In what seemed like bold defiance of the US and Israel, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing Palestine as a non-member state. The upgrade from a non-state observer to a non-member observer state is seen as a great achievement. What the Palestinian Authority tried to achieve earlier was full membership of a recognized Palestinian state, but that needed Security Council approval.
In September last year, PA de facto President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full membership in the U.N. to the Security Council, but determined US opposition, at Israel’s behest, killed the initiative. Since then, Abbas has been under relentless pressure, accompanied by threats of punitive action, mainly from Israel and Washington, not to pursue his U.N. bid. He wavered in the hope that he would be offered an alternative. He also agreed to postpone moves until the US presidential elections were over. In the end, in the absence of any alternative and following Hamas’ perseverance against the latest Israeli onslaught on Gaza, which further exposed PA’s bankrupt diplomacy, Abbas decided to proceed.
There is no question that his move has succeeded. The U.N. vote was substantial: 138 votes in favor, 9 against and 41 abstentions. The Palestinian success was further magnified in the context of the setback suffered by Israel and the US at the General Assembly. The vote was clearly directed against Israel’s intransigence, ongoing occupation and constant disregard for U.N. resolutions and international law.
The practical value of the vote, however, should not be exaggerated, as mass celebrations, no doubt organized partly by the PA in Ramallah, did. Abbas has every reason to present his U.N. accomplishment as a personal victory. He desperately needs political rehabilitation following his diplomacy’s repeated failures. But the danger is that it will create euphoria similar to that which followed the announcement, 20 years earlier, of the Oslo Accords that proved catastrophic.
Apart from procedural gains at the General Assembly, such as the right of the Palestinian delegation to participate in the assembly’s debates, albeit without voting, the new status grants the Palestinians access to other U.N. agencies and the International Criminal Court. Once allowed to sign the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, the Palestinians will be able to ask court prosecutors to investigate Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.
This has been one of the main concerns behind Israeli objections to the Palestinian bid. There were reports that Washington, as well as some European capitals, tried to have Abbas give assurances that he would not resort to that option and that he would restart stalled negotiations with the Israelis as a condition for softening their opposition. Apparently Abbas agreed, as he did indeed confirm soon after the vote that the Palestinians would not seek ICC intervention against Israel unless there is a new aggression.
He also expressed willingness to negotiate. Such new, fresh, concessions strip the Palestinian gain of its major advantage. The PA does not have to wait for a new aggression because Israel’s aggression is ongoing and relentless. The very day after the General Assembly’s decision, the Israeli government announced it would build 3,000 new housing units on the very Palestinian land recognized by the U.N. as the seat of the Palestinian state.
There are various other forms of ongoing aggression, such as the occupation; the withholding of Palestinian tax revenues; the siege of Gaza, which was devastated by the latest Israeli attack; the routine arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank cities and villages; and the occupation practices in the city of Jerusalem where Judaization projects are consistently under way.
This is not a promising start for Abbas. It does not hold any promise that the U.N. resolution would be used as a useful instrument, as it should, to consolidate the legal grounds that are necessary to build a Palestinian state. But that requires more than street celebrations, red carpets and the pomp and ceremony of a head of state surrounding Abbas.
If the Palestinians want to seriously build on the U.N. resolution, they have to review their entire strategy rather than go around in the same circles. They should stop security cooperation with the occupation forces, and redefine their legal rights as well as the terms of reference for any possible future settlement.
Anything that failed should not be tried again. The resolution offers an opportunity which has to be seized. On its own, General Assembly Resolution 67/19 means nothing, much like hundreds of others that for years collect dust on U.N. shelves. Sadly, though, it is doubtful that the depleted, exhausted and expired “leadership” that brought the Palestinians to this condition are the ones who can lift them up again.
(The writer is a columnist at The Jordan Times, where this article was published on Dec. 5, 2012)