Seize the initiative
There is much that can be done to follow up on Palestine's bid for UN membership, asserts John Whitbeck*
in his open letter
Dear President Abbas,
There was visible and audible euphoria at the UN General Assembly in September when you announced Palestine's application for UN membership, at UNESCO's Paris headquarters in October when Palestine was admitted as a member state, and at UNESCO again in December when the Palestinian flag was formally raised in your presence (and mine).
Since then, nothing...
It is understood that you agreed with the Quartet to freeze Palestine's diplomatic initiatives until 26 January to permit a final effort to initiate meaningful negotiations with Israel. Predictably, that effort failed. However, 26 January has long passed. Still, nothing...
I shared your surprise that, with nine of the states on last year's UN Security Council having already extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine, you could not line up even the nine affirmative votes for Palestine's admission as a member state necessary to force the United States to choose between a veto (infuriating the Muslim world and much of mankind) and an abstention (infuriating Israel and its American supporters).
However, even though the turnover of five non- permanent members on January 1 does not appear to have changed the eight-affirmative-votes- only reality, this does not mean that there is nothing that Palestine can constructively do to recover the initiative and positive momentum of last fall.
You could proceed promptly to the UN General Assembly to obtain an overwhelming vote to upgrade Palestine's status from "observer entity" to "observer state". The memberships of the UN and UNESCO are substantially identical, and only 14 states voted against Palestine's admission as a UNESCO member state. Logically, even fewer states should oppose "observer state" status for Palestine at the UN.
Immediately after having Palestine's "state status" confirmed at the UN, you could make a formal -- and historic -- statement comprising at least the following elements.
First, announce the merger or absorption of the Palestinian Authority into the State of Palestine. Secondly, the State of Palestine could undertake, during a one-year period in which the State of Palestine would seek in good faith to achieve a definitive agreement with the state of Israel on all modalities for ending the occupation on a two-state basis, to assume and perform all of the functions, rights and obligations previously assumed and performed by the Palestinian Authority under existing agreements between the PLO and the state of Israel, including security cooperation if the state of Israel is willing to cooperate with the State of Palestine.
Finally, you could commit the State of Palestine, in the event that a definitive agreement with the state of Israel on all modalities for ending the occupation on a two-state basis is not reached within this one-year period, to consult the Palestinian people by referendum as to whether they prefer continuing to seek to end the occupation through partition, with a sovereign Palestinian state on only 22 per cent of the territory of historical Palestine, or henceforth seek the full rights of citizenship in a single democratic state in all of historical Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race, religion or origin and with equal rights for all.
If there remains any hope of actually achieving a decent two-state solution on the ground, presenting the issue and the choice, both before Israel and before its Western supporters, in this manner should stimulate the most intensive effort imaginable to actually achieve it. If, even with the issue and choice presented in this manner, a decent two-state solution were to prove impossible to achieve, the Palestinian leadership and people, having acted reasonably and responsibly, would be standing firmly on the moral high ground, ready to shift their goal to the only other decent alternative with the maximum conceivable support of the rest of mankind.
During this decisive year, you could also seek admission of the State of Palestine, successively, to several more carefully chosen UN agencies, such as the World International Property Organisation, the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as to the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and, potentially, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and even the Commonwealth, choosing those targets which both appear most constructive in practical and strategic terms and in which success is highly likely.
You could leave the Security Council waiting, always open for a vote at a moment of your choosing, perhaps after a change of government in a member state. In this context, you will surely have noticed that François Hollande, tipped by the polls to become the next French president in May, has included in his campaign booklet "My 60 Pledges for France" the following pledge: "I will support international recognition of the Palestinian state."
Necessarily, you would stop issuing "Palestinian Authority" passports and start issuing "State of Palestine" passports.
By proceeding in this way, you would affirm the existence and reality of the state in multiple ways, through a steady succession of manifestations of statehood, while building a tangible record of "successes", avoiding any visible "failure" and keeping Palestine and the imperative need to end the occupation on the "front burner" of the world's attention.
In addition, an overwhelming General Assembly vote in support of "statehood status" for Palestine, coupled with a steady succession of "facts on the ground" manifestations of statehood, would make it more difficult for Security Council members to resist or block full UN membership for Palestine at such time as you may deem it opportune to seek it.
As always, I wish you courage and wisdom in seizing the initiative and setting the agenda so as to achieve, finally, some measure of justice and a decent future for the Palestinian people.
* The writer is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.