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Changing PA’s name to ‘State of Palestine’ raises questions on where Gaza stands in PLO’s political vision

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Palestine State pic 5 3
A sticker bearing the slogan “State of Palestine,” part of a campaign to support the Palestinian UN bid for statehood, is seen on barbed wire at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah on 22 September 2011. (Photo: Marco Longari/AFP /Al-Akhbar English)

What’s in a name?

On Friday the Palestinian Authority (PA) changed its name officially to “The State of Palestine,” through a presidential decree by Mahmoud Abbas. Although there was no notice that the civil administration established 20 years ago through the Oslo Accords with jurisdiction in the West Bank only would call itself a state, the change comes as the latest state-building endeavor following last fall’s bid as a non-member observer to the United Nations.

Materially, only passports, identification cards, and official PA letterhead will reflect the new name, but names have power and meaning beyond words themselves and the “State of Palestine” signals yet another failure to include Gaza in the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) political vision. More subtly the name creates confusion as to which political body is the leader of the Palestinian people.

On paper, the only official representative for the Palestinians is the PLO which represents the people — diaspora and refugees included — and is not territorially bound. This was affirmed in 1974 at the Arab Summit in Morocco through a resolution that famously states the PLO is “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” However, the lesser-known second half of that quotes continues that the PLO has jurisdiction “in any Palestinian territory that is liberated.” Since at the time there was no liberated Palestinian territory, this meant the PLO represented the people, but was not an official a government on the ground. Strategically this decision to establish a representative body but not a government was the political parallel to nakba refugees living in tents for almost a decade rather then move into UN built temporary housing — by pushing back the establishment of a government the PLO was able to frame their cause as a liberation movement and therefore did not normalize the Israeli occupation by creating a government under foreign rule. Today, the PLO still exists but it is reduced to consular-like services and a negotiations affairs office. By contrast the PA has ballooned to include a number of civil ministries. This was achieved in the 1990s simultaneous to disbanding the international unions that formerly had voting positions in the PLO.

shatilla id
An elderly Palestinian refugee holds his old ID card in the Shatila refugee camp in the southern suburbs of Beirut. (Photo: AFP/Al-Akhbar English)

Since the PA was established the liberation elements of the PLO have been eroded and exchanged for the doctrine of state-building under occupation, directed in recent years by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The idea is simple: create a state, and once it is constructed it will be free. However Prime Minister Fayyad has never put forth a plan to explain how the occupation will end after a state is created. Today the PA is both a “state” in name and international recognition, but the occupation continues undeterred. In fact the only change to daily life that have come about as a result of establishing a state under occupation is the Israeli freezing of VAT taxes owed to the PA, which is estimates to reach about $400 million in total.

With diaspora Palestinians cut out of the political system for nearly the past two decades, Fatah has shifted focus to plucking out challengers inside of occupied Palestine. In 2010 the PA conducted a mass firing for all government workers, including teacher, thought to be affiliated with Hamas. Through this purge Fatah was able to secure full political control over the West Bank, stamping out any inkling of a rival. Policy and political projects are now made by Fatah and exercised through the PA and the PLO. The arrangement is not unlike the relationship between the Communist Party of China and the government of China where the political party trumps the government as the policy making body. And Fatah’s landslide victory in the last round of municipal elections in 2012 shows that to be a politician in the West Bank is to be a member of Fatah. 

