THE COMING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN TRAIN WREAK AT THE UNITED NATIONS: A COMMENT
"To be sure, attaining some form of UN membership for Palestine could indeed enhance the Palestinian leadership's leverage in final status negotiations with Israel. They would be negotiating on behalf of a state, not a provisional body and non-state entity. As a UN member, Palestine could resort to legal recourse at the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, and possibly the International Criminal Court. Moreover, attaining UN membership would arguably enhance the Palestinians' claim to the pre-1967 armistice line, since that line will have been recognized internationally. Of course, U.S. President Barack Obama already enshrined the 1967 line as the basis for negotiations over a final border in his May 19 State Department address on the Middle East.
For its part, the Palestinian leadership has good reasons to be reluctant to return to the negotiating table without a clear reference point. The three weeks of talks with Israel last September damaged, rather than strengthened, their confidence in their Israeli interlocutors. Israel's subsequent refusal to renew its settlement moratorium or offer an alternative peace plan further diminished faith in the process.
With the plans to petition the Security Council for statehood already set, the least costly option would be to provide the Palestinians a symbolic face-saving achievement in New York short of statehood. In the increasing likelihood that Palestine could achieve recognition as a "non-member state" at the UN General Assembly this September, Palestinians could gain a few additional diplomatic tools for the next round of talks. But the net outcome would likely set back, rather than advance, their national aspirations. First, accession to the UN would undermine Palestinians' moral and historical claims to being a stateless people, a status that has kept their plight at the top of the international agenda for decades. In the international community's eyes, moreover, the conflict with Israel would effectively become a border dispute -- one of scores around the world -- not an existential challenge to the Palestinians. This would reduce the saliency and centrality of the Palestinian issue for many.
As the Oxford University law professor Guy Goodwin-Gill recently argued in a legal brief to Palestinian leadership, the move to statehood would also terminate the legal status of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The state of Palestine's authority would effectively be limited geographically to parts of West Bank and perhaps Gaza. Palestinian refugees outside of the newly recognized state would be left without any representation within international institutions. And Gaza would presumably be considered a Hamas-occupied Palestinian territory, given the failure to date to implement its April 2011 unity agreement with Fatah. At best, the state of Palestine would thus rule around forty percent of the West Bank. The other territories that the Palestinians claim -- the remaining sixty percent of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza -- would all be controlled by Israel or Hamas.
Practically, Palestine's newfound ability to confront Israel in international fora would not be the boon many believe either. Rather than pressuring Israel to become more forthcoming and to rapidly seek an agreement with the Palestinians, the confrontational atmosphere could trigger an Israeli public backlash. With its preponderance of power and control of the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, Israel would likely take harsher countermeasures on the ground, such as withholding tax remittances, restricting Palestinian movement, and possibly annexing some West Bank territory, arguing that Palestinians had abrogated the Oslo framework, which has preserved some semblance of cooperation and Palestinian governance.
Having defied Israel, the United States, and possibly parts of Europe, the Palestinian leadership's UN gambit would cast them as acting unilaterally, a charge Israel has generally suffered. Palestinians' alleged provocative behavior would rapidly increase tensions on the ground, creating an extremely combustible environment. Meanwhile, a failure at the UN could easily spark violence on the Palestinian side as dashed expectations lead to rage. It would also deal the Palestinian leadership a huge public embarrassment".
Robert M. Danin, "The UN vote and Palestinian Statehood: why the move is an Unnecessary Gamble." Foreign Affairs. 14 September 2011, in www.foreignaffairs.com.
"For months, the US and the EU have tried to discourage the Palestinians from asking the UN to recognise the state of Palestine. On both sides of the Atlantic, governments are concerned that the UN bid will exacerbate the conflict with Israel. But so far, American and European efforts have failed. Instead Washington and its EU counterparts should exploit the Palestinian initiative. If framed constructively, UN recognition could actually strengthen the prospects for peace....
