Two cheers for Palestinian statehood-recognition

on 19 Comments

It’s true that the nauseatingly labeled state building endeavor, measured by institutional, economic and security functions and “performance” criteria that the “international community” demands of the Palestinians while coercing them into a fictitious “peace process,” long ago became little more than delaying tactics allowing ever more time for Israeli expansion/colonization. It’s true too that the Palestinian security and police forces will more likely be used to oppress rather than defend their people. The PA leadership and the socio-economic elite, increasingly one and the same, are captive to outside interests and whose self-enrichment depends on the American imposed neo-liberal political economy. And it requires no great leap of insight or understanding to conclude that a declaration of statehood will not result in Israeli withdrawal from the OPT and Palestinian self-determination. No territorial continuity, no sovereignty, no control over the entire occupied territories– all make the idea of declaring a state apparently absurd.

For Palestinians and other supporters of Palestine who argue that seeking, much less declaring, statehood is a mirage and farce, their agenda is a single democratic or bi-national state and the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, which, to be sure, is at the heart of the meaning and spirit of Palestinian self-determination. Declaring a state in 1967 borders, they fear, will have the effect of legally reconfirming that the Palestinians have no claims on their historic rights including return of refugees. For others, including liberal Jews who anxiously support such a move, their agenda’s logic is that support of Palestinian political-legal claims and statehood in the 1967 lines saves Israel from itself, maintains it as a “Jewish state,” and leads to end of conflict including dropping the demand of refugee return.

What if we think of a multifaceted strategy that includes declaration of statehood in pursuit of a sovereign state in the 1967 borders, already legally supported; a campaign of non-violent resistance calling for freedom, rights, equality; and acceptance, in principle, of a negotiated settlement? After all, the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for BDS declared the following principles:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

By demanding an end to the occupation and equality for Palestino-Israelis and the right of return, the civil society call neither affirms nor denies a Palestinian state but certainly implies it, as it does its logical concomitant, two states.

The question is, Must Palestinian strategy consist of either a state declaration or a non-violent campaign that demands freedom, human rights, and equality complemented by and contextualized in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement?

My answer is a contingent no, especially now that negotiations are moribund and Abbas/Fayyad are not adhering to the US-Israeli scheme of coercing the Palestinian people into a settlement of surrender. Before explaining, let me say this: statehood declaration, as a goal by itself or embedded in a more inclusive strategic context as I will suggest, is dependent on one critical element: it is meaningless if not accompanied by de jure UN recognition/membership.

Broadly speaking, years ago the PA leadership should have pulled out from negotiations, unified its people, insisted on an end to the occupation and colonial expansion based on international law and UN resolutions, demanded Palestinian rights, freedom, equality, self-determination, pursued a political and diplomatic offensive, gone to the UN/declared a state. In the abstract, such a strategy would be inclusive, not merely to manage conflict nor a permanent, comprehensive solution; not a temporary, provisional, transitional or partial solution, nor a one- or two-state solution. It is all of them and none of them. The Palestinians must play by their own rules and be flexibly prepared. What would it tangibly look like?

The Palestinians would develop a multifaceted strategy that includes three elements: seeking de jure UN membership, accepting in principle two states based on international law and UNSC resolutions, and struggling for freedom, human rights, equality in a non-violent campaign of resistance to end the occupation and that affirms peace, coexistence, and life. Each strategy will have its own constituent tactical elements (one at UN, the other peace conference/negotiations, the third mass organizing). Together they have a better chance of ending the occupation than the current state of collaboration with the occupiers in an interminable “peace process.”

The Palestinians will make clear their acceptance of negotiations in principle but insist on an UN-internationally sponsored conference. If the US gets its way against the Europeans and Arab states and obstructs this option, then maintain a reserve option that accepts bilateral negotiations in principle but formulate a set of clear conditions only under which negotiations can resume. Taking a leaf from the Israeli book, the Palestinians can manage the “peace process” indefinitely without capitulation to Israel’s expansionist fait accompli while also engaging the UN.

Yes, a multi-pronged strategy, because of its diffuseness and ambiguity contains potential complexity, contradiction, and unpredictability. But it is predicated on pragmatism and flexibility: change tactics and emphases as events unfold. The Israelis have done little else for decades.

