Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Overtime Voting | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In New York, streets are crowded with police cars on high alert, in anticipation for the arrival of official delegations of states participating in the sixty-sixth session of the United Nation’s annual General Assembly. If you were able to enjoy a cup of coffee whilst eating a New York bagel on Madison Avenue, your attention would be drawn to the debate currently taking place in the daily press and television news bulletins, about the anticipated confrontation between the Palestinians and the Israelis in this year’s meeting. The Palestinian Liberation Organization is approaching a historic entitlement, represented in a potential vote for the recognition of an independent Palestinian state. This is a project which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas put forth for deliberation last year, after the failed attempts of the Obama administration to activate the peace process. Perhaps the most significant question to be raised here is: Why have the Palestinians taken more than six decades – since 1947 – to demand independence, why now?

The Montevideo Convention (1933) on the “Rights and Duties of States” stipulated four conditions as a prerequisite for recognizing an independent state: a permanent population, a defined territory, an independent government and a capacity to enter into relations with other states.

The Palestinian state project has fulfilled two requirements: it contains a population with a united nationality, and lands with fixed and clear borders. However, the Palestinians were always lacking in the two latter conditions. Inter-Palestinians disagreements have always hindered the proposed state from having a unified political entity. Even in the era of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, political decisions were hijacked by numerous groups and leaderships, and even in the period following the Oslo Accords there was still a distinct lack of a strong unified government. As for the fourth requirement, Palestinian relations with other states remain captive of regimes and countries that give priority to their own interests over Palestinian affairs.

With regards to the anticipated UN vote, we should recognise that the Palestinians have gone through, or more correctly exhausted, all other possible means. It was once possible for them to accept the division project in 1947; hence they could have declared their own state. However the Palestinians decided to adhere to the collective Arab mind-set, which was strongly against the partition and establishment of Israel. Had the Palestinians lent an ear to President Habib Bourguiba [of Tunisia], they could have maintained the majority of their historic lands and then negotiated for what remained. Yet, the Palestinians’ choices – or let us say the lack of choices – have weakened the Palestinian cause and undermined it throughout ages. Everyone claimed to have an affiliation with it at some point, to the extent that, for many regimes, it became a kind of mascot for independence. It can be argued that until Oslo in 1993, many Arab officials were unconvinced that the Palestinians could resolve their own cause by themselves.

As for the manoeuvres currently taking place between the Abbas government and Netanyahu, it is clear that the crisis has remained without practical solutions for decades. The “Islamic salvation” discourse considers the ultimate solution to be a Jihadist project, whilst the religious right-wing in the US and Israel believes that hardliners can achieve all expansionist goals without exception.

Here it can be said that the problem with the Palestinian cause, originally, was that it was portrayed as an Arab issue, then as an Islamic one, and then finally as a global cause until it became iconic for dissidents and rebels everywhere. Yet everyone, whether Palestinians, Arabs or Westerners, is profiteering from the Palestinian cause without offering realistic – not idealistic – solutions. It is for this reason that the cause has remained complex with everyone claiming an affiliation to it.

There are two facts appertaining to the development of the Palestinian cause: Firstly, the use of violence or armed jihad has proved unsuccessful, rather it has undermined the project. Secondly, on the occasions where the Palestinians have opted to take lead without the world interfering, they have succeeded in coming up with sensible results. For instance, during the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians managed to discuss matters whilst secluded from Arab influences, particularly the negative impact of Iraq and Syria. This ultimately led to a pivotal, historic stage for the Palestinians. Yet, unfortunately, the collapse – or let us say the elimination – of the dream for an independent Palestinian state took place at the hands of groups such as Hamas, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, the very same parties that competed a decade later in the democratic elections which Washington had imposed on them in 2006.

The Americans were under the political delusion that Arafat was the problem, because he instigated the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada, which took on a violent and armed form. Yet the truth of the matter was that Arafat, despite his failure in militarizing the Intifada – or allowing this thorough his aides – was not the sole problem. Rather this was an outcome of two or three generations of Palestinians failing to build a state over the past six decades, whilst the Israelis were successful practically within one year. The Israelis began the establishment of their state from the date the division resolution was issued, or we can say that this took a decade, if we have into consideration the date of the British withdrawal as the point to account for this terrible failure.

A significant question is being raised in the political circles here in New York, where I’m writing this article, as to what the Palestinians will produce from this grand manoeuvre which they intend to undertake in the UN? In other words, what benefits will the Palestinian cause derive when it is recognized internationally, whilst the larger neighbouring state fails to recognize it?

The Palestinians have two options: Either to take the risk of challenging the US veto and demand full membership for Palestine as a state, or accept a compromise whereby “Palestine” will be shifted from a mere political entity into an observer state (without full membership), as is the case with the example of the Vatican state.

Without a doubt, eight decades of sacrifices have failed to bring any sustainable options for the Palestinians. The Palestinian cause was exploited by numerous Arab states, yet the prime exploiters in contemporary history are the Palestinian leaders themselves. This is because no single sincere leadership has been able to read political stances and offer favourable options to the Palestinian masses without equivocation. Honesty here is the primary requirement for building a new entity. Practically speaking, Palestinian decision making remained idle since the beginning of the second Intifada before the 2006 elections, and then shifted into an internal division project between Fatah and Hamas. With successive right-wing Israeli governments and Israeli hardliners exploiting the war on terrorism, everyone stalled on the Palestinian cause, yet the bare fact is that the two sides have turned down the chances of a peaceful solution. Consecutive US administrations have stated as a condition that the Salam Fayyad government must build institutions as a prerequisite for the Palestinian state. But the Palestinians – especially in the West Bank – have met all the requirements for building state institutions. Yet 20 years after the Oslo Accords were signed, there is still nothing practical to offer them.

I recently asked a US diplomat, who is highly knowledgeable on the Oslo Accords period and what happened thereafter, about his opinion on the upcoming Palestinian step, and he answered: “the Fayyad government has exhausted all the required reforms, and now the Palestinians have no option after Hamas occupied its other half and submitted it to Iran and Syria as a security measure. This happened whilst American promises failed to pressure the Israelis, who continued their settlement expansionist policy without fearing the consequences. Nevertheless, the Palestinian demography can by no means remain ignored forever.”

At the same time, the Palestinian independence project seems unrealistic at a time when Palestine is still divided between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; one side ruled by the (secular) Fatah movement and the other side ruled by the (Islamic) Hamas. This is happening whilst Palestinian decision making, both internally and externally, is divided amongst a number of contradictory opinions and discourses.

Another politician observing the Palestinian cause wondered: What benefits will the Palestinians derive from such recognition? Do they really know what it means to be an independent state? China, for instance, may decline to vote in favour of them, because if the Palestinians are to have a genuine state, then they must undertake the responsibilities of a state and lend answers to political disputes across the world. For example, what would the Palestinians stance be with regards to the issue of Taiwan? Or what would their assessment be of other political problems in the region?

Perhaps this is a genuine chance for the Palestinians to obtain a recognized state, yet what we have come to learn over the past decades is that chances are created, and they never come at random. This is to say that those who seek to make history should be well equipped to do so, rather than waiting for miracles which never come.

Abba Eban, a well-known Israeli diplomat who translated the novel “The Diary of a Prosecutor Among Peasant s” by Egyptian novelist Tawfiq al-Hakim, said “history tells us that men and nations act wisely only after they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

I wonder, will any options – or wisdom – remain for the Palestinians after they have put their state to the vote? Only the future holds the answer.