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Palestine takes a stab at statehood

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Gershon Baskin surmises that the Palestinians have learnt from Israel, as the birth certificate of Israel’s existence was obtained from the breeding grounds of the UN.

The late Canadian-British business tycoon Lord Beaverbrook once remarked that giving certain countries independence was like giving a razor to a child. Such incapable creatures were ill-suited to independence, effectively disqualified from claims to sovereignty because of their poor resume in development.

In 1947, UN General Assembly resolution 181 was passed. It promised a Jewish and an Arab state out of the Mandate of Palestine. In time, it came to be known as the partition resolution. The United States, Soviet Union and Australia were among the countries voting for its adoption. The Arab world was furious. Israeli independence was unilaterally declared.

With these events in mind, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hopes to extract a Security Council resolution validating his effort to establish a Palestinian state along the borders of 4 June 1967.

The Israelis, with American support, are fuming, threatening to abandon the Oslo accords that give the Palestinian Authority control of part of Gaza and the West Bank. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Danon of the Likud party have adopted extreme stances, claiming the status of east Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements will cease to be up for negotiation should the Palestinians unilaterally pursue recognition. They, it would seem, have not read the history books.

Danon has urged an annexation of the West Bank and a removal of Palestinians into Jordan, with Egypt taking over Gaza. Given the transformation of the Middle East, the overthrow of various tyrannical regimes and the continuing challenges to others, Israel will be pressed to join the train of history and make similar changes.

That the Palestinians, a recognised people, must mediate their sovereignty through channels that place them in a position of subservience is unacceptable. The question is not whether recognition should be granted, but how.

The US strategy on this has been to reverse the onus of recognition — it is the Palestinian people who must recognise Israel as a ‘Jewish state’.

There are those among both Palestinians and the Israeli peace movement who feel the time for recognition is nigh, that it will bring benefits to citizens from both sides. They believe recognition of Palestine will get the parties talking again. Rather than destroy the conversation, it will invigorate it.

As Claudette Habesch, General Secretary of Caritas Jerusalem explains , the vote is a preliminary, ‘a real opportunity to restart the negotiations’.

Statehood has its problems, but also its benefits. The precariousness of Palestinian existence before the encroachment of settlements would be contained. Access to the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court would also be guaranteed, and may well bring restraint to the violence.

Groups within the Israeli peace movement such as the Coalition for Women for Peace have voiced similar sentiments: ‘International recognition of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people is an important and vital step in the process of internationalisation of the Palestinians’ struggle for independence, freedom and equality.’

Gershon Baskin, an Israeli writer and broadcaster on All for Peace Radio, is even optimistic on the move, subtitling a recent piece in the Jerusalem Post: ‘Maybe the whole world isn’t against us?’

Baskin had been listening to a fatalistic radio conversation between journalist Yaron Dekel and lyricist Yoram Taharlev, who had written a song from the 1970s, ‘Ha’olam kulo negdeinu’ — ‘The Whole world is against us’. Just as the Pharaohs were overcome ‘we’ll overcome this too’. But to ignore the UN, for all its hypocrisies, would be to ignore ‘a political institution which embodies international law and reflects international opinion, whether we like it or not’.

The Palestinians, Baskin surmises, have learnt from Israel. After all, wasn’t the birth certificate of Israel’s existence obtained from the breeding grounds of the UN? The Palestinians ‘are going to the United Nations in order to preserve what might be the very last chance to have a two-states-for-two-peoples solution to this conflict’.

A possibility for steering a middle ground has been voiced by the French. President Nicolas Sarkozy has broken with Washington on opposing recognition, suggesting instead that the Palestinian status be upgraded to that of a ‘non-member observer state’. ‘Let us cease our endless debates on the parameters. Let us being negotiations and adopt a precise timetable,’ he said.

Contain the extremists, argues Sarkozy, and avoid the ‘immobility’ that would encourage conflict.

With all that said, there is a note of warning. Some Palestinian groups have expressed opposition to the plan. The Palestinian Youth Movement, for instance, feels the UN bid would place at risk ‘the rights and aspirations of over two thirds of Palestinian people who live as refugees in countries of refuge and in exile, to return to their original homes’.

Ali Abunimah, policy advisor to the Palestinian Policy Network Al-Shabaka, questions the democratic credentials of the move, arguing that a ‘toothless and illusory’ state would be born.

In the end, Abunima’s point is a sound one, wherever this bid for statehood goes. ‘Ultimately, any successful strategy should focus not on statehood but on rights.’

Originally Published in Eureka Street

Binoy Kampmark

Dr. Binoy Kampmark teaches core legal courses within the Legal and Dispute Studies program for the Bachelor of Social Science at RMIT University. He has research interests in the institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th Century History and law. He has written extensively on these topics in both refereed journals and more popular media.

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