The (unplanned) victory of the UN statehood bid

Palestinian youth will take up an anti-apartheid struggle.

Oren Ziv ActiveStills

Amid the enthusiastic applause in New York City and the celebrations in Ramallah, it was easy to believe — if only a for minute — that, after decades of obstruction by Israel and the United States, a Palestinian state might finally be pulled out of the United Nations’ hat. Will the world’s conscience be midwife to a new era ending Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians?

It seems not.

The Palestinian application, handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week, has now disappeared from view — for weeks, it seems — while the United States and Israel devise a face-saving formula to kill it in the Security Council. Behind the scenes, the pair are strong-arming the council’s members to block Palestinian statehood without the need for the US to cast its threatened veto.

Whether or not President Barack Obama wields the knife with his own hand, no one is under any illusion that Washington and Israel are responsible for the formal demise of the peace process. In revealing to the world its hypocrisy on the Middle East, the US has ensured both that the Arab public is infuriated and that the Palestinians will jump ship on the two-state solution.

But there was one significant victory at the UN for Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, even if it was not the one he sought. He will not achieve statehood for his people at the world body, but he has fatally discredited the US as the arbiter of a Middle East peace.

Craven to Israel

In telling the Palestinians there was “no shortcut” to statehood — after they have already waited more than six decades for justice — the US president revealed his country as incapable of offering moral leadership on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Obama is this craven to Israel, what better reception can the Palestinians hope to receive from a future US leader?

One guest at the UN had the nerve to politely point this out in his speech. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president who himself appears to be wavering from his original support for a Palestinian state, warned that US control of the peace process needed to end.

“We must stop believing that a single country, even the largest, or a small group of countries can resolve so complex a problem,” he told the General Assembly. His suggestion was for a more active role for Europe and the Arab states at peace with Israel.

Sarkozy appeared to have overlooked the fact that responsibility for solving the conflict was widened in much this way in 2002 with the creation of the Quartet, comprising the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

The Quartet’s formation was necessary because the US and Israel realized that the Palestinian leadership would not continue playing the peace process game if oversight remained exclusively with Washington, following the Palestinians’ betrayal by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000. The Quartet’s job was to restore Palestinian faith in — and buy a few more years for — the Oslo process.

Blair’s bias

However, the Quartet quickly discredited itself too, not least because its officials never strayed far from the Israeli-Washington consensus. Last week senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath spoke for most Palestinians when he accused the Quartet’s envoy, Tony Blair, of sounding like an “Israeli diplomat” as he sought to dissuade Abbas from applying for statehood.

And true to form, the Quartet responded to the Palestinians’ UN application by limply offering Abbas instead more of the same tired talks that have gone nowhere for two decades.

The Palestinian leadership’s move to the UN, effectively bypassing the Quartet, widens the circle of responsibility for Middle East peace yet further. It also neatly brings the Palestinians’ 63-year plight back to the world body.

But Abbas’ application also exposes the UN’s powerlessness to intervene in an effective way. Statehood depends on a successful referral to the Security Council, which is dominated by the US. The General Assembly may be more sympathetic but it can confer no more than a symbolic upgrading of Palestine’s status, putting it on a par with the Vatican.

So the Palestinian leadership is stuck. Abbas has run out of institutional addresses for helping him to establish a state alongside Israel. And that means there is a third casualty of the statehood bid — the Palestinian Authority. The PA was the fruit of the Oslo process, and will wither without its sustenance.

Entering a new phase

Instead we are entering a new phase of the conflict in which the US, Europe, and the UN will have only a marginal part to play. The Palestinian old guard are about to be challenged by a new generation that is tired of the formal structures of diplomacy that pander to Israel’s interests only.

The young new Palestinian leaders are familiar with social media, are better equipped to organize a popular mass movement, and refuse to be bound by the borders that encaged their parents and grandparents. Their assessment is that the PA — and even the Palestinians’ unrepresentative supra-body, the Palestine Liberation Organization — are part of the problem, not the solution.

