The PLO’s UN Bid Will ‘Change the Political Landscape’
November 29th is a date of historic significance for the Palestinians, Israelis and the international community. It marks the day the United Nations General Assembly approved to partition Palestine, and the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People– an annual reminder of the Palestinian people’s unfulfilled inalienable rights. This year, November 29th is the day the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) secures its UN non- member status, which was strongly opposed by the US and Israel. Israel fails to realize that a free Palestinian State is an investment in the safety and well being of its young and its best assurance of a stable future free of conflict.
The PLO is the legal international representative of the Palestinian people. It was established in 1964 and includes representatives of the majority of Palestinian polity. While Hamas is not currently a full member of the PLO, they are member representatives on various working and reform committees and are supportive of the PLO’s UN non-member status.
Israel bombastically objected to the Palestinian’s UN status upgrade with boisterous threats including bizarre coup plots to unseat Mahmoud Abbas the chairman of the PLO and President of Palestinian Authority. Israel also launched a media campaign employing an army of twitter, facebook accounts and a whole lot of You Tube downloads to color and influence public opinion. Meanwhile Palestinians quietly worked to ensure supportive UN member states are well informed of their intent.
Palestinian’s non-member status at the UN will unclench Israel and US control of the limping if not dead peace process; and expand the negotiating role of the of international community in the negotiation process that have stalled since 2007. Palestinians’ daily dealings with Israel offer them a unique insight on Israel’s political patterns and use of power. They have come to understand that the US has enabled Israel to develop political tactics that help it achieve its desired military objectives that are similar to group bullying. Israel’s need and manifestation of absolute power and domination provides it with an elusive sense of control, but will not resolve the root cause of the political gridlock it has created or address Israel’s tarnished international image.
Palestinians have no illusions and understand that securing a UN non-status membership will not immediately end their occupation or suspend Israel’s bullying tactics. They are well informed on how Israel dodges its legal and human rights obligations towards the Palestinian it occupies including the most vulnerable among them- the young Palestinian children Israel detains and abuses. They are familiar with Israel’s refusal to comply with its international responsibilities as an occupying force in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza; its disregard of the UN resolutions, UN conventions and treaties it signed and ratified. While their UN non- member status will not change their daily encounter with the IDF, it will change the “dynamic of the conflict” by loosening Israel’s firm control of the peace negotiations; and free Israelis and Palestinians from Israel’s harmful political aggressive tendencies that have become widely accepted as the norm.
Since 1947 the international community has maintained a UN standing committee on the “Question of Palestine.” For four decades the US and Israel shut out the UN and the international community form meaningfully contributing to the Palestinian- Israeli negotiations. This has allowed Israel to dictate the terms of agreements or no agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, while it’s military occupation and illegal settlement expansion continues uninterrupted. Palestinians comprehend that the political impasse is detrimental to their national aspirations. They also realize that Israel’s current political climate affects its national character, its political discourse and Israel’s fragile democracy- collectively these factors also impact Palestinians and their relationship with Israelis today and in the future.
The fact remains Israel’s Declaration of Independence was based on the UN General Assembly partition plan titled the “Palestinian Question.” Within its folds are specific safeguards and protections for the security and safety of Palestinians including Palestinian Israeli citizens who since 1948 still suffer institutionalized discrimination. In 1969, Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir openly stated: “It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They (Palestinians) did not exist.” Not surprisingly today many Israeli leaders deny the human and legal rights of Palestinians.
Regardless, the UN intended to create a Jewish State and an Arab Palestinian State and guaranteed Palestinian religious, civil, political, legal and human rights. The UN partition plan of 1947 did not secede an inch of Jerusalem, but proposed a UN trusteeship council to govern it. Israeli’s point that the Palestinians refused to accept the UN partition proposal. True, but who in their sane mind imagined the Palestinians would agree to the terms of the UN partition knowing that they are expected to give up their hard earned family owned historical lands, properties, institutions and businesses for nothing in return. Today Israel is trying to create the same conditions to annex the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but the international political landscape and consensus will not favor it, furthermore it is not the best interest of Israel.
In 1947 Britain objected and refused to comply with the UN partition plan. Jewish leaders including Menehem Begin also rejected the UN partition plan and he warned Jews accepting the UN partition plan “The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized” and promised it “will not bind Israel.” Despite the mythical claims propagated today –Jewish leaders and militants did not accept the UN partition plan but leveraged it to declare their independence- which may be the real reason why Israel is against the Palestinian UN non status membership.
In principle, the US, the European Union and majority of the world body support establishing a Palestinian independent state within the pre-1967 borders of the Israeli occupied territories. EU’s 27 state members in December 2009, endorsed and reasserted the objective of a two-state solution, and stressed that the EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including its position in regard to Jerusalem as the capital of the future state of Palestine. EU’s position is similar to the African Union (52 states), The Arab League (22 states), the Islamic World Conference (57 states), The Asia-Pacific region countries (54 counties), and all Latin American countries but for Columbia- they all recognize Palestine rights to an independent state.
So what is holding the Palestinians from realizing their internationally recognized right? Palestinians have identified two major obstacles: the US and the Oslo Accords. Notwithstanding, Israel and the US public support for the two state solution; the symbiotic role Israel and the US assume provides Israel with Carte Blanche powers to articulate its political occupation objectives in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Palestinians know they cannot rely on the US as an honest broker. From 1972-2002, the U.S. vetoed 47 UN resolutions critical of Israeli settlement expansion and occupation of Palestinian land, while during the same period Russia exercised its veto twice.