The insistence by some on mutual exclusivity of Palestinian strategies—no two states, no UN statehood, yes non-violent one state campaign—is scary if one thinks of Palestinian history. Palestinian leaders, beginning in the Mandate, seem forever mired in factional and personal struggles for power, their political goals thwarted by their divisions, swinging between principle and pragmatism and unable to find a balance between the two. Progressive shrinkage of Palestine, loss of Palestinian freedom, and remoteness of Palestinian self-determination are the ineluctable consequences. Historically, the lack of a state or its acceptance until 1988 contributed to Palestinian legal/sovereign weakness, for a powerful argument in support of a UN membership is its legal insulation against others’ claims and aggressions. Albeit, as colonists, they were compromising nothing because they were not Palestine’s owners, and strategically used a state as a springboard for further territorial expansion, the Zionists understood the paramount importance of obtaining de jure international recognition and legitimacy.

US money may stop, perhaps also European, though this is unlikely if the Palestinians insist they accept in principle a negotiated settlement. Israel may escalate its violence, and the American press may generally vilify the Palestinians, who must focus, through the BDS structures, on mobilizing NGOs, global civil society, Arab and Western public opinion.

A Palestinian state that acquires de jure recognition by admission into the UN as a full member powerfully reaffirms the principle and reality that Israel is an illegal trespasser in the OPT. As I previously wrote, such a state can proceed to ask for protection, exercise its right to defense, request UN supervision, initiate an international peace conference, etc. Actually, the US-Israeli position is legally and morally false, for withdrawing from the occupied territories is a precondition to a negotiated solution, not the other way round. Why not have a legally recognized state in place?

Declaration of statehood/UN membership can potentially reposition the way a negotiated solution is approached. Palestine would be negotiating as an already established legal fact whose lawful and moral goal is the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all of the OPT. Furthermore, declaring a state will allow the Palestinians to postpone, hence not forfeit, the right of return and Jerusalem, including if they subsequently (or ever) achieve a negotiated settlement for two states.

Just as with the comparison between the South African and Palestine realities, the comparison of a state in the West Bank and Gaza to the South African Bantustan experience is overstated, certainly if it actually means complete Israeli withdrawal from the OPT and leads to authentic sovereignty. Also, just because a government, i.e., the PA, is needed to declare statehood and seek UN membership, the current government and leadership are not destined for permanency; they can be changed and Palestinian institutions democratically reformed with time.

Israelis’ and Americans’ scurrying and warnings against state declaration and Netanyahu’s coming scheme to preempt, and blame, the Palestinians, tells us they see it as a real “threat” to their plans for unchallenged hegemony in support of the status quo. Netanyahu’s violence in Gaza, supported by the US, is of course a (US-Israeli) attempt to prevent Hamas-PA reconciliation. The last thing they want is true Palestinian democracy and unity. So I suppose, judging by this measure, a Palestinian state cannot be the worst thing that can happen, and it may test how far the American-imposed regional order has weakened. The EU seems to be encouraging the Palestinians and committing more aid.

I am not delusional over the PA elite’s determination to stay in power, about its authoritarianism-light and American-inspired “securitization.” Yet, the Palestinian public in the OPT is relatively quiet, almost lethargic, permitting the PA to continue with business as usual including plans for a declared state. Perhaps, like the Syrians, they fear widespread disorder and more hardship. Perhaps it’s because they are watching to see how matters unfold, for there seems to actually be an expectation, a desire, of achieving de jure statehood and on whose success the PA’s public support hangs.

Ideally, national reconciliation and unity through any mechanism, including elections (but not before agreement with Hamas), national manifesto, or national congress would first, before declaration, take place. Abbas may yet salvage what’s left of the PNA by cleaning house and immediately calling a conference of all factions and civil society groups in Palestinian society. Regardless, even if the Fatah dominated PA forges ahead without first achieving national reconciliation and unity, just declaring/seeking de jure statehood puts it more on the side of the Palestinians and not on that of the US and Israel, and may even push it, whether it likes it or not and for the sake of survival, into national unity.