Despite Fatah’s growth in power, there is no legal ground for the party, or the PA, to be a new representative body for the Palestinian people internationally. But there is a loophole that allows for the PA to remain in power beyond its tenure as a temporary civil administration, as it was originally decreed. Because there is no foundational PLO document that forbids a civil administration from forming and governing an “unliberated territory,” the PA is still within the bounds of the PLO bylaws by representing the West Bank alone.

un pic
A Palestinian woman holds up a sticker which reads: “UN 194 Palestinian State” during a rally in support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ bid for statehood recognition in the UN, at Mar Elias camp in Beirut. (Photo: Sharif Karim/Reuters/Al-Akhbar English)

But the West Bank was never intended to be the center Palestinian political life, and was not even where the international representatives met until after the Oslo Accords. Prior to the 1990s the PLO was a government in exile, chased out of Lebanon and Tunisia before returning to occupied Palestine. Now that there is an “state” under occupation in the West Bank, what of Gaza, the diaspora and the refugees? How do they figure into the new political arrangement that is more focused on legitimacy then undoing Israel’s military and settler presence?

Crudely, there is no place in Fateh’s new political chessboard for Gaza and the refugees. Even at Fatah’s 48th anniversary festivities in Ramallah last Wednesday Gaza was conspicuously left out of the program. In one of the musical performances that played a folkloric national song, the singer called himself the son of several different Palestinian cities. What was noteworthy was he only mentioned West Bank cities—cities in Area A.

But being left behind does not mean disappearing from the picture altogether. Over the past few months Hamas has forged new political alliances, which include more visits from unlikely Arab diplomats. Most notably a delegation of Lebanese officials with the March 14 Coalition came to Gaza in November 2012. The March 14 Coalition represents the Lebanese political parties that are in opposition to Hizbollah, and cooperated with the Israeli military during the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla.

Superficially in the past two weeks there was displays of reconciliation through anniversary celebrations for Hamas in the West Bank, and Fatah in Gaza. However the PA’s name change to the “State of Palestine,” is a much more significant gesture, showing that when it comes to political projects the West Bank is flying solo. 

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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19 Responses

  1. HarryLaw
    January 7, 2013, 12:29 pm

    I’m not sure this is correct, the Occupied Palestinian Territories comprise the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, the leadership of the PLO applied for non member state status at the UNGA and is now an officially recognized state in all those occupied areas with Abbas as President of that state, including the Gaza Strip. As I understand it, because the Israeli Government negotiated the Oslo accords with the PA and not with the state of Palestine [Declared in 1988], those accords, long since broken by the Israelis in any case, have little legal meaning now, because sovereignty over the whole of the Occupied Territories cannot be exercised by the Palestinians, the Israelis effectively have administrative jurisdiction over all that territory, until the Sovereign authority returns in the form of Palestinian elections free of occupation. I know Hostage can enlighten us all here, hope he will.

    • Hostage
      January 7, 2013, 10:27 pm

      because the Israeli Government negotiated the Oslo accords with the PA and not with the state of Palestine [Declared in 1988], those accords, long since broken by the Israelis in any case, have little legal meaning now

      That’s essentially correct, except the PA was a creature of the Oslo Accords. Those agreements were concluded between the PLO and Israel. The Israelis intentionally avoided any reference to the subject of existing or future Palestinian statehood, except when they pretended that it somehow violated the lapsed Accords. Both sides reserved their existing positions and claims. Israel really couldn’t propose that a binding treaty agreement existed on the subject, in the absence of any explicit provisions on the subject of statehood. By way of comparison the Quartet’s Road Map always provided a basis for international recognition of Palestinian statehood and UN membership before any final negotiated settlement on the issues of borders, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem.

      In any event, Hamas doesn’t claim to be governing a separate State, and its Allies in the Arab League probably wouldn’t support the idea anyway.

  2. ritzl
    January 7, 2013, 1:52 pm

    AD: “Now that there is an “state” under occupation in the West Bank, what of Gaza, the diaspora and the refugees? How do they figure into the new political arrangement that is more focused on legitimacy then undoing Israel’s military and settler presence?”

    As HarryLaw asks/says, the PLO is the recognized organization of Palestinian governance. That would seem to cover Gaza as well as the WB.

    But I would ask, since there will never be a sovereign Palestinian state in the WB in any meaningful sense, doesn’t that mean that Gaza is the only viable option for that sovereignty, near or long-term?

