President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to seek statehood recognition for Palestine at the United Nations this week has educed palpable emotions from parties on either side of the divide. Chief among them, the decision of the world’s sole superpower, the United States, to veto any such resolution at the Security Council.
While it is widely noted that the U.S. will only be pursuing its prerogative, which is, standing by an unquestionable ally, it is also no secret that such decision, no matter how endearing to Israel, carries grave burdens and consequences in a world that believes the time for a Palestinian state has come.
In spite of the public uproar that has been displayed by the Obama administration at such a move by the Palestinian Authority, the administration ought to secretly rejoice that it has come to this, at this particular junction. For all intents and purposes, the U.S. has become as consequential as a singular bird chirping in the forest when it comes to resolving this age-old conflict between Israel and Palestine. The leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu has overtly frustrated any measures at resolution. For one, Mr. Obama’s insistence that Israel cease to build settlements on disputed land in the West Bank has been met by the prime minister with derision.
If anything, Mr. Obama owes Mr. Abbas a thank you note for moving this conversation forward.
But Mr. Obama and other opponents have been very vocal in their criticism of the move, largely labeling it as a unilateral effort and an obstruction to peace negotiations. These two premises cannot be further from the truth.
By definition, the UN is a multilateral body, and since when has requests or resolutions placed for consideration at the body become a unilateral move. If anything, it cements a communal approach, which is the spirit the UN seeks to foster. A unilateral action would be former President W. Bush invading Iraq on suspicion of weapons of mass destruction without any sort of resolution at the UN – no matter the wisdom or foolishness of that decision.
It is what we preach, that in lieu of conflict, any aggrieved party in a conflict ought to approach the international body before resulting to violence and other unscrupulous means to achieving its purpose. Mr. Abbas is heeding this teaching; the request for a Palestinian state at the world governing body after close to 20 years of failed negotiations represents an adherence to this principle of multilateralism, as well as respect for both international rule of law and opinion.
Speaking of the second premise; for almost two decades now, peace negotiations have persistently faltered (with either side deserving blame). Frustrations mount up, which is one of the reasons Hamas has managed to remain popular among some Palestinians. Years and years of mediation by the United States have not produced a viable Middle East. Although a two-state solution has been the official policy of the U.S. and others, moving past dialogue and actually creating visible progress on the ground in the realization of this dream has been evasive, to put it mildly.
Absent a resolution at the UN seeking statehood recognition for Palestine, what other credible alternatives are yet to be exhausted in this festering conflict? How do we propagate some measure of progress in bringing an end to futile and vexing years of back-and-forth? One thing is clear, hitherto, the Palestinian Authority has lacked leverage in negotiations with Israel. Israel is a state. For that mere fact, one party, being Israel, has had access to resources and wherewithal that a non-state entity, such as Palestine, can’t possibly use to force or mitigate concessions. It creates a lack of urgency on the part of Israel in aggressively negotiating an end to the conflict; though, it is arguable that terrorism fear has been good enough of a reason for alacrity. But as we can see, Israel has been able to sit back and fold it arms in certain moments of negotiations.
Palestine has not been without its fault. To a very good extent, Hamas and its violent ways have made Israel very reluctant in declaring truce with an avowed enemy. In the past, peace agreements, such as the Oslo Peace Accord, have been torpedoed by Hamas and not given a chance at life.
But this time, things are a bit different. Hamas, earlier in the year, signed a peace deal in Cairo, Egypt with the Palestinian Authority. It should be noted that in all of these, the voice of Hamas’ officials have been largely non-existent. And that’s not a coincidence. It comes partly as a realization by Hamas officials that violence is not rapidly achieving the end they seek, which is a territory for and recognition of the Palestinian people. And, also, that unwarranted anti-Israel rhetoric at this crucial time will only inflame an international body already sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
The bid for statehood at the UN represents an opportunity to bring Hamas in from the cold, and force it to play by and be accountable to international norms and values. If granted statehood, I seriously doubt the Palestinian people will continue to support Hamas and its violent means, in any capacity, if it becomes obvious that such endeavors threaten to sour its standing with the global community. Presently, an overwhelming majority of the UN favor a Palestinian state.
It is my belief that the template for peace as advanced by former Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, ought to be the framework from which parties in this conflict find a resolution. Among the many points of the template is that “the territorial dispute would be solved by establishing a Palestinian state on territory equivalent in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that take into account the new realities on the ground. The city of Jerusalem would be shared. Its Jewish areas would be the capital of Israel and its Arab neighborhoods would become the Palestinian capital. Neither side would declare sovereignty over the city’s holy places; they would be administered jointly with the assistance of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.”
Even if, in the coming months, Mr. Abbas is unable to secure statehood for the people of Palestine, an upgrade to nonmember observer state at the UN would give Palestine an opportunity to seek membership in U.N. agencies and to join treaties, including possible access to the International Criminal Court. The leverage this provides in jumpstarting stalled negotiations cannot be understated.
The Arab Spring has been with us all this while, and it should come as no surprise that Palestinians, like all freedom-seeking peoples, seek a structure for self-determination.