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UN Recognition of a Palestinian State – Good or Bad?

July 13, 2011

It’s hard to criticize Mahmoud Abbass. I certainly do not envy him. The pleasant and soft spoken president-to-be of the Paltustans has very few cards, if any. He is facing a powerful and determined rival, which is holding an ace in the form of total control over the world’s only super-power’s Middle East policy.

The Israel / America approved representative of the Palestinian prison inmates is offered improved prison conditions for his people and the title of a “state” if they forever accept their fate of living in Paltustans. Abbas in return has decided to pursue a UN recognition of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, hoping to capitalize on world wide sympathy for the Palestinian plight. After a UN recognition (which will surely be vetoed by the US at the Security council), he hopes that somehow things will fall into place, despite the fact that not a single observer, including himself, expect anything to change on the ground following a UN General Assembly recognition.

Is this a brilliant move by Mr. Abbas that helps him avert a check-mate by Israel / US in the nick of time or is he unwittingly sealing the Palestinian fate to eternal doom? Commentators have been lukewarm, reluctant to predict the outcome, apologetically rationalizing along the lines of “what else does he have to lose?”. The only enthusiastic response came from a marginal group of the Israeli left who cheered the move.

I will henceforth try to argue that a UN General Assembly recognition of a Palestinian State, given the balance of power, is NOT in the Palestinian best interest.

1. Despite Israel’s feverish attempt to block such resolution, a UN recognition of a Palestinian “state” will serve well Israel and will not benefit the Palestinian cause. Israel’s interest is in defining the conflict as “a border dispute between two states” whereas the facts on the ground point to (rightfully) a struggle of a stateless civilian population for liberation from a 44 year old military occupation, colonization and a de-facto Apartheid regime. Derailing the public discourse to a conflict between two states, without change on the ground, will result in a perception of a Jamu-and-Kashmir-like conflict between two sovereign states, serving the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu who recently (mendaciously) declared “this conflict has no solution”.

2. By requesting a UN recognition of Palestinian statehood (without the benefit of statehood on the ground), Mr. Abbas is forgoing the only card he has in his arsenal: the demand for equal rights in Israel for Palestinians who have been born and living in a de-facto apartheid regime and within the borders of Israel for 44 years. The so-called one state solution is the only realistic chance that Palestinians have to ever live in dignity. By achieving statehood on paper and living under occupation on the ground, Mr. Abbas will forfeit this option for good. The one state solution will be dead. As I will explain in another post, the struggle for equal rights within the state of Israel has better chances at succeeding than achieving a viable Palestinian sovereign state.

3. In addition to forfeiting his only card of equal rights, Mr. Abbas will forgo his people’s right of return – one of the major issues of the conflict and a right granted to all refugees, anchored in the Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Resolution 194 from 1948. The right of return will cease to be a subject of discussion once Paltustan gains paper statehood.

4. A UN recognition of a Palestinian state may be a slight legal setback for Israel but it will bury the Palestinian issue forever in the backpages of newspapers – something which is a clear Israeli interest. From a legal perspective Israel may be viewed as a state occupying another UN member state but as the world’s powers have shown more than once, they are willing to make exceptions to any law and rule when Israel is involved. There is no reason to think that any of that will change, especially since Israel will continue to receive the unqualified support of the US in the foreseeable future, no matter the implications.

5. Try to imagine a debate in which you mention the Palestinian issue. Currently it is a debate that can be easily framed in the context of human rights abuses, colonization, oppression and Apartheid. After a UN resolution, such debates will be derailed by the simplistic argument “they already have a state”. There will be no more flotillas, demonstrations, ISM, human rights activists or other demonstration of sympathy for a dispossessed stateless population. The Palestinian issue will be assigned to oblivion – after all, the world has had enough of it. Paltustan will be viewed as a state – one that is in dire straits – but still a state.

In summary, even if successful, the act of desperation by Mr. Abbas to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state is not only a bad move that will forfeit his only card of equal rights and the refugees’ right of return, but a move which is against Palestinian interests and will possibly seal the fate of millions of Palestinians for generations, who will be doomed to live under the same occupation, which will be formally considered a “state”.

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