Lukas Wank: The political horizon of the Palestinian bid at the UN

Posted on October 1, 2012 by



After the unsuccessful Palestinian bid to get accepted as a full member state by the UN in 2011, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has trimmed down its last years ambitions in order to urge the UN to get accepted as a non-member state this year. In a speech at the General Assembly on September 27, Mahmoud Abbas called upon the international community to upgrade the Palestinians from the current observer status to a non-member state, implying a de-facto acceptance of Palestinian statehood.

To many people the UN bid that should bring the Palestinians an internationally recognised state sounds like as if it was actually serving the Palestinian cause. But a deeper look at the implications arising from it shows that the Palestinian UN bid itself is controversial. For Ibrahim Shikaki, an economic researcher who currently works at the IHL resource centre at Diakonia and also teaches economics at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, the Palestinian bid at the UN is a mere extension of the life of the PA but no real step ahead. Since the PA is currently living through its biggest crisis since its establishment that nearly brought it at the brink of collapse in the first weeks of September, the second UN bid for Palestinian statehood is embedded in a controversial context. The PA, who was established after the Oslo Accord in 1993 as a temporary institution still exists up to this date. After the Protests in early September made the misgovernment of the PA visible for the larger public, their initial economic causes remain largely unresolved up to this day.

 

Given the case that the bid for Palestinian statehood would have been accepted by the international community, what would that have meant for the frozen „peace process“ between Israel and Palestine? Following on, critical aspects of the renewed Palestinian bid at the UN which was brought forward during a highly tense political situation in Palestine after all, shed light on the consequences for Palestinian politics.

First and foremost, the call for a Palestinian state subsequently serves a two-state-solution, meaning that a Palestinian state would be established in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). It is clear that the fragmentation of the oPt since 1967 by Israel led to realities on the ground that make an independent Palestinian state nearly impossible. In the words of Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Professor at Bethlehem, Birzeit and Al-Quds University, the two-state-solution is thought of as an boiled egg, where yolk and egg white can be neatly separated. In fact, the two-state-solution does actually resemble a scrambled egg, where it is not possible to separate the two constituent parts any longer.

Secondly, especially the Oslo Accords and the Paris Protocol which were also in the centre of criticism in the course of the protests that emerged all over the Westbank in early September, have been serving the Israeli hegemony dramatically well. The „cantonisation“ of the oPt which was radically enforced especially after the second Intifada (2000-2005) has cut the Westbank into pieces: The populated areas are mostly encircled by the wall and surrounded by Israeli settlements. This has also economic implications, meaning that production and more importantly agriculture is mostly centred in rural areas where arable land is available. These areas are controlled by Israel and labelled as Area C in an Oslo Accord terminology, making up 60% of the Westbank`s total area. Illegal land claims are continued to being brought forward by Israel, however. Presently, there are about 510.000 Israelis (including East Jerusalem) living in illegal settlements next to roughly 2.600.000 Palestinians in the Westbank. According to a 2011 EU report, the number of Palestinians in Area C alone has decreased from about 300.000 to about 56.000 since 1967, while in the same period the number of illegal settlers in this area has increased from 1.200 up to 310.000. Simultaneously, Palestinian population areas (labelled Area A, which is under control of the PA) are increasingly becoming overcrowded, leading to uneven economic development in the oPt with high rates of unemployment, especially among the young population. Given the high degree of entangled land and economic structures, a two-state-solution must be accompanied by concrete goals to de-tangle Palestine with Israel`s expansionist territorial policies.

Thirdly, a Two-state-solution would in practical terms suggest the further prolongation of the stalled „peace process“ between Palestine and Israel. The accompanying negotiations have been sustaining the Israeli occupation and keeping up a status-quo that, to a certain extent, provided the Israeli occupation with a noteworthy amount of time to consolidate its grip on the Westbank. Sure, the step undertaken by the PA at the UN is a move to increase their leverage at these negotiations but it would also serve Israeli interests, given it would have turned out to be successful after all. The central aspect here is to question the negotiations and their effects on the stalled „peace process“, however. At this point it becomes obvious what Israeli hegemony has achieved over the years: The role of the elite finds itself strongly attached to the ultimate logic of oppression. In the case of the PA this means that Israel has achieved to create and supported a political elite that serves their interests in a obedient manner, though it is not always perceived as such in the first place. By looking at it from this angle, the Palestinian bid at the UN can thus be perceived as an expression of Israeli hegemony.