At one time, before the Oslo process and the arrival of Arafat in the OPT corrupted, divided and dispossessed the Palestinians even more, the goal of self-determination through two states as a pragmatic option in place of a secular democratic state, seemed a positive thing, based on the vision of coexistence, equality and sharing of historic Palestine. Why not resurrect this vision and use statehood as the absolute beginning in fulfilling it? We know the Zionists’/Israelis’ century old master plan is eradicating the Palestinian national presence in Palestine, that Israel’s annexations/colonization are virtually irreversible, and that they will not withdraw from even half of the West Bank, much less every inch of the OPT. We know, too, that, even with Palestine membership, effective UN action to protect the Palestinians or realize their rights will be blocked. This does not mean, however, that a multifaceted plan that includes de jure statehood to deal with this dismal reality constitutes escapism or nonsensical or wishful thinking; instead, it may begin a rejuvenation of Palestinian energies towards a new vision, unity, leaders, and program.

In the end, the hubbub may be much ado about nothing for military power determines outcomes, and it’s unclear who or what can pry loose and eject the morally bankrupt Israeli albatross. In that case, why the concern, for nothing changes except one important thing: the UN would have reaffirmed that all the OPT are Palestine’s. Israel and its US partner in duplicity will have come under international pressure and embarrassment—that’s assuming the PA, soon to be under immense US-induced stress and Congressional threats as Netanyahu hits the Washington circuit, goes through with it and, secondly, actually succeeds in gaining UN membership.

For those deeply concerned that statehood may undermine historic rights and the vision of a single state, one must remember that the PLO already recognized Israel in its pre-1967 borders. In any case, little is set in stone, certainly for the Zionists. Technically speaking, pre-1967 Israel is illegal, having expanded through aggression beyond the UN partition resolution of 1947, and it still, by design, refuses to define its borders. Once de jure status is actually achieved—far from a guaranteed outcome—and even if Netanyahu, in response, executes a semblance of withdrawal and declares unilateral borders (not a certainty because of Zionist greed), these expanded borders will remain illegal, as they are in Syria and Lebanon, and thus, really, little changes. The occupation remains an occupation. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that the powerless Palestinians at this historical juncture legally protect their last remaining territory (the OPT) from Israeli claims based on nothing more than power and violence. It’s like a Palestinian guarantee of claim and right in an uncertain, dangerous future.

(15 April 2011)

19 Responses

  1. Kathleen
    April 22, 2011, 1:57 pm

    “The Palestinians would develop a multifaceted strategy that includes three elements: seeking de jure UN membership, accepting in principle two states based on international law and UNSC resolutions, and struggling for freedom, human rights, equality in a non-violent campaign of resistance to end the occupation and that affirms peace, coexistence, and life. Each strategy will have its own constituent tactical elements (one at UN, the other peace conference/negotiations, the third mass organizing). Together they have a better chance of ending the occupation than the current state of collaboration with the occupiers in an interminable “peace process.”

    The Palestinians will make clear their acceptance of negotiations in principle but insist on an UN-internationally sponsored conference. If the US gets its way against the Europeans and Arab states and obstructs this option, then maintain a reserve option that accepts bilateral negotiations in principle but formulate a set of clear conditions only under which negotiations can resume. Taking a leaf from the Israeli book, the Palestinians can manage the “peace process” indefinitely without capitulation to Israel’s expansionist fait accompli while also engaging the UN.”

  2. MHughes976
    April 22, 2011, 4:16 pm

    This all seems rather complicated. How will it be possible to get the UN to recognise the New Palestine without all sorts of recognitions of Israel and concessions to its demands? I don’t feel very enthusiastic about surrounding the usurping Abbas government with the bright aura of UN recognition.

    • Hostage
      April 23, 2011, 5:09 am

      I don’t feel very enthusiastic about surrounding the usurping Abbas government with the bright aura of UN recognition.

      For much of its history, the UN did not require members to hold any elections at all – and many of them still don’t. It is mighty suspicious behavior on the part of the ankle biters in the UN Secretariat and the Quartet to set the bar so high for the Palestinians, with all their talk of building the institutions of state. They’ve all rushed to grant diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels and they still don’t control any state institutions or hold any elected offices.

