo on 9 September and the escalating strikes within Egypt that have seen Palestinian flags flown from striking factories reflect the changing situation since the revolution. It is unlikely that Abbas would ever have had the confidence to push forward with the statehood bid had Mubarak still been in power. Turkey’s withdrawal of all military and most diplomatic ties with Israel has placed Israel in a difficult situation. Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise Israel in 1949.
Abbas no doubt hopes he could regain temporary support among Palestinians, especially while Fatah continue to lose influence to the popular and growing civil resistance movement based on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Despite all of this, the few unexpected advantages of statehood cannot make up for the severe limitations of the bid.
Since 1974 the PLO has been recognised at the UN as the “sole, legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people – including the refugees. Shifting representation away from the PLO to a nominal member state would disenfranchise six and a half million members of the diaspora. This is not a matter of semantics – half of the global Palestinian population would have no voice at the UN. This problem is further compounded by a broader issue of legitimacy in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and PLO. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, there have been elections to the PA only twice.
Even within Israel the long term benefits of the statehood bid for the maintenance of the apartheid regime has not gone unnoticed. The Reut Institute – an Israeli group founded specifically to prevent the “erosion of Israel’s legitimacy in the international arena” – support the bid. They argue it will “limit refugee status” and “ensure that the establishment of a Palestinian state conforms to Israel’s needs”. This is reminiscent of the logic behind the four Bantustans given independence by South Africa in the hope of avoiding the collapse of apartheid.
The Reut Institute have produced a revealing report in which they panic over the “global campaign of delegitimisation” of Israel. In the past month, the British TUC has voted to reassess its links with Israeli trade unions, the Israeli multinational and major target of the BDS campaign Agrexco went into liquidation and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra were disrupted when playing at the Proms in London. The future success of the solidarity movement clearly lies with building international civil resistance in the form of BDS.
The statehood bid has been run under the slogan “Palestine 194”, in reference to it becoming the 194th member of the UN. But this number also holds a more potent significance. UN Resolution 194, passed in 1948, is the legal basis for the argument that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homes. It is this, rather than a legalised Bantustan, that activists should use to guide the international movement for justice for Palestine.
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