Fourthly, in a political perspective such a highly fragmented area becomes increasingly hard to be governed connectedly, not to speak about what that means for the Gaza Strip in particular. The call for a two-state-solution does obviously not take into account to what extent the aerial fragmentation would also reflect into governmental strategies and structures of an independent Palestinian state. In short, aerial „cantonisation“ does also translate into uneven political developments and a division within the country that would probably need to be bridged by a unitary government. The Oslo Accord managed to rid the Palestinians of a common vision for their future. It did so not only by the restrictive structures it erected for the PA but also by aerial fragmentation of society that reflects back into the political sphere since society and politics need to be in balance in order to shape a common ground for all Palestinians. Here the role of the PLO during the last years should be reviewed critically.

Fifthly, it is important to stress what Israel`s coercive grip on the oPt means for political activism, even if it may seem that there is no obvious connection with the Palestinian bid at the UN General Assembly. Since the lack of a common ground among Palestinians or a new political vision for Palestinian politics is directly linked to the intrinsic value of social mobilisation, the aspect of mobility in the context of the „cantonisation“ process needs to be closer looked at. This is especially relevant in light of the the protests that emerged all over the Westbank against the aggravating economic situation early September. Through the fragmentation of the oPt, mobility became increasingly complicated and time absorbing, which effects not only the daily life of Palestinians in general but also the organisation of political activity. From a activists perspective, unified protests across the Westbank are much harder to be organised and coordinated coherently nowadays as they were back in the late 1990s. More importantly, with the security co-operation between Israel and the PA in place (which is an essential part of the Oslo Accord of 1993) the Palestinian security forces are confronted with protests against the Israeli occupation and oppression. As a result, political activism has often to be contained by Palestinian police themselves most of the time, making it nearly impossible for activists to confront the oppressors directly. One activist from Ramallah said that the Palestinian police is not their enemy in the protests because they, as Palestinians, are not the ones to blame for the situation created by the Israeli occupation. In this respect the security co-operation outsources Israeli oppression to the Palestinians themselves. For political activism this creates a vicious circle where expression of criticism and control mechanisms ultimately serve the Israeli hegemony.

 

Nevertheless, the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN also has positive aspects. Again, as it also was the case with last years bid at the UN, the activation of international legal frameworks for a Palestinian cause is a necessary move to be taken by the PA. International law here serves as a legal frame of reference to make the Israeli occupation visible to the global public, for example by turning to the UN in order to address pressing issues that touch upon the Palestinians life under occupation. At the same time, however, the PA already left other possibilities to activate international legal frameworks via international channels largely unused (e.g. after the publication of the Goldstone report in the aftermath of the 2008/09 war on Gaza).

 

It is utterly true that there is little space left for Palestinian politics to manoeuvre under the ongoing Israeli occupation. The question at this point is if an UN bid to seek membership as a non-member state is the accurate step to be undertaken since it obviously entrenches Israeli colonialism between the PA`s lack of political vision and the prolongation of the status-quo in a race where every day counts to tackle the continuous fragmentation of the oPt.

The two-state-solution has increasingly become an idle, orphaned product of the Oslo Accords. After all, it is important to underline that the question whether a two-state or a one-state-solution is the most viable to serve a Palestinian cause, is a genuine internal Palestinian question. It is neither the international community`s, nor foreign commentator`s eligibility to judge about this, these actors should rather continue to question the Israeli occupation as the primal cause of the ongoing oppression faced by Palestinians on a daily basis. In doing so, a critical international public can locate itself between Zionist colonialism and calls for the liberation of Palestine in order to de-colonise Zionism, which for Linda Tabar, who is a member of the Palestinian campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, is the discursive location where a one-state solution can be sought.

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