  3. ToivoS
    April 22, 2011, 6:55 pm

    As an outside observer without strong feelings about which road the Palestinians should pursue, I have some questions about this UN recognition move.

    If, as many good observers have noted, and the 2ss is dead, this recognition will do no more than maintain the corpse of the PA, provide even more time for Israeli seizure of the the WB and simply delay the coming movement for Palestinian civil rights in the national state of Israel and Palestine (once the one-person, one-vote government takes over, a name can be decided).

    On the other hand some good is possible with international recognition as a Palestinian state, Israeli violations will be officially acknowledged thereby opening the door for state sanctions backing the BDS movement. Once that happens then a real possibility of strangling the Israeli economy is there. This might open the door to free elections for the Palestinians.

    • Chaos4700
      April 22, 2011, 7:29 pm

      The full recognition of a Palestinian state will not exclusively benefit the PA. You’re overlooking the fact that Palestinians have no direct voice right now in human rights violations inflicted against them. Right now they have to be “handled” by third parties (like, for one example, Richard Goldstone… or so-called “unbiased mediators” like the US State Department — since European nations talk more than they act and really haven’t interceded directly since Oslo where they let the US take control right out of their hands anyway) If the Palestinians have full statehood, they can become full partners in various international treaties and conventions and therefore gain access to the ICC — which also benefits Palestinians who have suffered violence and intimidation at the hands of either Fatah or Hamas.

      Palestine must have a voice. No one else with international pull can be bothered to speak honestly on their behalf.

      • ToivoS
        April 22, 2011, 9:29 pm

        You overlooked my “on the other hand” statement. Weasely to be sure but tried to consider both sides of this question.

      • Chaos4700
        April 23, 2011, 5:24 am

        I saw it, and those are important, but what’s also important is to not write off actual legal action just because Israel has successfully bribed its way out of hot water care of the US State Department. Sooner or later, someone is going to shout it out that the emperor actually wears no clothes.

    • Hostage
      April 22, 2011, 8:59 pm

      Ami Kaufman has an article similar to this one, Which way – Palestinian statehood, or “returning the keys?”, at 972 Magazine.

      Diplomatic recognition would mean that Palestinian laws and court decisions would be respected and rendered immune to most legal challenges in foreign courts. At the same time, Palestine and its citizens should finally be free to pursue claims against Israel and its citizens in the courts of other states that have extended de jure recognition. That is something that does not require any action by the UN at all.

      7000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons should be entitled to the de jure protections afforded the citizens of a high contracting party to the Geneva Conventions.

      Israel has continued to occupy the territory of other UN member states, but Lebanon and Syria have not accepted the jurisdiction of an international criminal tribunal or announced their plans to become a party to the Rome Statute. The PNA has done both of those things. UN membership would allow the ICC to address the settlement situation. Contrary to US and Israeli claims, the ICC, other parties to the Geneva Conventions, and global BDS could foreclose any further settlements and prosecute officials responsible for the existing ones.

  4. yourstruly
    April 22, 2011, 8:47 pm

    In ordinary times, a multistep, multifaced plan for eventual freedom and independence would be appropriate, but not now, in the afterglow of those eighteen miraculous days in Tahrir Square. Not when a Palestinian peaceful mass uprising will intensity the ME’s other liberation struggles, such that, even the Saudi royalty could face popular opposition. As for the author’s plan, no reason the process of change might not begin as such, but once the Palestinian uprising begins, as we witnessed in that same miracle on the Nile, at the moment of truth, new leadershp is going to spring up. No, in Egypt right now said leadership isn’t in control, although it seems to have some influence; otherwise, would the Mubareks be in prison? That Tahrir Square fills up with activists every Friday afternoon surely speaks for a revolution that’s still simmering. So much so that once the Palestinian people rise up, not just Egypt, the entire ME will fully ignite. Isn’t this what the Arab Spring is all about?

