There were three items on the agenda when the United Nations Security Council held an extraordinary meeting in Gaza City last weekend: the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the siege of Gaza; and the status of East Jerusalem. Israel was prevented from having any input into the discussions because it does not recognize Palestine.
As you may have gathered, the exclusion of Israel was not officially approved by Ban Ki-moon or others in the UN hierarchy. Rather, it was a decision taken by the Model United Nations, a forum set up by Gaza youth.
“We have not included Israel mainly because of the fact that Israel does not recognize us and works tirelessly to prevent any possible move at the UN to recognize Palestine as a member state,” said Yasmine Khader, Palestine’s “representative” and “observer” at the mock Security Council meeting.
One year ago, the first model UN forum in the West Bank was postponed for several weeks because of rising violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers. The Electronic Intifada’s Jalal Abukhater reported that more than 140 students “comprising of 15 model UN delegations from schools in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Haifa had registered to attend this first-of-a-kind event in Palestine.”
At a large hall in the Rashad Shawa Cultural Center, chairs and desks were arranged in the same way as they are at the UN General Assembly in New York. A blue flag marked the spot where the chairperson sat. The initiative was supported by the UN Development Program.
Last year, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, used the forum at the UN general assembly to broach the issue of Palestinian statehood. This time around, he asked for Palestine to become a “non-member state” of the UN.
Rawya Shawa, an independent politician in Gaza, said the purpose of the “model” UN was to alert the PA and international leaders that the Palestinian people should be involved in the discussions about their own self-determination.
Need for consensus
“We have always heard about the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and my question is: what are these rights specifically?” Shawa, who is also chairwoman of the cultural center, asked.
“I believe that this is time for action, real action by those in charge of the Palestinian people. I urge President Mahmoud Abbas to come over to Gaza first and reunite the Palestinian political spectrum before he goes to the United Nations. We, as Palestinians, should have consensus on what we need and what we do not need.”
Some 120 university graduates took part in the two-day conference of the model UN. It was the first time that this event had been held in Gaza. The conference held a symbolic vote, at which most of the participants expressed their support for Palestine becoming a member of the UN.
Mohammad al-Daya, a recent law graduate from Gaza City, was representing Kazakhstan at the meeting. He explained the negotiating tactics behind securing recognition of a Palestinian state. Recognition was treated as “a cause of peace and security worldwide,” he said, in order to avoid a veto from the US or another permanent member of the Security Council.
“Recognize our rights”
Despite the unofficial nature of the meeting, its participants were clearly taking it seriously. They had undergone seven months of training on how the UN functions.
Eman Keshko acted as the United States’ representative. “I had to learn a lot about the history of United States and the US’ long-term experience with the United Nations, especially regarding the Palestinian people’s cause,” the 22-year-old graduate in English literature said. “Actually, I am here to veto decisions that do not conform with the policy of the United States.”
Uganda, meanwhile, was “represented” by Islam al-Hosary, a journalism graduate. “We are able here to send out a message of existence of the Palestinian people,” she said. “The UN has nearly neglected our Palestinian cause for decades. We need to tell all its members outright ‘it is time that you, the UN, should recognize our rights.’”
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.