Why I’m in favor of going to the UN: A response to Joseph Massad

on 36 Comments

On the 23rd of September the UN Security Council is slated to receive and consider Palestine’s application for membership in the United Nations. In the very unlikely event that Palestine gets nine or more affirmative votes and no NO votes from permanent members, the UN Security Council will recommend to the General Assembly that Palestine be granted membership. If Palestine’s application to the UNSC fails, then the Palestinians are likely to ask the General Assembly to upgrade the status of the PLO delegation, and the hope is that Palestine can garner a two thirds majority in the General Assembly.

Joseph Massad in an opinion piece on the al-Jazeera English site argues that regardless of the outcome the bid in UN is likely to benefit Israel. If Palestine is successful and gains recognition, then the majority of Palestinians that are presently represented by the PLO will have their rights negated in favor of the rights of the minority of Palestinians who happen to be living in the Bantustan that will be established in a fraction of the West Bank. Failure in the General Assembly will also benefit Israel. Indeed, Palestinians will emerge in a weakened position that will result in yet another round of the “peace process” with more stringent conditions. I don’t think Joseph Massad addresses the most likely outcome, which is an American No vote in the Security Council and success for Palestine in the General Assembly, but his thinking extends naturally to that case.

If we take the view that Palestinians are strategically passive, that they are decision takers and not makers, that their own actions cannot affect the strategic dynamic of the post vote reality; then indeed Joseph Massad is correct and Israel stands to benefit no matter the outcome of the vote. The Palestinians, however, need not be strategically passive and have at their disposal effective instruments to take advantage any of the three possible scenarios, success in the Security Council, success only in the General Assembly, and failure in both.

Though decidedly unstylish, I’ve grown more and more appreciative of Arafat’s legacy over the years. So the overall strategy of our national liberation movement seem to me to be correctly built on the following:

  1. Establishing unilaterally Palestinian sovereignty. Imposed on the world by us and that is preferably not an outcome of binding (on us) negotiations 
  2. International recognition of whatever  sovereignty we are able to establish

The efficacy of any tactics or national policies ought to be measured by how they contribute in this regard. For example, if we ask ourselves the following question: Was the second intifada successful? It is arguable that the second intifada did not advance the strategy of international recognition, in fact it helped delegitimize our struggle. On balance, however, the second intifada was perhaps even more successful than the first. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and we now have a measure of sovereignty there that we have never enjoyed since the first years of the Lebanese civil war. Was the second intifada successful in the West Bank? To some extent the answer is could be yes. Israel was compelled to build a great wall whose legitimacy as a border is not recognized by anyone aside from the prevailing de-facto perspective that anything to its east is surely Palestinian. A wall symbolically and effectively breaking the geography of occupation, that was imposed on Israel by the intifada, and that did not arise through negotiations.

In line with the overall strategy of unilateral sovereignty and international recognition the emerging national consensus amongst Palestinians is that our aim is to establish an independent sovereign state of Palestine within the 1967 borders and without negotiating this with Israel. How do we achieve this aim?

I can’t think of anything better than breaking off bilateral negotiations with Israel, taking our case to the UN and following this up by an appropriate response to whatever transpires in the UN. If we are successful in the Security Council, then without a doubt we are done; we’ll have our state quick-smart even if we need to negotiate various technicalities with Israel. If the measure is successful only in the General Assembly, then we should not go back to bilateral negotiations but follow the vote with mass intransigence that imposes a type of sovereignty in the West Bank that is similar to the sovereignty we enjoy in the Gaza strip. To me failure at the General Assembly is simply unthinkable. However, if we fail at the General Assembly, then surely Abbas and the old guard should be compelled to resign (as should the the heads of nascent professional diplomatic corp of the PLO).

In other words, we have at our disposal strategic opportunities to take advantage of all the possible outcomes of the UN vote. Of course, Joseph Massad would be correct should our only option come October be a return to bilateral negotiations. But I simply cannot see a return to negotiations being a feasible outcome following anything aside from success in the Security Council. And in such a case, why not return to negotiations empowered by UN Security Council recognition?

