Palestinian analysts continue to debate, oppose PA “statehood” bid

The journal Foreign Affairs today published a piece I wrote titled “A Formal Funeral for the Two-State Solution,” explaining why the Palestinian Authority’s UN “statehood” bid is so flawed:

The Palestinian Authority’s bid to the United Nations for Palestinian statehood is, at least in theory, supposed to circumvent the failed peace process. But in two crucial respects, the ill-conceived gambit actually makes things worse, amplifying the flaws of the process it seeks to replace. First, it excludes the Palestinian people from the decision-making process. And second, it entirely disconnects the discourse about statehood from reality.

This is the latest of a continuing stream of articles by Palestinians assessing the pros and cons of the effort. Here are a few other recent ones that are well worth reading.

Israel wins either way

In “States of recognition,” on Al Jazeera’s website, Joseph Massad argues that no matter how the UN vote goes, Israel will be the winner:

It is important to stress at the outset that whether the UN grants the Palestinian Authority (PA) the government of a state under occupation and observer status as a state or refuses to do so, either outcome will be in the interest of Israel. For the only game in town has always been Israel’s interests, and it is clear that whatever strategy garners international support, with or without US and Israeli approval, must guarantee Israeli interests a priori. The UN vote is a case in point.

Endangering rights

Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian BDS campaign, also writing on Al Jazeera, points out the broad concerns across Palestinian civil society about the dangers posed by the UN bid to the representation of Palestinians and the right of return. Barghouti concludes that the Palestinian Authority has taken this step without the people behind it and without attention to fundamental rights:

Ignoring the will of the people and potentially sacrificing their basic rights in order to secure some illusory advantages at the “negotiations” table hurts Palestinian interests and endangers the great advances our popular and civil struggle has achieved to date, particularly as a result of the global BDS movement. It would in effect reduce the Arab Spring to a Palestinian autumn.

Going to the UN should be strongly supported by all Palestinians - and, consequently, by solidarity groups worldwide - if done by a trusted, democratically elected, accountable leadership and if it expressly represents the will of the Palestinian people and our collective right to self determination.

Alas, neither condition is met in the current “September Initiative,” which may end up replacing the “194” we’ve always struggled to implement with a “194” that is little more than another irresponsible leap away from accountability and from the inevitable repercussions of the sweeping Arab Spring.

Who speaks for Palestinians?

“‎How is it that by virtue of being Palestinian I am told that my ‘sole legitimate representative’ is an organization I have never subscribed to, am not a member of, and have never voted for?”

This fundamental question, posed by Samah Sabawi writing for Al-Shabaka, about the PLO, sums up the concerns of millions of Palestinians not just over the UN bid, but those who are bringing it forward.

While Palestinians fear that the status of the PLO could be jeopardized by the UN bid, few are under the illusion that in its current form, the PLO is anything more than a hollow shell.

Sabawi takes on the difficult – but increasingly urgent – task of how to rebuild Palestinian legitimacy:

The tough question that needs to be addressed is the idea of how legitimacy is achieved. In much of the debate about the potential disaster of the UN bid, a great deal of attention has been paid to democratic elections as the alternative to the current state of affairs.

Though useful as a goal of democratic representation, are elections really the sole and only means to build a movement? The new directions we seek as a people must include ways to re-establish and sustain the legitimacy of our representation while pursuing the quest for self-determination and the fulfillment of our human rights.

Economic aspects

In Jadaliyya, Raja Khalidi argues that the UN bid could cause severe economic damage to Palestinians as Israel and its allies impose financial sanctions in revenge – a typical tactic of colonialism. He notes:

a wide swath of Palestinian activists considers the statehood initiative problematic from legal and representational angles, because of its primary focus on statehood rather than the panoply of denied Palestinian rights. For them the bid for state-recognition is better abandoned or possibly reformulated, as it might lead to either an even more complex situation or hollow diplomatic victory.

But, Khalidi points out:

Little of the flood of political, legal and media analysis of this story has touched on what might happen – including economically – after the dust of the diplomatic battle has settled. What impact might the face-off of the coming months and its diplomatic fallout have on the livelihoods of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Will life just go on under the economic union between six million Israeli Jews and five million Palestinian Arabs, living under the same fiscal, monetary, trade and security regime (geared to the interests of the Israeli Jewish economy) since 1967? And how might this affect the fate of over one million Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel and millions of Palestine refugees?

Voices in favor

While much of the expressed opinion has been opposed to the UN bid, or at least highly skpetical, there have also been a few voices in favor. Khaled Elgindy, who worked for the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit (officially part of the PLO but in actuality controlled by the Palestinian Authority) argued in The Huffington Post that the bid was largely “symbolic” but:

Rather than viewing the Palestinians’ U.N. bid as a threat to a moribund peace process, the United States should see it as an opportunity to reset a failed and severely outdated approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It should seek to preempt the U.N. vote by working with other key international actors to develop a bold, new initiative that spells out the requirements for a comprehensive resolution to the conflict (the outlines of which are already known) and then marshaling broad international support for it.

Competing Facebook pages

In the absence of wider surveys of Palestinian public opinion, Facebook provides a very rough guide to online reaction among Palestinians.

One Facebook Page in Arabic for Palestinians opposed to the “September Statehood” initiative has gathered over 3,000 fans.

Meanwhile the official Palestinian Authority-run Facebook page promoting the bid, called “Palestine 194 State” had gathered just over 1,100 fans.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.