Until now they have remained largely deferential to their elders, but that trust is fast waning. Educated and alienated, they are looking for new answers to an old problem.

They will not be seeking them from the countries and institutions that have repeatedly confirmed their complicity in sustaining the Palestinian people’s misery. The new leaders will appeal over the heads of the gatekeepers, turning to the court of global public opinion. Polls show that in Europe and the US, ordinary people are far more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than their governments.

The first shoots of this revolution in Palestinian politics were evident in the youth movement that earlier this year frightened Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas into creating a semblance of unity. These youngsters, now shorn of the distracting illusion of Palestinian statehood, will redirect their energies into an anti-apartheid struggle, using the tools of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. Their rallying cry will be one person-one vote in the single state Israel rules over.

Global support will be translated into a rapid intensification of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Israel’s legitimacy and the credibility of its dubious claim to being a democracy are likely to take yet more of a hammering.

Events at the UN are creating a new clarity for Palestinians, reminding them that there can be no self-determination until they liberate themselves from the legacy of colonialism and the self-serving illusions of the ageing notables who now lead them. The old men in suits have had their day.

Jonathan Cook won this year’s Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is




Excellent analysis. The BDS movement seems to be the most effective weapon against the occupation.


I have just spent the best part of two days getting myself up to date on matters Palestinian for a future assignment. I hate to say it, but I think there will be a blood bath.
Last week I read the US position which was condemmed around the world. Regrettably, I think they are right. Israel is going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming down a bloody path in the inevitable granting of Palestine its sovereign nation status.

What more can be done with a recalcitrant Israel? Well for one, they are joined at the hip to the US because the Jewish vote is just too powerful. So the options are few. I think the whole Arab League plus all the others, from Istanbul to Casablanca are going to have to unify in their support for Palestine. For once, their power from oil might just be able to change the seats at the table and get it done.


I also have feeling things will turn nasty. The Israeli position appears totally inflexible. Were there a real prospect for a mutually acceptable arrangement it would have happened by now, as it is they appear to have moved into an even higher gear with settlement expansion. I detect three things that give them that confidence, first US support which has two prongs, their influence with the top echelons of US policy as you write, plus the fact that they are the only non Arab entity in the area and without them US influence would have to start over. Second, the settlements and housing developments have created what is effectively a human shield the filmed and broadcast destruction of which global humanitarian concerns would not easily sustain. Finally, they have dreams fed on mythopeic convictions, which for many of them are worthy of any sacrifice.

The world’s best hope may be that they succumb to a combination of relentless BDS and those internal dissensions that have so often weakened them in the past.


@ "the Jewish vote is just too powerful."

I am not convinced this is true as applied to Israeli-Palestinian relations. Many Jewish voters in the U.S. are appalled by the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. More important than religious belief is the fact that the Zionist lobby is incredibly powerful and that Zionists are disproportionately present at high levels of the U.S. government.


I really believe it is time for the young to take over the reins. We need these young blood. We have to keep up with the rest of the world, we should unite because that is the only way we will have our state.


I have read extensively on the Middle East situation. I have come to the same conclusions as posted here. Sooner or later, the solution can only be a one state solution. A solution will only be bloodless if not just a division of land but a court of justice with war crimes and human rights being tried. Compensation will need to be paid to Palestinians; and that will need to be considerable. The alternative and I fear that is the path that will be taken, is the collapse of israel through internal corruption, a lack, of aid from the US, lack of man power and growing Palestinian numbers. This second path will conclude with as stated; a blood bath. I find great hope however with the news that the youth are powering the struggle.


Put comments by SAM, joe, and Mr. Praibin together makes a potent solution: time. I continue to be astounded and edified by the patient forthrightness of peoples like the Palestinians in seeking common standing with the rest of humanity.


While BDS has been an effective tool for getting media attention, I don't see it inflicting real harm on Israel. In this way the situation is different than it was with South Africa. As long as there is funding for Israel from the US and Europe, things will continue as normal.