    Can a two-pronged approach be crafted by the PLO that yields a sovereign state in Gaza and a, I don’t know, related “claim” maybe in the WB? Doing so would mean, almost certainly, that Gaza-Palestinians would have to forgo any RoR claims, but that would be a trade for actual (near-term) sovereignty. I honestly can’t tell/don’t know what is (or would be) more important or mitigating (in the perpetual, ambiguous, stateless sense) to them.

    I do believe that a sovereign Palestinian state of some meaningful form or another is absolutely critical for Palestinians and the world, and maybe more importantly and/or specifically diaspora Palestinians, to pour their long-deferred energies into, unfettered by Israeli domination and/or by the grave ambiguities that would seem to me to be inherent in a 100-year civil rights struggle against huge odds and obstacles in the WB.

    I’ve said (asked actually) this before, but a sovereign state in Gaza is the key to solving this the pride, self-realization/determination, civil rights, and justice questions that Palestinians face. It could be the best of all possible worlds by enabling international standing/actions as leverage for concessions by Israel in the favor of (on behalf of) WB, diaspora, and Israeli Palestinians.

    Path of least resistance maybe, but with a potentially huge upside.

    Great article.

  3. HarryLaw
    January 7, 2013, 2:51 pm

    In my opinion one of the key benefits from this officially registered state is that Palestinian products should now bare the “country of origin” Palestine, whereas before it was called produce of the West Bank or produce of Israel, the former very confusing since most West Bank produce is from Israeli settlements, I think the ratio is 10 to 1 in Israels Favor, whereas the latter is a completely false country of origin now outlawed in much European Union legislation, which is consistent with World Trade Organization rules, which in turn are similar to the UK’s description of rules of origin set out in the 1968 Trades Description Act section 36 ..”For the purposes of this act goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change” It should be possible to get consumers to more easily discriminate against these products, because now there is no such entity or state called “the West Bank” and should be far easier to prosecute.

  4. annie
    January 7, 2013, 3:27 pm

    i think abbas/AP has over stepped. he went to the UN as a rep of the PLO, i don’t think the PA has the authority to speak for the palestine people.

    • Hostage
      January 7, 2013, 11:13 pm

      i think abbas/AP has over stepped. he went to the UN as a rep of the PLO, i don’t think the PA has the authority to speak for the palestine people.

      For legal purposes Abbas wears all three hats when he issues these “Presidential Decrees”. For example, the annexes of the follow-up report to the UN on the Goldstone findings noted that “On 25 January 2010, Presidential Decree No. 0105 of 2010 was issued by the [1] President of the State of Palestine, [2] President of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee and [3] President of the Palestinian National Authority, H.E. President Mahmoud Abbas.”

      • annie
        January 8, 2013, 12:50 am

        For legal purposes Abbas wears all three hats when he issues these “Presidential Decrees”

        but he wasn’t wearing three hats when he went to the UN, was he? he had his PLO hat on. the article is titled “Changing PA’s name to ‘State of Palestine’. ” does that mean the palestinian authority becomes the government of palestine, and not the palestinian liberation organization? it was the plo that went to the UN and the UN recognized the plo bid.

      • Hostage
        January 8, 2013, 1:33 pm

        but he wasn’t wearing three hats when he went to the UN, was he?

        The application for membership in the UN and the request for upgraded status mentioned all of the territories occupied since 1967 and all of the Palestinian people, including the refugees. The PNA was originally a interim body created by the Oslo Accords. But since those agreements lapsed, Abbas and Fayyad remodeled it and devoted its efforts to building state institutions. It’s a prime example of planned obsolescence. One of the main points that was stressed in the resolution which upgraded Palestine’s observer status was the readiness of the PNA’s institutions for statehood as a result of the Abbas/Fayyad two year plan:

        Commending the Palestinian National Authority’s 2009 plan for constructing the institutions of an independent Palestinian State within a two-year period, and welcoming the positive assessments in this regard about readiness for statehood by the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and as reflected in the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee Chair conclusions of April 2011 and subsequent Chair conclusions, which determined that the Palestinian Authority is above the threshold for a functioning State in key sectors studied,

        The Secretary General’s Representative for the Middle East Peace process had spilled a lot of ink on that state building project too. The resolution also noted the application for membership in the UN. In that case, Abbas was definitely wearing the “President of the State of Palestine” and “Chairman of the PLO” hats. See Annex 1

        Abbas has always represented “Palestine” within the UN system. After the 1988 Algiers Declaration, only blackmail, bullying, and legal fictions have permitted the US and Israel to ignore the obvious legal implications of that fact. But even before that, the UN Economic and Social Council had invited the PLO to participate in a regional UN economic and social organ as a full member, when only States could be admitted as such according to the rules of procedure and its Charter. When the US and others complained that the rules of the council would have to be changed in order to allow non-state entities to participate, the Economic and Social council adopted a resolution which admitted the PLO. But it did not alter the requirement which said that only states could be full members. You are free to argue about what that meant, the US and Israel certainly have done so ever since.

        The ESCWA is part of the UN Secretariat. It has published rules since 1988 which unambiguously explain that Palestine is one of its member states, e.g. :

        ESCWA comprises 13 States, viz., Bahrain, Egypt, lraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

        Other UN organs routinely identified Palestine as a non-member state, e.g. See the asterisks in the list of co-sponsors and the footnote which says:
        * Non-Member State of the Human Rights Council,

        After the Oslo Accords lapsed and the ICJ ruled that Israel was illegally interfering with the right of Palestinians to self-determination, Palestine became a contracting “State Party” by depositing accessions to a number of multilateral ESCWA treaties with the Secretary General. The UN Treaty Organization’s historical note regarding the existing signatures and ratifications of those ESCWA treaties in the UN Treaty database indicate that the President of the State of Palestine (Arafat) was wearing the other two hats:

        Full powers for the signature of the Agreements were issued by the Chairman of the Executive Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the President of the Palestinian National Authority.

        In short, the Israelis tried to create an artificial division of labor in the Oslo Accords by stipulating that the PNA had territorial jurisdiction, but could not engage in its own foreign relations. The PLO could conduct foreign relations “on behalf of the Palestinian National Authority”, but it was treated as a non-state actor with no territorial or personal jurisdiction. But that situation only resulted in the PLO concluding negotiations on international agreements in which the PA became the contracting state party with the necessary jurisdiction to actually fulfill the international obligations and undertakings. Statehood renders such arguments moot, since every State has the right to exercise jurisdiction, including universal jurisdiction for serious crimes or torts relating to piracy, slavery, genocide, torture, & etc. The UN and other states were never bound by the terms of the Oslo Accords in any event.

  5. Hostage
    January 7, 2013, 3:37 pm

    It seems a little cynical to write an article blaming others for the fact that Hamas has refused to publicly renounce the use of terror and has never chosen to join the PLO in the first place. It has always been Hamas that has refused to join National Unity governments or which could not formulate a governing coalition with other Palestinian political parties, e.g. Hamas rejects offer to join Unity government, 05/07/2005

    The PA is responsible to the Israeli Authorities for the utility bills of residents in the Gaza Strip – and it continues to pay the salaries of 60,000 former public employees there. Meanwhile Hamas leaders in Gaza have rejected reconciliation plans negotiated by their Politburo Chief, Khaled Mashaal, and made it clear that improved relations with Fatah are not a priority.

    The only reason that Palestine isn’t on the US State Department’s list of “State Sponsors of Terror” is because The Israel Lobby doesn’t want it labeled “a State”.

    Nonetheless, the President has to periodically waive the provisions of the US Anti-Terrorism Act so that the PLO can receive appropriated funds, deposit assets in US-based financial institutions, and operate its diplomatic missions in this country, e.g.

