Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

No transition to a functioning state

Despite the euphoria at the UN General Assembly resolution recognising Palestine as a non-member state, there is still a long way to go before genuine statehood, writes Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Al-Ahram Weekly

After wasting 20 years of negotiations in which basic Palestinian rights were squandered while Israel was colonising the West Bank and Jerusalem and millions of Palestinians were rotting in refugee camps, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), decided to ask the UN General Assembly to recognise Palestine as non-member state.

The vast majority of world governments, especially in Asia, Africa and South America, has always been supportive of the Palestinian cause. The UN vote was substantial: 138 votes in favour, nine against and 41 abstentions. The euphoria among the Palestinians created by the vote is reminiscent of the sense of relief and optimism among them when the Oslo Accords were signed in the early 1990s and sold to the Palestinians by their self-appointed leaders as a road to “the peace of the brave.” Twenty years on, the accords have proven to be catastrophic.

Many UN resolutions favouring the Palestinians are collecting dust on UN shelves rather than being enacted. Israel has ignored countless resolutions issued by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council and the International Court of Justice. It rejected the Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the 2002 Beirut Arab Summit, because colonising the West Bank and Jerusalem outweigh the benefits of formal normalisation with the Arab and Muslim nations.

Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and it has established low-profile trading and cultural relations with other Arab and Muslim nations without having diplomatic relations, mostly after the signing of the Oslo Accords. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on 28 December, “Israeli business quietly thrives in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and in far-off countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, too.”

The UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 in 1948 that aimed to create two independent states in Palestine, one for the Arab population on 45 per cent of the land, and the other for the Jews on 55 per cent after the termination of the British Mandate. Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion accepted the resolution on behalf of the Jews, and their military took over the area assigned to the Jews and large parts of the Arab-allotted territory as well, along with areas earmarked for international control.

Article 11 of General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 states that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.”

In response, Ben-Gurion stated that “Israel categorically rejects the insidious proposal for freedom of choice for the refugees, for she [Israel] is convinced that this proposal is designed and calculated only to destroy Israel.” More recently, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak has stated that “we cannot allow even one refugee back on the basis of the right of return.” In 2001, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law barring Israeli negotiators from discussing the right of return.

After the 1967 War, the UN Security Council passed resolutions 242 (1967), 238 (1973) and 429 (1978) that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territory. However, Israel defied these and even annexed East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel has built more than 120 settlements on Palestinian land in the four decades since these resolutions were adopted.

The International Court of Justice ruled in July 2004 that the annexation wall being built by Israel in the West Bank was illegal and should be pulled down. It ordered Israel to stop construction immediately, dismantle the sections of the wall that had already been built, and make reparation for any damage caused by the wall’s construction. This has not deterred Israel from carrying on its land confiscation and building the wall.

After the granting of the Palestinians the status of non-member state at the UN, the weakness, autocracy, corruption and incompetence of the Palestinian leadership, and the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people by the Oslo Accords, will still make it difficult to overcome long-standing Israeli intransigence and make the transition from a Palestinian Authority under occupation to a functioning state. Palestinian land, the borders and the resources, and even the taxes levied on Palestinian imports, are all under the control of the Israeli occupiers. The only potential power available to the Palestinians is their people, but Abbas has assured Israel that as long as he is in power the Palestinian people will not rise up against the occupation or exercise their right to resistance and self-defence.

His police force coordinates with Israeli security in apprehending people accused of resisting the occupation. Immediately after the General Assembly declared Palestine a non-member state of the UN, the Israeli government announced it would build 3,000 new housing units on Palestinian land that is already riddled with Jews-only settlements, as well as Jewish towns and highways.

Abbas has admitted that the application for non-member status at the UN was a second thought and only a reaction to Israel’s policies. He told Palestinian diplomats at a meeting last July in Istanbul that the application for UN membership had been forced upon him by Israel’s refusal to freeze the expansion of the settlements. He knew that the US would vote against the resolution, but he postponed the move to pursue the bid until the US presidential campaign was over.

Perhaps the US told him to do so. The “Palestine Papers” that have been released by Al-Jazeera reveal that US President Barack Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell, told Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereikat on 1 October 2009 that the US would not agree to any mention of “1967 whatsoever” in order to avoid “difficulties with the Israelis”.

Abbas has indicated that taking Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be a last resort if it continues its settlement policy in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the US fails to revive the peace process. He has promised Western supporters that the Palestinians will not seek ICC intervention against Israel unless there is new aggression. But the ongoing occupation, colonisation of the West Bank and annexation are all acts of aggression.

Throughout his political career, Abbas has been a concessionist, a push-over and an empty suit with no backbone. He even agreed to suppress the UN-backed report by international judge Richard Goldstone about Israeli war crimes against the residents of the Gaza Strip in 2008. Abbas also revealed the low quality of his leadership in an interview with an Israeli television station in which he “relinquished” his “right of return” to his birthplace in Palestine, stating that “Palestine for me is the [1967] borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever… This is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, and the other parts are Israel.”

Abbas thus compromised the very core of the Palestinian struggle. His concession cannot come from the authentic leader of the Nakba’s victims, who were cleansed from their homes and businesses in 490 Palestinian towns and villages by Israeli Jews in 1948. Ironically, the Jews who took over these towns and villages claim Palestine as their home because their “ancestors” were born there thousands of years ago.

Abbas, the architect of the Oslo Accords and of the endless negotiations with the Israelis that have squandered the rights and hopes of the Palestinians, is too weak to make the transition from the PA, surviving under occupation, to a functioning Palestinian state, even if that state is a non-member state of the UN.


The writer is a political analyst.

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