The UN bid is very popular amongst the Palestinian population and it has gained support from numerous countries, including those in the Arab League. But the US and several EU governments worry that UN recognition would only make peace harder to achieve. Israel is already threatening to sever all assistance and contact with the Palestinian authorities out of concern that they will use recognition to pursue claims against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Furthermore, emboldened Palestinian grass roots movements and Israeli settlers might try to reclaim land from each other in the West Bank, triggering unrest and potentially violence....
Instead of opposing the UN bid, Washington and its European partners should use the Palestinian initiative to strengthen their efforts to re-launch peace talks. The US and the EU should inform the Palestinians that they will support a request for UN membership so long as the Palestinians ask the UN to recognise a state of Palestine whose borders broadly resemble those of 1967; they commit themselves to resolving outstanding disputes with Israel through negotiations (including the exact demarcation of borders); and they extend their executive control over the territory only through agreement with Israel.
Such a resolution would curtail the risks envisaged by Israel and others about UN recognition. It would reaffirm the primacy of negotiations as the way to solve the conflict. And by eliminating legal ambiguities about who controls Palestinian territory, it would reduce the scope for Palestinian and Israeli popular protests. In addition, when presented under such terms, UN recognition could help address some of the obstacles which have stalled the peace process in recent years. It would ensure that the Arab world, while undergoing a major upheaval, endorsed the concept of a two-state solution. And it would force the militant group Hamas, which is still in control of Gaza and has so far been disdainful of the UN effort, to either endorse it or lose support amongst the Palestinian people.
It is unusual for the UN to grant membership to a state with such extensive caveats. And many of the challenges which have blighted peace talks in the past are set to remain. Nevertheless Abbas’ initiative could offer the best platform to re-launch negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. And at a time when violence is flaring up around Gaza and the Israeli-Egyptian border, the US and the EU must do their utmost to ensure that the Palestinian UN bid does not trigger further instability".
Clara Marina O'Donnell, "The US and the EU should support the Palestinian bid for UN membership." Centre for European Reform. 25 August 2011, in www.cer.org.uk.
The issue of the the Palestinian Authority's (hereafter 'PA') bid for United Nation's membership as a sovereign, legitimate state, has been a one of the most predictable diplomatic train wreaks in the past ten years. The fact of the matter is, that this diplomatic manoeuvre, however maladroit it may be in certain aspects, is for the PA in the final analysis a political fait de mieux . As with the almost complete surrender by the current American Administration to the Netanyahu Cabinet in the past year or so, and the continuation of the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the UN bid is for PA President Abbas a last throw of the diplomatic dice 1. Contrary to Mr. Danin's conjecture that the Palestinian move is a sort of diplomacy of va banque , quite the contrary is the case. Sans this admittedly mostly public relations manoeuvre, it is difficult to envisage what diplomatic crumbs the PA would be able to obtain by remaining on the sidelines. Certainly with the upcoming American Presidential elections, the likelihood of the anything coming from Washington which savors of positive pressure on Israel is almost a complete non possumus. And while I for one am not as optimistic about the end-results of the PA being given official recognition by the United Nations as Mlle. O'Donnell, that does not gainsay the fact that at the moment, and for at the very least another year if not for longer, this gambit is for the PA the only game in town. More's the pity that the Americans will of course veto the proposal 2. The erratum of which will only become apparent, when the inevitable explosion in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip occurs sometime next year, if not sooner.
1. "Arab League Discusses Palestinian Statehood." Al-Jazeera.
4 August 2011, in www.aljazeera.net.
2. Steven Lee Myers & David D. Kirkpatrick. "U.S. Scrambling to Avert Palestinian Vote at the UN." The New York Times. 13 September 2011, in www.nytimes.com; James Blitz & Tobias Buck, "Palestinians seek UN backing for Statehood." The Financial Times. 16 September 2011, in www.ft.com.