    Despite legal assurances that relations with the PLO were in the essential interest of the US government, the US Federal Courts froze 1.3 billion in Palestinian Authority assets in 2005 as a result of lawsuits stemming from Hamas terror attacks on Israelis. That was before Hamas-backed candidates participated in the 2006 legislative elections. See Palestinian Authority’s US assets are frozen

    For its own part, Hamas never accepted the legitimacy of either the PLO or the PA, even when it did back lists of candidates during the PA legislative elections. It’s only goal seemed to be the creation of political deadlock. The 2003 Basic Law was promulgated by the Chairman of the PLO Executive and was unambiguous about the status of the PLO:

    This temporary Basic Law draws its strength from the will of the Palestinian people, their firm rights, their continuous struggle and the exercise of their democratic right – as represented in the election of the President of the Palestinian National Authority and the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council – to commence the organization and establishment of a sound, democratic and legislative life in Palestine. At the same time, the enactment and ratification of this law by the Legislative Council does spring from the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization is the sole and legitimate representative of the Arab Palestinian people.

    It was Abbas who first suggested that Hamas should become another member organization of the PLO and that an interim government composed of independent technocrats be appointed pending general elections. He did that despite threats from Netanyahu and Israeli Finance Minister Steinitz that the PA could have peace with Israel or reconciliation with Hamas, but not both. US Legislators also promised to cutoff ties and foreign assistance if Hamas was included in any governing coalition. Khaled Mashaal subsequently agreed to accept the PLO’s legitimacy and join the organization. He also backed the UN statehood bid.

    Just for the record, in January of 2009 the PLO’s Permanent Observer at the UN and Riyad Al-Maliki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the PA, backed the adoption of a draft resolution:

    “Stressing that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 and will be a part of the Palestinian state,”

    Security Council resolution 1860 (2009)

    That same month PA Justice Minister Ali Kashan and Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki filed criminal complaints with the ICC on behalf of the Hamas administered territory which stated that Israel had used incendiary white phosphorus shells in crowded civilian areas in Gaza, in violation of international law and that it had committed other serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.
    — ICC prosecutor considers ‘Gaza war crimes’ probe

  6. Bumblebye
    January 7, 2013, 8:38 pm

    Meanwhile, in an interview with The Guardian, Naftali Bennett says “There won’t be a Palestinian state within Israel”:
    “If we hand over [the West Bank] to the Arabs, life here will be miserable and in constant conflict for the next 200 years,” he said. “I want the world to understand that a Palestinian state means no Israeli state. That’s the equation.”

    • talknic
      January 8, 2013, 1:39 am


      Naftali Bennett spouts scare mongering drivel

    • Hostage
      January 8, 2013, 1:51 pm

      “I want the world to understand that a Palestinian state means no Israeli state. That’s the equation.”

      On the 29th of November (1947 and 2012) the world answered that argument. He’s really only repeating arguments proposed by Begin, Shamir, Sharon and Netanyahu in the past.

  7. talknic
    January 8, 2013, 5:58 am

    Allison Deger et al

    Speculation is wonderful. One can go anywhere with it. However, it’s only speculation.

    UNGA 2011 and again in 2012 – Statement by Abbas :

    “…because we believe in peace and because of our conviction in international legitimacy, and because we had the courage to make difficult decisions for our people, and in the absence of absolute justice, we decided to adopt the path of relative justice – justice that is possible and could correct part of the grave historical injustice committed against our people. Thus, we agreed to establish the State of Palestine on only 22% of the territory of historical Palestine – on all the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel in 1967

    • Hostage
      January 8, 2013, 2:03 pm

      Thus, we agreed to establish the State of Palestine on only 22% of the territory of historical Palestine – on all the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel in 1967

      Likewise, after Operation Cast Lead, the PA ministers filed an Article 12(3) declaration (as the State exercising territorial jurisdiction) on behalf of the government of Palestine. It accepted the Court’s jurisdiction for all crimes committed on the territory of Palestine since July of 2002, including those committed by the IDF in Gaza.

