In a New York Times op-ed today, Mahmoud Abbas the leader of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) lays out his strategy to achieve a Palestinian state through UN recognition.
But all Abbas succeeds in doing is exposing the hollowness of a strategy that while supposedly breaking with past failures, leads only back to the same impotence. It also lays bear the deceptive use of language behind his approach.
Also, an exclusive Electronic Intifada interview with Palestinian “chief negotiator” Saeb Erekat, reveals that despite the “statehood” bid, Abbas remains committed to allowing Israel to annex vast tracts of settlements on the territory of the so-called “state.”
Abbas’ editorial in the New York Times
First, Abbas writes:
this September, at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.
Many are questioning what value there is to such recognition while the Israeli occupation continues. Others have accused us of imperiling the peace process. We believe, however, that there is tremendous value for all Palestinians — those living in the homeland, in exile and under occupation.
Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.
Our quest for recognition as a state should not be seen as a stunt; too many of our men and women have been lost for us to engage in such political theater. We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland because we have been negotiating with the State of Israel for 20 years without coming any closer to realizing a state of our own. We cannot wait indefinitely while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem. Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the United States have stopped Israel’s settlement program.
Then after touting what he claims is the readiness of the Palestinians for statehood Abbas comes to the punchline:
Once admitted to the United Nations, our state stands ready to negotiate all core issues of the conflict with Israel. A key focus of negotiations will be reaching a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on Resolution 194, which the General Assembly passed in 1948.
Palestine would be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another, however, and not as a vanquished people ready to accept whatever terms are put in front of us.
What does this mean? Abbas is seeking acceptance of a nonexistent “State of Palestine” into the UN, gambling that this will fundamentally change the balance of power when this “state” goes back to negotiations with Israel.
But what is this bet based on? How does the symbolic recognition of Palestine change any facts on the ground? The notion that “the international community” will suddenly start to put real pressure on Israel just because of yet another UN declaration to add to dozens of others that it has never enforced on Israel is delusional as I explained a few weeks ago in an article for Al Jazeera (“Recognising Palestine,” 13 April 2011).
Moreover Abbas is being deceptive when he says “we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border.” Abbas admits later that once the “state” is recognized, he would go back to negotiations with the same old intransigent Israel and “negotiate” the same old “core” issues.
Interview with Saeb Erekat
Indeed in an interview with me last week, Saeb Erekat, Abbas’ chief negotiator confirmed that the “State of Palestine” would still be willing to engage in “land swaps” that would hand large swathes of the West Bank – the territory of the “state” – to Israel.
I asked Erekat specifically if the lines the PA was asking for were those of 4 June 1967 with no land swaps and no Israeli settlements. Speaking by telephone from the Israeli-occupied West Bank last Friday, Erekat replied: “No. Wait a minute, wait a minute. Once I’m a sovereign state, then it’s legal to discuss swaps of land in size and value. But not before that.”
When pressed further, Erekat elaborated, “Israel must recognize me on the 1967 lines and then ask me if, because many countries change lands but they have to be sovereign, they have to know their borders.”
The long-time chief negotiator affirmed that: “If the Israelis use the magic number 1967 and recognize the Palestinian state on the 1967 line and introduce the swaps, we’re willing to talk about it, yes.”
In other words, Abbas is seeking “sovereignty” at the UN to do precisely the thing real sovereign states don’t do, which is cede territory to an invading, colonizing occupier.
The Palestine Papers revealed that Erekat and other negotiators had already made unprecedented concessions to Israel during negotiations in 2008, offering to let Israel keep almost all the illegal colonies it built in and around occupied Jerusalem since 1967.
There is nothing new in Abbas’ approach. The only thing that could be gained from UN recognition is for Abbas and his entourage to obtain international recognition for themselves as leaders of an imaginary “state” while nothing changes on the ground for Palestinians.