Palestinian State in September? Statehood is not enough for full freedom!

The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) has announced few months ago its will to seek the recognition of a Palestinian state, according to 1967 borders, at the United Nations. The UN Security Council will discuss this issue at its scheduled meeting, where the US is expected to exercise its veto against the proposal.
The illegitimate, his mandate finished in January 2009, president of the PA Mahmoud Abbas has called for “popular resistance” and for Palestinian to organise huge demonstrations in support of the call for a Palestinian State in September. As a reminder, popular demonstrations in support for Gaza during the Israeli aggression in 2008-2009 and for the 15th march movement of this year, which called notably for unity and democratic Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections that guarantees equal representation for all Palestinians around the world, were repressed by the PA security forces and police in the West Bank.

Past and Present
It is worth bearing in mind that this is not the first time that Palestinian representatives have sought statehood. In 1948 the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem made a hollow call for Palestinian statehood which went unanswered, and a more welcomed declaration was made by the Palestine National Council in Algeria some 40 years later. Even though the 1988 declaration was recognised by around 100 states, neither of these declarations has amounted to Palestinian statehood.

The number of supportive states has steadily risen over the past decade and its most recent boost from Latin America puts it at around 120. This is indicative of the rapidly changing global climate which has seen support for the Palestinians rise unprecedentedly, ushered on its way by an increasingly aggressive and racist Israeli government and the massacres in Gaza in 08/09 and aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010, and nurtured as well by international popular campaigns supported around the world such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. This latter has successfully led a campaign aimed at pressuring Israel to comply with international law and human rights norms and accumulated successes and supports since its inception in 2005 by the Palestinian civil society and popular organisations.

The Palestinians go into this initiative with more momentum and international backing than they have done hitherto. But the real question among Palestinians and their supporters is not to support or not the vote in UN Assembly general for a Palestinian State in September, but more of what’s next? What’s the strategy behind this initiative? And above all what’s the objective?

Benefits? Really?
Many supporters and analysts has spoken of the many benefits of the recognition of a Palestinian State such as Viktor Kattan’s analysis which captures the nucleus of the benefits. He arguments that if the PLO and PA start to act and behave as though they are a state, the stronger their case will be’. The admissions of a Palestinian state to the UN as a full member ‘would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one’, as the PA president Abbas wrote in his Op-Ed for The New York Times. As he elaborates, it would allow Palestinians to take Israel to the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, as well as bring charges against it at the UN.

If Palestine is declared a state, it will be able to ratify international treaties such as the Rome Statue, which defines, for example, the crime of apartheid. Moreover, the International Criminal Court would listen to all crimes committed since its founding in 2002. Retrospective retribution for Israel’s crimes could be sought and delivered.

Nevertheless these approaches, although right on an International law perspective, fail to understand that it is not the lack of statehood that has prevented the PA to achieve some successes and protect Palestinian rights these past few years, but lack of will and strategy.

The missed opportunities of the 2009 Goldstone Report and the 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion have shown that is not the case. Instead, failure to further the cause for Palestinian self-determination reflects a strategic choice on the part of current Palestinian leadership, the PA and the PLO, which became the same, in other words, and not a lack of capacity.

The PA and the PLO actually did not use the Goldstone Report to hold Israel to account for its war crimes during Operation Cast Lead against the people of Gaza. Instead, they delayed its review by the Human Rights Council for the sake of attaining the US’ offer of a better negotiating position.

The 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion, which held the route of Israel’s separation barrier illegal for being built inside the occupied West Bank as opposed to on the 1949 Armistice Line and affirmed the illegality of Israel’s settlements, is another example of the lack of the PA and PLO to address any kind of pressure or threat against the State of Israel to respect and implement International Law. The ICJ accordingly recommended that all state parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention cease to, or refrain from, aiding in Israel’s expansion of the wall. The PA had an opportunity to campaign and encourage the signatories of the Geneva Conventions to either impose sanctions on Israel for its ongoing constructions, cease the sale of any materials intended for the development of the wall, or to refuse to purchase Israeli goods produced in the illegal settlements.

Nothing was done by the Palestinian leadership, while the international civil society campaign across the world to sue Israeli war criminals in European courts under universal jurisdiction. Their efforts have deterred Israelis from travelling to Europe despite no trials have been ensued. In the same vein, the international and popular BDS campaign was so successful to bring support from unions, academics, intellectuals and artists across the world, while making companies to divest from Israel, that the Israeli parliament voted a new law prohibiting Israeli individuals and organisations from boycotting settlement products and Israeli enterprises.

A recognized Palestinian State in September would also not change the state of dependency of the PA from international and regional financial assistance despite the report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April concluding that the PA in the West Bank is now “able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state.”  The Palestinian Authority is not even able to pay the salaries of July to half of its staff because of declining foreign aid essential to its financial survival. The Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad appealed to donors to invite them to meet their financial promises, which makes his statement, following “positive” IMF report in April, that this brings the Palestinian “rendezvous with freedom” nearer more than relative.

 The vote for a Palestinian state in September in the UN Assembly general is an important issue but it is not, and far from it, the key one. Yes statehood will afford in many ways the PA and the PLO with more meaningful means and tools to challenge Israel’s occupation and apartheid. However, the lack of such status was never the unique obstacle containing the PA/PLO’s resistance to injustice and Israel’s policy. The problem is not statehood, it is a commitment to resist rather than appease Israeli occupation and US prerogatives, and it is to build a program and strategy of resistance to achieve all the rights of the Palestinians inside and outside historic Palestine, rather than a failed so called “state building” program on less than 22% of it.

The Palestinian state vote should be thought in this perspective: as part and as a first step for a resistant program. Not as end in itself but more as a mean to achieve an end, which is the fulfilment of all the Palestinian rights as presented by the BDS campaign. Otherwise Palestinians might be in for a new Oslo agreement, which its main problem was that it was thought to as an end and not as a mean to resist and achieve liberation. The Oslo process represented on the opposite an effort to consolidate Israel’s perpetual control over the occupied West Bank and Gaza and increase the number of settlers to half a million today.

Therefore yes for the support of a Palestinian State in September in UN General Assembly, but not as an end but as a mean to to apply pressure upon Israel to abandon its colonial practises, dismantle its apartheid system, and come into compliance with international law and human rights norms. The PA/PLO should follow as a fantastic example of resistance and courage its own Palestinian grassroots leaders, organizers, and activists which have played an important role for meaningful self-determination.

Yes for total liberation of all the Palestinian people, the Palestinian state in September should only be the beginning towards this path…

Article written in collaboration with Hesham Zakai

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