Finally, I need to address Massad’s argument that success at the Security Council will disenfranchise Palestinian refugees who have for decades been represented by the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. My main concern is for the stateless refugees. Any stateless refugee will no longer be stateless should we have a recognised Palestinian state. When we achieve sovereignty these stateless refugees will gain a home and their immigration to the Palestinian state should be encouraged and facilitated. All of this will not negate their individual right to return to their original homes in Israel. All of this will not negate their right to regain properties lost in Israel. A Palestinian state, citizenship in the Palestinian state, and even residency in the Palestinian state will, in fact, facilitate their claims to their traditional lands in Israel. The Palestinian struggle will turn exclusively into a legal struggle for the legal rights of the refugees, which will be strengthened and not weakened by a recognised state supporting these rights.

I’m very uncomfortable with the notion that the emergence a Palestinian state will undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees. That seems to me to be as unconvincing an argument as the compromises in logic associated with the discourse of various sectarian factions in Lebanon against improving the lives of Palestinian refugees, by say affording them the right to work or normal residency status. There too we hear that the Palestinian refugees ought to remain living in undignified abject poverty and misery so as to guard their national rights to their homeland.

About Simone Daud

A Palestinian academic. A progressive internationalist with a wholly secular outlook. Meticulously pacifist and a militantly anti-reactionary perspective. An interest in progressive advocacy spanning gay rights, refugee rights.

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36 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    September 19, 2011, 10:21 am

    “When we achieve sovereignty these stateless refugees will gain a home and their immigration to the Palestinian state should be encouraged and facilitated. All of this will not negate their individual right to return to their original homes in Israel. All of this will not negate their right to regain properties lost in Israel.”

    I’m not so sure of any of this. The new Palestine may, perhaps, offer citizinship to all refugees of 1948 (including those who live in Gaza and West Bank), but they should not be compelled to ACCEPT this offer, not immediately.

    If and when they do become citizens of any country (including but not limited to new Palestine), it is possible that they will lose their status as refugees for UNRWA purposes (this is immediately quite serious for people who depend for life itself on UNRWA) and for UNGA-194 purposes (this is of uncertain impact, since Israel shows no signs of honoring “194”). I DO NOT KNOW. BETTER CHECK IT OUT.

    Regaining property “abandoned” (in Israel’s view) in 1948 does not depend on refugee status except, perhaps, under “194”. But Israel is unlikely ever to pay for any property, especially for non-refugees.

    • Simone Daud
      September 19, 2011, 10:40 am

      Regardless of what the honorable gentleman representative of Palestine in Lebanon says, should a Palestinian state be established that is independent and sovereign all Palestinians will have a right to take up citizenship in that state.

      Now regarding the refugees. We need to transition to away from UNRWA.
      It’s time to a have a sovereign independent home for these refugees. We simply cannot allow yet another generation to grow in the refugee camps, stateless. Nothing can mitigate their legal rights of return to Israel or their right to their properties in Israel, even citizenship in a mini Palestinian state.

    • Charon
      September 19, 2011, 2:01 pm

      Hmmm.. pabelmont, that’s a good point. I couldn’t find anything under the definition on the UNRWA website or in the registration eligibility PDF. Resolution 194 doesn’t say anything either.

      Jordan unofficially annexed the WB and gave all the Palestinians Jordan citizenship though and that didn’t affect their refugee status:

      Former UNRWA chief-attorney James G. Lindsay says: “In Jordan, where 2 million Palestinian refugees live, all but 167,000 have citizenship, and are fully eligible for government services including education and health care.”

      Palestinians from the West Bank who still retain this Jordan citizenship are allowed to live in Jordan but carry in ID card to differentiate them from Jordan’s refugee camps which is said to be a preventative measure for Israel dumping Palestinians in Jordan and not allowing them to return (which to some degree happens anyways).

      I can see a future Zionist-free Israeli government paying reparations to refugees. It’s just going to be a while before we get there.

  2. eee
    September 19, 2011, 10:22 am


    It is hard to fathom that you see Gaza as a good model for the West Bank.

    A Palestinian state formed not by negotiations with Israel will be a failed state, just like Gaza is a failed state or territory. The West Bank needs strong economic ties with Israel to prosper. You won’t have that without a negotiated settlement.

    And let’s say you are successful in the UNSC. How are you done? The distance between a UN declaration and a successful state on the ground is huge. If you want a state without negotiations, why do you need the UNSC? You should declare a state and that is it. That is what Israel did in 1948. Declaring a state is easy. Making it successful is not.

    • Real Jew
      September 19, 2011, 1:42 pm

      Gaza is a failed territory only because when a Western backed election took place and Hamas shocked the world and won, the West turned their back on them, started a cruel blockade, and labeled them a terrorist organization.

      Your arguing that in order to have a flourishing sovereign Palestinian state they need Israel. In some aspects I would agree.

      But tell me eee, how is that possible when Israel not only refuses to genuinely cooperate with the Pals and the international community, but does everything in its power to prevent it? Nobody is buying Netanyahu’s lies anymore and nobody believes Israel is willing to make the necessary concessions to achieve peace

      • eee
        September 19, 2011, 2:36 pm

        Real Jew,

        If you don’t want to negotiate, don’t. That is the only option to reaching a peaceful solution even though there is huge mistrust between the two sides. The alternative to negotiations is war or Gaza. Some people here have the dangerous belief that BDS will work. You are welcome to try that. But in the end, the Palestinians will have to negotiate with a much stronger Israel and the relative strengths of the sides will be reflected in the agreement. So now we wait patiently another 20 years until you understand that BDS does not work. That is bad for Israel but much worse for the Palestinians.

      • annie
        September 19, 2011, 3:00 pm

        If you don’t want to negotiate, don’t. That is the only option to reaching a peaceful solution

        obviously israel didn’t care about reaching a peaceful solution or negotiating when it went for statehood, why should palestine. i think peace becomes secondary to individual rights. give me liberty or give me death and all that.

      • eee
        September 19, 2011, 3:10 pm


        If the Palestinians do not want to negotiate, nobody can force them. They just don’t have a better option. If they want to take their chances with war, nobody can stop them. So let’s wait 20 years and see who has the upper hand. The only way you will be convinced that BDS will just hurt Palestinians is for you to see it with your own eyes.

      • eljay
        September 19, 2011, 3:23 pm

        >> obviously israel didn’t care about reaching a peaceful solution or negotiating when it went for statehood, why should palestine.

        What eee means by “negotiate” is “Give me what I want, or I will take it from you.” It has nothing to do with actual negotiations, just as his “common sense” has nothing to do with the real thing.

      • DBG
        September 19, 2011, 3:43 pm

        i think peace becomes secondary to individual rights. I see you recycled this comment, from Simone, can you tell us what it means? it doesn’t make sense. How will this be implemented? and please don’t talk about rights when the movement you championed elected Hamas as their representatives, rights aren’t a main concern. The people of the WB, even under occupation, have many more rights than those living in Gaza, where the occupier has no troops on the ground.

      • eee
        September 19, 2011, 6:23 pm


        Perhaps in the fairy land you live “negotiation” means giving the other side whatever they want. You must be quite poor if you follow this maxim. But this seems to be what you call “common sense”.

      • Chaos4700
        September 19, 2011, 11:58 pm

        Perhaps in the fairy land you live “negotiation” means giving the other side whatever they want.

        Of course not. That fairy land is where you wish to condemn the Palestinians to live.

  3. soysauce
    September 19, 2011, 10:23 am

    Simone, anything that strengthens the Palestinian Authority over civil society is a step backward. I don’t trust any move they make.

    • Simone Daud
      September 19, 2011, 10:35 am

      I have great disdain for the apparatchiks in the PA. And I see great advantages of getting rid of it. But this is a move in the UN by the PLO. It is bound to bring down the PA and the whole bilateral negotiations dynamic.

      • annie
        September 19, 2011, 10:42 am

        But this is a move in the UN by the PLO.

        that is my understanding.

      • soysauce
        September 19, 2011, 10:43 am

        How is the PLO making this move? Abbas and company are still working with Israel on security, for Christ of Nazareth’s sake! The refugees in Lebanon do not have a voice in this process, the activists in Nabi Saleh do not have a say in this process, you in Israel have no say, I in the diaspora have no say. Is this the state we want? One built on authoritarianism and secrecy. You can’t convince me that this is going anywhere.

        In 1993, we saw Arafat’s moves in signing the Oslo Accords as seeking his own survival against a very powerful grassroots movement in the first intifada. Abbas is doing the same here to reclaim power.

      • Simone Daud
        September 19, 2011, 10:55 am

        Two issues:

        1) Security cooperation. Yes indeed that is the main question about how we react after the vote. Civil society has to compel Abbas to end security cooperation with Israel. It is up to the Palestinian people to compel Abbas to take the correct measures following the vote. But the vote and going to the UN is the right thing to do.

        2) The move to the UN was prepared by the diplomatic corp of the PLO. Though they have been recently modernised and professionalized, my sense is that this is not Abbas’ initiative entirely. He fell into it and became bound by it. Palestinian governance is chaotic, and I bet Abbas is regretting going down this road at the moment. In fact I bet that most of the lobbying at present for ending this move is coming from Saeb Erakat and associated fat cat stooges; who benefit from the VIP status that they get from the occupation.

      • Simone Daud
        September 19, 2011, 11:04 pm

        In other words Soy

        The real question is Will Abbas follow through or will he buckle this week.

        We want a UNSC decision this week. Even a rejection is positive for us.

      • Inanna
        September 20, 2011, 6:08 am

        soy, I agree with your concerns but I’d be more worried if I thought that Abbas had a chance of succeeding.

        After the failure in the UN though, Palestinians will have two advantages – an official majority of the international community in support of their aspirations (and the isolation of the US, Israel, the bribed Pacific Islands and a few European states) and an official obituary of the two-state solution and the movement towards activism re: a rights-based approach.

        One would also hope the that collaborators of the PA would do the honorable thing and fall on their swords (ie resign) but that might be too much to hope for. We need Palestinians in the West Bank to get moving on this and to get elections happening soon so we at least have a legitimate government there and greater accountability to the people.

      • Simone Daud
        September 20, 2011, 7:02 am

        A random ambassador was telling me how chaotic the situation was a seven months ago and how it just appeared simply that the diplomats decided to do this on their own and Abbas et. al. were sucked in. Tail wagging dog. So for instance the trip to Brasil, did Abbas know what he was doing? Or discussions with the Portugees?

        I said you’ll fail. He said in-sha’a-allah we will succeed decisively and in-sha’a-allah we will fail well.

      • Simone Daud
        September 20, 2011, 7:04 am

        u kamen, soy za3lani li’ani said good things about 3arafat ;-)

      • soysauce
        September 20, 2011, 10:33 am

        Let’s hope they fail well.

  4. BradAllen
    September 19, 2011, 10:52 am

    Its about time the PA takes a bold step, although I wish someone else was in charge instead of Abbas, someone with “cohones”.

    After years of trusting the West and now the Quartet led by the pre madonna Blair (what the hell does this guy do and how much do they pay him for doing nothing??) the PA will need to do or die. Somehow I am skeptical about the chances anything will happen and the outcome has alerady been agreed to with the main players. The end loser will be the same, the Palestinian people and the people as a whole in the region.

    ANother failure for Obama and his gutless policies and a win for AIPAC who has already got Congrees waiting for further instruction on how to respond when the time comes.

    The Arab spring will go down as the end of the Palestinians and the creation of a new order in the Middle east.

    • MHughes976
      September 19, 2011, 11:20 am

      If Blair is a pre-madonna he will need to lose his cojones. Or perhaps he has.

    • libra
      September 19, 2011, 1:57 pm

      BA: “Another failure for Obama and his gutless policies and a win for AIPAC who has already got Congrees waiting for further instruction on how to respond when the time comes.”

      Is this anything more than a Pyrrhic victory in a long struggle? The more the US government is undermined internally by such acts, the more its international prestige and influence is undermined. Other actors such as Turkey are moving into to fill the vacuum.

  5. Potsherd2
    September 19, 2011, 11:10 am

    Israel does not represent all the Jewish people in the world, no matter how often it declares this. Israel offers all Jews the option of Israeli citizenship, but it can’t confer citizenship on the unwilling.

    Likewise, a Palestinian state can not represent all the Palestinian people in the world. It can offer Palestinian citizenship as a right, but it can’t compel it on the unwilling.

    In law, an individual has the right to opt out of any class and refuse to be represented in any action as part of that class. This principle should apply also to the Palestinians.

  6. Newclench
    September 19, 2011, 11:19 am

    Arafat, flaws and all, was a giant.

    • BradAllen
      September 19, 2011, 12:00 pm

      Arafat went to the UN and declared I am here with an olive branch and a gun, please do not leave the olive branch fall.

      When he used the Gun he was hated but feared and respected, whn he finally dropped the gun and raised the olive branch, he was riddiculed and ignored and “bought out”.

      This is how the west solved the Arafat problem, how will they solve Abbas, he is already ridiculed and ignored.

      • Chaos4700
        September 19, 2011, 11:57 pm

        Perhaps, but this is something the Palestinians should have done a long time ago.

        Trusting Israel to be anything other than Israel was a mistake. There can be no peace negotiations with militants who want your home and aren’t afraid to kill you to take it.

  7. Richard Witty
    September 19, 2011, 11:33 am

    I think the sense of zeal that leads to proposing end-run approaches to achieve international sovereignty, without reconciling with Israel (assuming that the green line or consented adjustments occur), is a disaster for ALL concerned.

    Once sovereign, Palestine becomes accountable for its international relations as a state is. That means that if terror is initiated from Palestinian soil with any demonstrable evidence of complicity by any in government, that war (limited or less limited) is a likely result.

    War is the least progressive outcomes. During war, civil liberties are suppressed, violence ensues, collateral damage ensues, there is then another episode of removing a population from a war zone, with the prospect of return prohibited again.

    If there is anything that fits the revisionist Zionist dream scenario is a war in the West Bank. They believe that they can maintain a security state relationship with Palestine as occupied on the West Bank indefinitely.

    They believe that a partially ethnically removed West Bank will be that much easier to occupy, and then formally annex, the world be damned.

    Lets avoid that. Lets cool heads, so that a negotiated settlement of “how to” implement the prospective international revised setting, is possible.

    Another danger of an overly activist response to any events associated with the UN petitions, is that that will reelect Netanyahu. It doesn’t matter if politically you don’t care who is the government of Israel.

    You should care, and you should acknowledge the factors that make that happen, and avoid them.

  8. libra
    September 19, 2011, 1:45 pm

    Goodness me Richard. When the Palestinians fire rockets you scream “war crimes” and defend the Israeli violence of Cast Lead. Now when the Palestinians take a non-violent, diplomatic path you start war-mongering. Is there no limit to your chutzpah?

    • Richard Witty
      September 19, 2011, 8:41 pm

      Actually, I’ve written that I support the Palestinian petition, but urge restraint in the form of dissent, so that reconciliation is possible after the dust settles.

      If Israel has any rationality at all (it does), they will throw out likud for its stupidity in earning the alienation from the rest of the aspiring world.

      And, if the PA remains willing to reconcile, rather than to war, then peace will occur.

      The sequence of whether negotiation or declaration came first will be mute. But, that will only occur if things don’t spin out by ideological zealousness expressed confrontationally.

      • Simone Daud
        September 19, 2011, 11:49 pm

        One possibility is for Israel to harden its position and for the palestinians to leverage the Arab Spring and international support and appropriate an independent out of the occupation.

        That is create an environment that is entirely unsustainable for Israel domestically and internationally.

      • yourstruly
        September 20, 2011, 2:40 pm

        “israel hardens its position and the palestinians leverage the arab spring and international support”

        but isn’t this something that palestinians could have been doing all this year, joining and thereby expanding the arab spring, that is?

      • Chaos4700
        September 19, 2011, 11:55 pm

        Reconciliation with whom? Witty, Israel is arming the settlers.

        Sooner or later, you’re going to have to confront the fact that you’re siding with terrorism, race hatred… and genocidal intent.

  9. robin
    September 20, 2011, 12:26 am

    This is an interesting argument, with some compelling points. But I think it only has value if you ignore the deepening of the West Bank settlements.

    Ultimately, establishing “Palestinian sovereignty” is self-defeating if that sovereignty can never extend very far beyond the Area A bantustans. With the number of settlers now in the West Bank, their political power, and the rate at which they are increasing, there is no serious prospect of Palestinian sovereignty extending even to the Apartheid Wall borders, let alone the full 1967 borders.

    “On balance, however, the second intifada was perhaps even more successful than the first. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and we now have a measure of sovereignty there”

    When the author is holding up contemporary Gaza (where Palestinians are arguably more degraded today than anywhere else) as an example of progress, we have reason to doubt whether his argument is sound. What exactly are you trying to achieve if that is your model? Gaza today is not real sovereignty, let alone the fulfillment of all rights. And yet the situation allows Israel to plausibly deny its control and its continuing violation of Palestinian rights.

    As far as I can see, the only positive result of this process would be if, after rejection in the UN, the Palestinian leadership proclaimed that the Oslo process had run its course and began developing strategies for achieving equal rights for Palestinians within greater Israel/Palestine.

    Palestinians must stop strengthening Israel’s position by conforming to the same exclusivist ethno-nationalist ethos that underpins Zionism.

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