Palestine's Bid for Statehood: The Debate
Cliona Campbell and Claudia Saba write their opinions on Palestine’s bid for statehood:
I am wholly in favour of a Palestinian State. This is tied to my ardent belief that all nations, nurse be they Jewish or Palestinian, deserve their own sovereign national homeland. A Palestinian state would not only be in the best interests of the Palestinian people, but Israel and the entire Middle East as a whole. However, I cannot in good conscience support recent attempts made by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to attain UN recognition of a Palestinian state for the simple fact that it is not only premature but has been poorly executed. If the Palestinians are to do themselves justice they must take all necessary steps towards forming a politically viable state based on democratic values which will uphold the basic tenants of human rights. The decision to cut Israel out of the process demonstrates a blatant unwillingness to confront pre-existing internal and external issues.
It’s called a peace process for a reason; there are no shortcuts towards creating sustainable co-existence. To put aside decades of hatred, distrust and bloody conflict demands monumental effort and co-operation. Given the long history of failed attempts to broker peace, feelings of wariness and disillusionment are natural. However it would be naïve to believe that the Palestinians’ problems will simply disappear once they have an independent state. Their political status may change, but the same issues of PA corruption and financial mismanagement, abuse of the rights of women, homosexuals and Christian minorities and extreme Islamist hold over governmental positions will continue to plague the region. Despite attempts to reconcile, Hamas is still in conflict with Fatah, senior Hamas official Salah Bardawil disclosing that there has been no consultation between the two factions in regards to the UN bid. Hamas favours ‘liberating’ the land through violence as opposed to civilised discussion, indicating a significant possibility of another bloody flare up should Abbas proceed without their mandate.
I strongly believe that past actions are the best indicator of future behaviour. Without a radical reappraisal of the current regime, the Palestinian leadership will be completely incapable of achieving the essential components of democratic statehood. At the current time, the elected government of Gaza continues to hold Gilad Shalit captive five years after his abduction. Rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israeli territory, with a dramatic escalation of rocket fire since the beginning of this year, showing no signs of relief. Despite the adversities it faces, Israel is open to negotiation with its aggressors. Yet the Palestinians continue to set preconditions. Without an unreserved willingness to negotiate peace, how can it ever be achieved? I, like the majority of Israelis, see the settlements for what they are; ideologically backwards, inflammatory and a source of unnecessary hardship for all involved. However, Abbas’ demand of a Judenrein Palestine while also refusing to recognise the Jewish state of Israel is unequivocally unjust. If one is to declare that their people are deserving of a homeland, it is essential to acknowledge that other nations also merit the same.
Israel is a miniscule country- a mere 8,000 square miles, excluding areas occupied following its victory in the Six Day War. Seventy percent of its population reside on the sliver of land sandwiched between the Mediterranean and what would be the new Palestinian state. Compounding its vulnerability is the fact that this coastal plain is flat and completely exposed to the West Bank which overlooks the entire region. By demanding a Palestinian state now, Israel would have been forced to have a people who are currently bombarding its southern cities with rockets, who elected terrorists to government, who ratified a charter vowing to annihilate them and obliterate their state from the map establish their own state without any negotiation within firing range of the heart of Israel. The Israeli people require assurance of their safety, which can only be achieved with the establishment of a demilitarised Palestinian state which is open to peaceful co-existence.
It has been said that “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” I can think of no greater gift to the Middle East than a Palestinian state which has been founded on the basis of peace, co-operation and mutual understanding.
The media frenzy surrounding the Palestinian application for UN statehood clouds a simple fact: whichever way the vote goes, Israel wins.
Even the Palestinian Authority (PA) admits that the granting of statehood status at the UN would not change conditions on the ground. It would do nothing to address the 500,000 illegal Israeli settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank, nor would it remove the apparatus of the occupation. What it would do, perhaps, is increase Palestinians’ access to international legal institutions in which they can prosecute Israel for crimes.
In fact, this point is what worries Israel the most: were Palestine to become a member state it may be in a better position to legally challenge Israel. However, Israel has already been prosecuted by various organs on many occasions and found guilty, but enforcement of the rulings against it have been impossible. A case in point is the ruling by the International Court of Justice that the Apartheid wall built by Israel around the West Bank is illegal. A ruling completely ignored by Israel.
Indeed, since 1948 numerous UN resolutions have been passed in the General Assembly and the Security Council but the US has blocked them through veto. The US has used its veto power in the UN Security Council 41 times in defense of Israel. Whether this would change if the PA became a UN member state with observer status is doubtful.
Let us consider the two possible outcomes of the UN vote:
If the UN votes against a Palestinian state…
The diplomatic deadlock continues. Illegal settlement building on Palestinian land continues, some 8000 Palestinian POWs remain in Israeli jails, the military occupation would remain in place and Israel would continue to find excuses to delay negotiations
If the UN votes in favour of a Palestinian state…
The PLO would be replaced by the PA as the representative of the Palestinian people at the UN. Since the PA represents only 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank, the remaining 10 million Palestinians (those living inside Israel, Gaza and in the diaspora), would cease to be represented in the UN. This is in Israel’s interest and is the reason that right wing Israelis are tacitly supporting the PA application for statehood.
Legal experts have warned that such a move could abrogate the Palestinians’ right of return and forfeit the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel who face discrimination in the Israeli state. Israel would probably try to force the transfer of Palestinians from Israel into the newly created bantustan-style Palestinian state.
Israel would maintain its settlements in the West Bank thereby making the new Palestinian state resemble a collection of islands separated by Jewish-only roads rather than an entity resembling a normal country. The Gaza siege would remain unaddressed.
Human Rights before a state
The only way to avoid both those negative outcomes is if Israel is isolated as Apartheid South Africa was. More important than the declaration of a state is a declaration by the world that Palestinians have equal rights as Israelis or anybody else. Before the two parties can sit down and negotiate a settlement, Israel must recognize that Palestinians are equal human beings. It should stop throwing them out of their homes on spurious grounds that they lack “legal building permits”, it should allow them the same amount of water that Israelis get, it should allow them the same freedom of movement in and out of and within their country, and it should stop bombing them with F16s (over 2200 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the last two years).
Since Israel (and the US) are not about to confer these inalienable human rights onto the Palestinians any time soon, it is up to the citizens of the world to demand those rights. The only way Israel will budge is by being isolated, as Apartheid South Africa was. The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law promises the best chance for changing the obscene imbalance of rights. People under military occupation have a right to resist; boycott is a non-violent method of resistance. For anyone interested in seeing a resolution to the Israel/Palestine question, I recommend starting here: http://bdsmovement.org/.