By Lamis Andoni, Al Jazeera – 16 June 2011
Israel, backed by the US, has started a campaign to preempt a Palestinian drive to win United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israeli in the 1967 war.
If such a recognition is secured, it will neither lead to an establishment of a Palestinian state nor would it stop the continued Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands. Nevertheless, Israel is mainly concerned that the Palestinian move would restore the United Nations resolution – and international resolutions – as the main reference for solving the conflict.
Israel has been relying on unchallenged US support and its military supremacy to create facts on the ground to prevent the foundation of an independent Palestinian state, and for that matter, any alternative solution based on equality and justice.
If anything, Israel has used the 17-year-old Oslo process to undermine international law and substitute United Nations resolutions with territorial and demographic changes as terms of reference. And it is these final status settlements that determine the permanent status of the Palestinian land and people.
Thus, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has come under tremendous pressure to abandon its campaign and return to negotiations with Israel – under the same terms that have led only to the consolidation of Israeli control of Palestinians lives and lands.
It would be wrong for the PA to buckle to such pressures, but it is more important that it deals with the campaign as part of a serious strategy, and not simply as a tactic to temporarily evade – or resume – the negotiations under new slightly altered conditions.
Palestinian officials are themselves sceptical that the campaign will succeed in winning General Assembly recognition, since they expect the US to get the Security Council to oppose the move. However, they believe that the campaign itself should encourage more countries to support the Palestinian position and further isolate Israel.
The main principle of the idea should be moving away from the failed negotiations process by restoring a rights-based discourse emphasising Palestinian national and legitimate rights, as opposed to a starting point based on Israel’s self-declared “security interests” and goals.
Many Palestinians fear, however, that such a move will only legitimise the status quo of fragmented territorial enclaves, illegal Jewish settlements, and displaced populations. There are also legitimate fears that, in order to guarantee the passage of such a resolution, the PA would sacrifice the Palestinian right of return for the creation of a virtual entity that has no bearing on the facts on the ground.
The fears emanate from both a lack of faith in the PA and in the United Nations’ ability, and even willingness, to defy the United States – which vehemently opposes the Palestinian move.
In both of his recent speeches on the Middle East, US President Barack Obama said that Palestinians should abandon the plan to go to the United Nations, warning Palestinians that the US would not allow “symbolic” moves that aim at “de-legitimising the state of Israel”.
Obama is not far from the truth: Any move that invokes the application of international law and UN resolutions that recognise Palestinian rights, are in effect, acts that de-legitimise Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and dispossession of the Palestinian people.
But in Obama’s view, a solution should reflect the demographic changes that Israel has enforced through military power, thus legitimising Israeli acts that have no base in international conventions or law.
This official US attitude, which reflects the Israeli political position, aims at making international law and the United Nations obsolete by getting the international community – and, most significantly, the Palestinians themselves – to accept and thus legitimise Jewish-only settlements on occupied territory, the expropriation of Palestinian lands, the segregation wall and the displacement of Palestinians.
Whether the PA originally started the campaign as a political tactic or some kind of political posturing, it has found itself engaged in a serious battle over the role of international influence versus Israeli military power that will determine the future for the Palestinians.
Israel has correctly understood the meaning of such a move, and has embarked on a counter campaign that the Palestinians should not underestimate.
According to a report published by Haaretz, the Israeli foreign ministry has begun a series of international contacts and dipomatic lobbying to prevent more countries from recognising a Palestinian state.
In a secret cable sent to foreign ministry director general Rafael Barak, staff and ambassadors were instructed to describe the Palestinian move as “a process that erodes the legitimacy of the state of Israel”.
This kind of Israeli propaganda is important, not only as a tactic to portray the Palestinian move as aimed at endangering the state of Israel, but also to reflect Israel’s serious concern that the discourse will shift from Israeli conditions for negotiations to Palestinian rights – as based in international law.
It is also interesting how Israeli leaders associate the questioning of legality of Israel’s actions with the legitimacy of the state of Israel itself. Israeli leaders say that the beginning of such an examination will raise questions about the campaign of uprooting the Palestinians and the demolition of more than 450 villages that were associated with the creation of Israel.
Barak asked Israeli envoys to argue that the Palestinian pursuit of United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state is a Palestinian attempt “to achieve their aims in a manner other than negotiations with Israel”.
Therefore, in Barak’s view, Palestinians should not be allowed to invoke legitimate UN resolutions while Israel should be allowed, even supported, to pursue the illegal confiscation of Palestinian lands and displacement of Palestinian people under the guise of futile negotiations.
Although an international recognition of a Palestinian state will not automatically create a state, the campaign could obstruct Israeli and US efforts to legitimise Israeli actions. A recent Palestinian campaign, especially in Latin America – with the full support for Brazil – has increased to 135 the number of governments that recognise a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967 – as opposed to borders defined by the territorial and demographic shifts that Israel has been trying to impose through an asymmetrical process of negotiations and military-backed colonisation.
But it all depends on the way the Palestinian campaign is conducted and the wording of the draft resolution that will be submitted to the UN in September. To begin with, the campaign should be viewed as one form of many forms of peaceful resistance. The Palestinian position is strong as long as there are other forms of resistance in place. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, for example, might not be coordinated with other campaigns – but it is one of the more powerful tools of delegitimising Israeli actions. Going to the UN is not sufficient, and is not enough – if not backed by a strategy of resistance that the PA does not seem to have.
However, it is the whole of the existing forms of resistance, including the popular non-violent protests that happen each and every week across the occupied territories, that will influence the international scene.
Furthermore, it is crucial that the wording of the draft resolution, regardless of the results, reiterates all United Nations resolutions, and does not subject its implementation to the Oslo peace process. It should be seen as the beginning of a process of litigating Palestinian demands and not as part of a deal to resume flawed negotiations. Otherwise, it will be subverting UN resolutions to fit the Israeli terms of negotiations and become a self-defeating campaign that will only inflect further damage on the Palestinians themselves.
The Israeli reaction so far proves that any Palestinian move away from the contours defined by the Oslo process is a serious threat to Israeli plans. Thus the PA should not bow out, but it should also be aware that the Palestinian people will not stomach or accept any short-signed tactical adventures that could bolster the PA’s international standing, but could return the Palestinians to live under the mercy of a destructive negotiation process.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs