With cynicism and apprehension, West Bank Palestinians support UN bid

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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The US argues the Palestinians will only achieve meaningful statehood through a revival of direct peace talks. (Photo: EPA/Al Jazeera English)

Conversations with Palestinians in the West Bank reveal that many believe Thursday’s expected bid as a non-member state to the United Nations (UN) is the best prospect for a better future, despite no immediate benefit, an unknown effect on the political rights of refugees and the possibility of Israeli and American aid sanctions.

“This is the maximum of our ability,” said Khalil Ahmad Khalil Kharouf, 40, from Nablus, who spoke to me while we sat at a table behind the counter of his Ramallah fired chicken store Wednesday evening. “We don’t have military means, we don’t have muscles, tanks, or planes. The only way forward is through politics at the United Nations, even though we know that the United Nations is not the place for full justice.” Kharouf continued, “If we say to the whole world that we want to have all of the land between the river and the sea, no one will listen to us.” Yet Kharouf is still hopeful that the statehood bid will set a precedent, which in turn could–without any guarantee–halt settlement construction and help ease some of the economic concerns, ultimately stating, “I support this bid.”

Part of Kharouf’s support for non-member status stems from his lack of faith in negotiations with Israel. His personal experience with Israeli officials is reduced to visa denials to visit Jerusalem, although he is a devout Muslim, and of course checkpoints. His brother is in an Israeli prison, and like many other Palestinian families with imprisoned relatives, he is also punished. “Because my brother is in an Israeli jail I don’t have permission to enter Jerusalem, or even get a visa to enter Jordan.” More so, Kharouf keeps tabs on Israeli public opinion by reading everyday the “Israeli Affairs” section in Al Quds newspaper, articles originally published in mainstream Israeli papers and translated from Hebrew to Arabic, which has not inspired any hope for a peace partner. In the Wednesday, November 28, 2012 edition Kharouf showed me two articles from Haaretz, one from Yehudit Ahronot and one from Ma’ariv, which was titled “We must not apologize to Turkey.” Kharouf said that a few years ago he read an article in this section by an Israeli journalist who “said that there are three possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is to give the Palestinians a state, and this is not an acceptable solution to the Israeli people. The second is that the Israeli and Palestinian people can live in one state together—and this is also not acceptable. The third solution is to let the Palestinians in the West Bank live behind the wall like animals.” Mondoweiss was not able to verify the existence of this article, but the dehumanization of Palestinians and calls for their collective punishment are frequent contributions to the Israeli press.

Last week during Operation Pillar of Cloud Ariel Sharon’s son, Gilad Sharon wrote, “Either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip.” After years of reading these types of declarations, Kharouf has no reason to believe anything can be achieved from negotiations, Israel’s stated favored peace process.

Still Kharouf is apprehensive of what can practically be accomplished through the UN bid and he is worried about the possibility of Israel once again withholding Palestinian VAT taxes. As a term of the Paris Protocols, the economic agreements of the Oslo Accords, Israel collects the import tax from the Palestinian trade partners, and then transfers the funds to the Palestinian Authority. In the last UN statehood bid, in what was viewed as a punitive measure, Israeli officials withheld Palestinian tax revenue for months. “We don’t have a choice. You’re forced to select from either the bad, or the worse.” With mounting economic problems from high fuel prices to restrictions on exports, he is weary but steadfast. “If we don’t go to the UN, what is the alternative,” he said.

Contrary to the popular opinion in the Palestinian solidarity movement in the U.S. that favors the establishment of one-democratic secular state in Israel and occupied Palestine, Kharouf is like many West Bank Palestinians that support two states for two peoples. Yet as a junior official in the Palestinian Authority who asked to remain unnamed said to Mondoweiss, if statehood passes the occupation will still remain the day after the vote. “Most definitely ending the Israeli occupation on the land occupied in 1967 is the main goal, however obtaining the observer status at the UN and recognition will not physically remove the Israeli occupying forces.” Continuing, “Nothing will change on the ground the next day [if statehood is passed] and even the situation might get worst. The Israelis will [likely] somehow retaliate in collective punishment measures opposing this move by freezing the income tax return and restricting movements of the Palestinians across the West Bank.”

Yet despite the risk of economic punishment, the Palestinian Authority official said he believes “this effort represents a crucial step that will contribute to the end of occupation and the realization of Palestinian rights. By recognizing Palestine, the international community would be formalizing these terms of reference and protecting the two-state solution as well as reaffirming the universality of human rights.”

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