    • Walid
      April 23, 2011, 1:16 am

      Issa is right in saying that a formal acceptance of the 67 borders could possibly negate the Palestinians’ RoR and any other Palestinian claims. Abbas can’t be sincere about declaring statehood; he has bluffed too many times to be taken seriously, too beholden to the bad guys to do anything that would harm them and I’m apprehensive that his hollow threat is part of another Israeli plan to provoke another round of head bashings by Israel to clear the way for more land thefts. It’s like a suicide note conveniently left to be discovered in time.

      Issa is putting more faith in the UN than it deserves. It’s a US-dominated tool that would advance Israel’s interests in any final status deal. Other than caring for them as refugees for the past 60 years, the UN has done little to help the Palestinians regain their rights and it won’t for the next 60. There are already resolutions in place since back then garanteeing rights for the Palestinians and the UN hasn’t moved an inch in enforcing them. The declared statehood by Arafat at Algiers also did absolutely nothing. The only thing that is going to move Israel is a continued and expanded BDS.

      • Hostage
        April 23, 2011, 4:42 am

        Wahlid, there’s nothing wrong with supporting BDS and statehood. The Palestinians have already formally accepted the 1967 borders about a dozen times without tying that position to the right of return or compensation.

        The November 18 , 1988 Political Communique from the PLO that accompanied the Declaration of Statehood demanded an international peace conference with the PLO participating “on an equal footing” to implement Security Council resolution 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) . See Annex II of UN Doc. S/20278

        Article 1 of the Oslo Accord Declaration of Principles called for the full implementation of resolution 242 and 338 within no more than five years. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 also included formal acceptance of the 67 borders.

        Pending Palestine’s full membership in the General Assembly, the Credentials Committee allows representatives of the permanent observer mission of Palestine to participate in the business of the UN without presenting credentials. The various UN reports and resolutions regarding that decision mentions “their State, Palestine” and describes the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967 as “their territory”. The resolutions also said that “the credentials of the delegation of Israel do not cover that territory”. Many UN member states have long-since officially recognized Palestine as an independent sovereign State within the 67 borders. See A/58/L.48, 15 December 2003 and General Assembly resolution, A/RES/58/292, 17 May 2004 The verbatim record of the General Assembly discussion of the draft resolution (may be temporarily unavailable due to system maintenance) indicates the words “pre-1967 borders” had replaced the words “Armistice Line of 1949”.

        It is hard to see how the Palestinians or the UN could be more specific about the borders and still claim they are subject to on-going negotiations.

        UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009) recalled resolution 242 and stressed that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 that will be a part of the Palestinian state. So, the existence of a de facto regime in Gaza isn’t really an obstacle to recognition.

        Abbas isn’t running for re-election. So, I doubt that he will abandon the attempt for UN recognition or accept Obama’s rumored proposal for 67 borders and no RoR. He can always let his successor take the blame for that if his effort to get UN membership or recognition falls through.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if the issues of recognition, colonialism, and apartheid gets referred to the ICJ. The UN recognition of Israel over the objections of the Arab states was a preliminary objection in the “Reparations” case. A year earlier the statehood of Transjordan was one of the central issues in the “Conditions of Admission of a State to Membership in the United Nations (Article 4 of the Charter)” case. The United States has voted for partition of Palestine, endorsed the Oslo Accords, the Quartet Roadmap; the Annapolis conference; and the latest rounds of talks. It is obviously dragging out the process so that Israel can benefit from its own wrongdoing. Both the US and Israel are violating the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, while ignoring their own erga omnes obligations under the terms of the UN Charter, previous agreements, and the 2004 Advisory Opinion.

      • Walid
        April 23, 2011, 5:32 pm

        Hostage, of course I’m all for statehood. What I’m saying is that even with a recognized statehood at the UN, as long as the US continues riding shotgun for Israel in the SC, nothing will change. You talked about UNSC 242 that goes back to June 1967, why hasn’t it been enforced by the UNSC and doesn’t that show that even with a UN recognition, nothing would change as long as the US is protecting Israel. Neither Israel nor the US are interested in seeing the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The UN circus would only prolong the agony. Look at the problem with the Golan Heights. The UN is just about as effective and as serious as the Arab League.