Israel cannot stop their expansion, because to do so would cause the implosion of their economy and society. Witness the recent street protests over cost of living in Israel, the only way Israel can support it's Neoliberal Disneyland operation is to continue to have the ability to placate their lower classes by offering them "free" (aka Palestinian) land.

They will have to be forced, it will not be pretty.


Mr. Cook errs in his otherwise excellent analyses when he repeatedly refers to Palestine's "bid for Statehood" and Abbas's effort "to establish a state." This misunderstanding weakens the Palestinian State and he (and most other analysts) need to clean up their language. According to International Law codified first in the Montevideo Convention (1933) and accepted in the UN, Palestine is already a state--and that is the reason it Abbas could request membership in the UN. The State of Palestine already exists. Say it, and they say it again.


The tragic story of the most opressed people in History will never end if Palestinians rely on the UN or the US or the other members of the quartet to deliver statehood to them.Young Palestenians need to take the bull by the horns.The Arab league and OIC are stooges of the West under the chief directorship of King Abdulla of Arabia. ((This land also does not belong to the Saudis) However, as human beings we must not loose hope. There was indeed a time when South Africa thought that it was invincible. When the crash came it came like a tsunami and no one who understands the politics of the Middle East will deny that Israel is now at the crossroads with little options. Truth has a way of emerging as demonstrated in Egypt . The tyrant who ruled with a vengence on the back of US and Israeli support finds himself in a cage facing the long arms of justice. Israel will be facing similar occasions unless .she comes to terms with reality.The US has displayed its true dirty face in the conflict while facing almost.insurmountable challenges at home. It does not have the option of open cheque for Israel any the true face of its blanket support of Israel becomes apparent to the tax payers in the US. Israel is increasIngly being boxed and she does not have the luxury to ignore world wide public support for the Palestinian cause., even if this support at some government lacking. The problem is that many Israeli polititians lack vision. We hope that Netanyahoo continues to do what he is doing now which will force a one state solution which will be under the control of the majority-the Paleatinians for a united Palestine.with a place for all its citizens in one democratic state like the one in South Africa.


It may be more realistic to look to the likely future, and "reverse engineer" the best strategy that leads there. The Israeli government's policy on the ground, of supporting colonisation within the occupied territories, conflicts with its verbal policy of supporting a two-state solution. The colonisation has now reached a point where it's hard to see where there is room for a viable second state. Furthermore, the lengthy timescale of the occupation is relevant. A state is a stable institution that controls a territory. Now, after 43 years of occupation, is it realistic to deny what is there? In reality, there is a single State (of Israel) within which the inhabitants need to address a big problem of ethnic conflict and democratic deficit. The responsibility for this lamentable state of affairs can be argued over, and I accept that the debate is important. But don't let it obscure one vital reality -- that it is inevitable that the whole population living in the area between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan are going to live together peaceably at some time in the future. The question facing this population is therefore how best to arrive more quickly, and least destructively of life, at that destination. Consider Northern Ireland. The nationalist population had genuine grievances. The Unionists and UK government failed to address these grievances, even in the face of Republican revolt, which highlighted the problem. The balance of forces was tested over a long period. Once the Republican, Unionist and British leaderships understood that militaristic rebellion and militaristic repression could not produce other than a stalemate, the present solution was found. Neither 5 million Palestinians, nor 5 million Jews can be forced to leave. The victory will be to those inhabitants of this land who face this fact, and carve their future realistically: with the grain and not across it.


I fail to see how a one-state solution benefits the Palestinians, though it would delight Israel and the settlers. With a one-state solution, no Palestinians refugees will be allowed to return to Israel nor will they receive compensation for the homes and lands they lost in Israel. Moreover, since Israel is demolishing entire Bedouin villages in Israel now as well as Palestinian homes and wells in the West Bank, why does Cook (and others) think that the situation of the Palestinians would improve with a one-state solution? A two-state solution is the only way to assure rights for the Palestinians.