  8. sparrow
    January 8, 2013, 3:21 pm

    Israel has been the only nation state in the world that refuses to define its borders. Does this mean that the new Palestinian state is a second such state? Or does this mean that the new Palestinian state acknowledges an Israeli state within pre-67 borders?

    • annie
      January 8, 2013, 4:18 pm

      does this mean that the new Palestinian state acknowledges an Israeli state within pre-67 borders?

      they’ve already did that years ago, after which israel changed the demand (goal posts) and required palestine recognize israel as a “jewish state”. abbas says forget it. serious, why should the conquered recognize their loss as a ‘jewish’. it’s a degrading and demeaning demand.

    • Hostage
      January 8, 2013, 10:53 pm

      Israel has been the only nation state in the world that refuses to define its borders.

      Correction: Israel’s border with Egypt was defined by the Camp David Accords and the delineation was the subject of an international arbitration case that is final and not subject to any appeals. The border with Jordan is delineated by treaty, but without prejudice to territory captured by Israel in 1967. Israel is also a signatory of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Law of the Seas, so the rumors about the Mediterranean being a Jewish lake are completely false;-)

    • talknic
      January 9, 2013, 3:29 am

      sparrow “Israel has been the only nation state in the world that refuses to define its borders. “

      The US, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the Israeli Governments all acknowledged them in 1948

      Statements made by the Jewish Agency to the UN/UNSC prior to recognition in respect to UNGA res 181 made it quite clear The Jewish Agency was going to abide by UNGA res 181. Recognitions were based on the notion that Israel accepted UNGA res 181 and the Israeli Government’s pleas for recognition to states.

      By December 26, 1934 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States had entered into force. It requires ” b ) a defined territory;” All the signatories would have required Israel to have “a defined territory”

      USA 15 May 1948 “… as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947…”

      Russia 17 May 1948
      Letter from Mr. Molotov stated: “Confirming receipt of your telegram of May 16, in which you inform the Government of the USSR of the proclamation, on the basis of the resolution of the United Nations Assembly of November 29,1!>47, of the creation in Palestine of the independent State of Israel and make re-quest for the recognition of the State of Israel and its provisional government by the USSR. I inform yon in this letter that the Govern-ment of the USSR has decided to recognize officially the Stale of Israel and its Provisional Government.”

      Australia 28 January 1949 “… on the basis of the resolution of the United Nations Assembly of November 29, 1947…”

      New Zealand 29 January 1949 “It is the understanding of the New Zealand Government that the settlement of boundaries and other outstanding questions will be effected in accordance with the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of 11 December 1948.”

      On May 22, 1948 UNSC S/766

      Question (a): Over which areas of Palestine do you actually exercise control at present over the entire area of the Jewish State as defined in the Resolution of the General Assembly of the 29th November, 1947?

      “In addition, the Provisional Government exercises control over the city of Jaffa; Northwestern Galilee, including Acre, Zib, Base, and the Jewish settlements up to the Lebanese frontier; a strip of territory alongside the road from Hilda to Jerusalem; almost all of new Jerusalem; and of the Jewish quarter within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The above areas, outside the territory of the State of Israel, are under the control of the military authorities of the State of Israel, who are strictly adhering to international regulations in this regard. The Southern Negev is uninhabited desert over which no effective authority has ever existed.” … ” the Government of the State of Israel operates in parts of Palestine outside the territory of the State of Israel

      • seafoid
        January 9, 2013, 4:09 am

        Talknic- less of the BS please. How does “Maaleh Adumim” fit into what was agreed in 1948 ? Or “Kiryat Arba”?

        And don’t try to fob us off with guff about subject to negotiations.

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