Last Updated: Wed Sep 21, 2011 11:14 am (KSA) 08:14 am (GMT)

Linda Heard: Palestinians must pursue a moral victory at the United Nations

Linda S. Heard

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should remain unshakeable in his resolve to gain United Nations recognition of a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state in the face of US pressure not to do so.

Until recently, he has pinned his hopes on the good offices of the White House to broker a settlement, which is why his Fatah Party cut ties with Hamas and made just about every concession possible, but has consistently come up empty-handed.

President Barack Obama is doing his best to lure him away from appealing to the UN during the last week of September with the promise that face-to-face negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be resumed. But more talks will not yield results as Netanyahu is ideologically entrenched in his vision of an expanded Jewish state involving the subduing of Palestinian residents of the West Bank with economic benefits and the continued barricading of the people of Gaza.

Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu has flat-out rejected President Obama’s call for a Palestinian state on 1967 borders with land swaps and insists that Jerusalem will be Israel’s undivided capital saying, “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital.” He has also asked Palestinian negotiators to cede their demands for the right of return for refugees. “That’s not going to happen,” he said earlier this year.

In any event, he says he will not talk to any Palestinian Authority that includes members of Hamas and has proved his unwillingness to be swayed by Mr. Obama’s counsel or appeals time and time again; an attitude that, on occasion, has impacted US-Israel relations. What will it take for Washington to accept that Mr. Netanyahu isn’t a leader with whom the Palestinians can do business!

Mr. Netanyahu has further made it clear that the only Palestinian state he’s prepared to countenance is one that is entirely demilitarized. Put simply, if he has his way, Palestine would be a state in name only, a diminutive noncontiguous entity vulnerable to the Israel Defense Forces’ incursions and economically dependent on Israel. Should Palestinians concede to that, their 44-year struggle would be rendered meaningless.

Israeli columnists writing in Ha’aretz received that message a long time ago and so did Mr. Obama if truth be told. Judging by their body language, there is no love lost between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. In fact, the US president should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for pandering to the pro-Israel Lobby prior to upcoming elections.

According to Ali Abunimah owner of the Electronic Intifada website, Mr. Obama attended several pro-Palestinian events in Chicago prior to his presidency, including a banquet at which the Palestinian professor and author the late Edward Said was the keynote speaker. The so-called leader of the free world, who promised to work for a Palestinian state by September, lacks the courage of his convictions; he’s rolled over in hopes of keeping his job.

Abunimah recounts talking with Obama in 2004 when the primaries were in full swing: “As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, ‘Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a touch primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.’ He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to The Chicago Tribune critical of Israel and US policy and said ‘Keep up the good work!”

Unless Mr. Obama subsequently experienced some kind of epiphany while attending all those AIPAC dos or has been “treated” in a secret CIA mind control facility, he is obviously suffering from a chronic lack of moral fiber; so much so that he’s even prepared to veto his own beliefs within the UN — as he did when he vetoed a UNSC draft resolution condemning Jewish settlement construction and is now planning to do when the Palestinian Authority takes its case to the UN in September.

Therefore, recognizing Mr. Obama’s state of gutlessness and Mr. Netanyahu’s core expansionist agenda, the Palestinians have no other option than to turn to the international community. Their ambitions to gain acceptance of a state broadly based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and full UN membership will no doubt be thwarted by the US, which has turned a deaf ear to a plea by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat not to veto the attempt.

However, they do have a good chance of winning approval from the UN General Assembly — in which the US holds no power of veto — and are now pulling out all diplomatic stops to that end. Mahmoud Abbas and his top aides are currently meeting with politicians around the world to garner support — and, thus far, it appears that some 140 countries have pledged to cast votes in their favor.

Success in the UN General Assembly is not a recipe for changed facts on the ground but if the world endorses their rightful demands it will provide Palestinians with a massive moral victory and illuminate America’s honest broker status as a sham. To avoid embarrassment and a split with numerous US allies, President Obama has taken to using weasel words and empty promises he knows cannot be fulfilled. Even more despicable are the threats the US and Israel are sending the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) way.

Mr. Netanyahu has warned there will be a permanent end to peace negotiations in the event of a UN vote while the US Congress has threatened to withdraw donor aid to the PA that is already economically strapped and struggling to pay civil servants, largely due to donor countries defaulting on their pledges and Israel’s regular withholding of the PA’s tax and customs revenue. To prevent the PA from being held hostage in this gang-like fashion, wealthy Arab countries should step into the breach to reassure President Abbas that any cash shortfall will be covered.

Hopefully, the Arab League is, for once, standing up to be counted. Subsequent to a meeting of its Peace Initiative Committee in Qatar attended by Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erekat, the League’s Secretary-General Nabil Al Arabi said his organization would submit an official request to the UN to recognize Palestinian statehood. As commendable as this step certainly is, it isn’t enough. Arabs need to strengthen their clout with a show of diplomatic muscle and inject an “or else” factor into their efforts to give Palestinians their just rights and bring stability to the region. Arabs peoples may be undergoing a process of awakening, isn’t it about time that their leaderships followed suit and made the UN their own Tahrir Square?

(The author is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. This article first appeared in Arab News on July 18, 2011.)

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