      • MHughes976
        April 23, 2011, 6:08 pm

        Abbas may not be seeking re-election – he is a usurper who has cancelled elections and sometimes, as I remember, ‘threatens to resign’ – but I think he intends to see the group of which he is a member continue in power, and some UN stardust would help him and them. I don’t think any good can come from these people.

      • Hostage
        April 23, 2011, 7:50 pm

        Look at the problem with the Golan Heights.

        Israel and the US obviously disagree. Otherwise they would not bother to oppose Palestinian statehood and membership in the UN decade after decade.

        If the government of Syria were serious about the situation in the Golan, it would make an Article 12(3) Declaration and accept the jurisdiction of the ICC for the crimes that are being committed there by the Israelis. The government has chosen not to do that. The PNA has had the common sense to attempt to get the ICC involved in stopping the crimes committed in Palestine.

        The Zionist organization has always relied on a strategy of the various Arab factions deciding to wait or do nothing. Look how excited they always get over the idea of the Palestinians declaring their statehood or pursuing membership in the UN and ICC. Anything that isolates them or puts them on the defensive is a good thing.

      • Hostage
        April 23, 2011, 8:30 pm


        Nobody is recognizing the statehood of Fatah or Hamas. They are recognizing the statehood of the Palestinian people in the territories occupied since 1967. Withholding statehood from the Palestinians is a tactic that allows them to be persecuted and oppressed while denying them the necessary legal standing to take action on their own initiative.

        Israel and its supports have been arguing for decades that they can legally occupy and target the population of the “disputed territories” for war crimes and crimes against humanity that international law would otherwise prohibit if the inhabitants were merely citizens of a UN member state. I don’t think it serves the best interests of the Palestinians to argue over internal political reforms or the one state solution if that means they have to continue living under these conditions. The issue of statehood is not connected to Israel’s legal obligations to the Palestinian refugees. That is a Zionist propaganda stratagem – just like the no state solution.

    • Hostage
      April 23, 2011, 2:45 am


      I remember the millions of rounds of live ammunition the IDF used during the 2nd intifada. That can’t be any worse than what will happen when the PNA seeks UN recognition for the State of Palestine.

  5. CTuttle
    April 23, 2011, 2:29 am

    As much as I cheer on Palestinian Statehood, I just don’t see it happening…

    Amb. Rice’s Remarks at The UN Security Council Debate on The Middle East…

    • Chaos4700
      April 23, 2011, 5:17 am

      Meh. At this point it’s painfully obvious to the world that if you want to know how Susan Rice is going to cast her vote, talk to Netanyahu, not Obama. That’s where the marching orders come from. Sooner or later the other members of the UNSC are going to use that against us. We’re already a pariah in the General Assembly after Israel, Libya and North Korea (and pretty much tied with Iran).

      People listen to the US because they fear our military and our economy. The former can’t exist without the latter, and the latter is going to implode sooner or later. Probably sooner at this rate. If rising gas prices don’t do it, stagnant job creation rates will, and if that doesn’t do it, spiraling out of control health care costs will, and if that doesn’t do it, systemic failures of our neglected and rotting infrastructure will, and if that doesn’t do it, the next real estate mortgage crisis bubble will. And none of it has been mitigated or even addressed. Not at all.

      • American
        April 23, 2011, 3:07 pm

        What’s going to do it is the dropping of the US credit rating to “long term negative” as S&P did this month.
        I don’t know what it is going to take to impress upon people that the US is ” literally exisiting on borrowed money” and that the ‘full faith and credit of the US” slogan is mostly that now…just a slogan.
        There are other countries, stable and up coming, for lenders and investors to plunk their money in like Germany, New Zealand and etc., who have good economies and debt levels compared to ours.
        Just the interest alone on our debt is now over 10% of total annual US revenues or for comparison sake the debt interest is a third of
        all US outlay on all domestic social programs like SS, Medicare, Medicaid and etc.. and 20% of our national defense budget.
        Putting on my bankers hat and looking at the US balance sheet and their current on going expenses would I loan them money? NO.
        And that decision would be based on the fact that they way DC is trying to curb their debt would further reduce their domestic income revenues, hampering their ability to ever reduce the amount owned on their foreign loans.
        It’s a mess and the mess is going to get worse.

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