In 2009 President Obama boldly stated, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” Obama also called on Israel to take concrete steps to ease the daily life of Palestinians and live up to its international and human rights obligations to the Palestinians it occupies. Within two months of these statements Obama’s position on Israeli settlement buildings was neutered and his call for Israel to fulfill its obligations to the Palestinians was dismissed. Meanwhile the Oslo Accords granted Israel the freedom to articulate its military occupation policies and expand Israel’s profitable settlement enterprises, According to Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu his objective from the onset was and remains to kill Oslo
Palestinians have finally come to terms with the US proxy role visa vie Israel. Instead they are refocusing their political energies on the international arena that is less constrained by political fears of Israel and its lobby; finally aware that the US will do all it can to obstruct any attempt to liberate them from the cruel occupation. Interestingly when the Jewish national aspirations were curtailed by Britain in 1947, Jewish militant groups mounted an attack on British Mandate forces killing Palestinians and British officers – these same credentialed militants became Israel’s future leaders, prime ministers and the architects of its regular military force. So while Jewish leaders were still negotiating international recognition they were simultaneously waging a war against British Mandate forces and the Palestinians.
In 2009 President Obama urged Palestinians use non-violent means to end their occupation. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has turned a deaf ear to the Palestinian non-violent movement, and the organic peaceful efforts of Palestinian Muslims, Christians and seculars and their Israeli partners. In fact the US has yet to recognize the Palestinian non- violent peace movement or voice an objection to Israel’s abusive treatment of Palestinian, Israeli or international peaceful protesters. So Palestinians understand- the US will not endorse any peaceful effort to induce Israel to relinquish its occupation.
So what will happen after the UN vote? Israel threatens to make life more miserable for the Palestinians. Since 1967 Israel daily finds reasons to choke Palestinians and so they anticipate their conditions to worsen. They are hopeful their upgraded UN status will help them stabilize the current imbalance by holding Israel accountable in an international forum while highlighting the need for Palestinian sovereignty as a means of self-defense and can request international protections.
Israel is also threatening to cancel the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords have been disastrous for the Palestinians. Palestinians and Israelis share this view including the Oslo Israeli architect. The Oslo Accords gave Israel indefinite time to continue its illegal settlement building and create facts on the ground to destroy the prospects for a viable contiguous Palestinian State. Furthermore, the Oslo agreement impedes the Palestinian economy by providing Israelis unrestricted access to Palestinian natural resources markets and trade privileges. It endows Israel with considerable revenues accrued from taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinian and controls their access to these funds. Palestinians depend on Israeli interlockers to ship, purchase and import goods- and in each transaction Israel acquires a handsome dividend. In addition the Oslo Accords were the impetus for helping Israel establish regional relations, contacts and presence in the Middle East, fostering Israel’s diplomatic and economic relations with Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, meanwhile the occupation limits Palestinian access to these markets.
In essence, the Oslo Accords minimizes Israel’s interest in meaningfully engaging with the Palestinians while sustaining the political and economic imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians. It provides Israel an effective legal and political tool to evade accountability; offers it diplomatic and economic access to regional neighboring countries; while holding Palestinians responsible for maintaining security and order in the West Bank. So when tallying the many benefits Israel reaps from the Oslo Accords, annulling it may be an empty threat.
Israel also threatened to find alternative Palestinians to negotiate with. The Palestinian Authority was never meant to be a permanent body but an interim governing body. Israel may find other Palestinians to negotiate with, but will more than likely be faced with the same demands and challenges. Living under Israel’s military rule for forty-five years has built Palestinian consensus and understanding that the current situation is unsustainable and if the negotiations are left in the hands of Israel and the US their occupation is sealed.
Palestinians efforts to loosen Israel’s grip on the peace process will meet the same predictable Israeli responses and divisive political agendas of the past. And the US will follow Israel’s lead. Already US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the Palestinians are committing political suicide and US senators sent a letter to Mahmoud Abbas warning of grave political consequences and threatening to uphold US funding to the PA. Nevertheless Palestinians are well aware they still will have to negotiate with the Israelis to reclaim their territories and establish their State.
Palestinians have legitimate internationally recognized rights. They know that the current Israeli government is not interested in a peace settlement and its leaders are comfortable with the morbid status quo. They finally understand that as long as the US is assuming the role of a broker their fate will remain locked in the hands of Israel’s extremists and its ultra right conservative politicians. And while their UN non- member observer status will not end their occupation, they are leveraging the international community to restore the four decade long imbalance that stifled their national aspirations and prolonged Palestinian suffering. They also hope to alter Israel’s use of political bullying tactics that harm Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinian UN status upgrade may not be welcomed by the Israeli government, but is supported by the peace advocates including Israelis who desire an end to Israel’s suffocating policies. And in the long run Israel’s obsessive demand for absolute control of all things Palestinian will modify helping it conform with accepted international standards and norms and to realize the ideals of its Declaration of Independence that call for equality and justice for all of its citizens.
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An American Palestinian living in Washington D.C. Mai is an educational researcher, writer and speaker. She earned a Doctor of Education from Howard University, School of Education, Educational leadership and Policy program. In that capacity she has researched and published several articles related to educational policy and the state of education in the District of Columbia. As a United Nations consultant, she assisted in developing short and long-term strategies for Birzeit University in the Israeli Occupied West Bank. She developed the fundraising document "Creating a World of Possibilities & Building a Future of Hope", and produced a Johns Hopkins University Documentary "Arab Women Speak Out". Mai hosted and produced "Spotlight on Education" a local television program that addressed District of Columbia school policies, social and economic issues that impact school aged children, families, teachers and administrators . Mai founded American Palestinian Women's Association, and has organized humanitarian relief programs to aid Palestinians as well as homeless women and children in the Washington, DC area. She serves on the executive boards of several non-profit organizations.