Palestine statehood team a ’cause of concern’

Concern mounts in lead-up to statehood bid at the UN as diaspora members criticise Palestinian officials.

Palestinians within the diaspora are concerned they will be left in the cold if the statehood bid passes at the UNSC [EPA]

With the presentation of the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council happening now, activists, analysts, and academics within the Palestinian diaspora are becoming more vocal on issues that they say need to be addressed immediately.

Two issues have been coming to the forefront of the debate; the representation and the right of return of the diaspora, and the legitimacy of the Palestinian officials presenting the bid.

Karim Makdissi, an associate professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that “the reputations of Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat are shoddy, and their track records demonstrate the kind of success they are going to bring at this stage.”

“Erekat resigned from his post earlier this year, and suddenly made a comeback, how was he able to do this? There is almost no accountability to the questions raised in the Palestine Papers, neither of them seem to understand the notion of being accountable to the Palestinian people,” he said.

Furthermore, even though Abbas is presenting the bid as the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, his position as head of the Palestinian Authority, whose mandate expired over three years ago, continues to haunt him.

The PA was created under the Oslo Accords in 1993 as a temporary administrative body whose mandate includes only the West Bank and Gaza. The PA does not represent the nine million Palestinians outside of these areas.

Erekat resigned in February this year following the publication by Al Jazeera of leaked documents from his office, which exposed concessions to Israel in secret peace talks held over the last 10 years. While he resigned from his position within the PA, he still held onto his position within the PLO’s executive committee, thus retaining the mandate to work on the statehood bid.

“These people don’t have a right to act on behalf of the Palestinian people, and they are using the United Nations as a roulette table and gambling with the rights of the Palestinians,” Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, told Al Jazeera. “Who are these people? They are the very same who helped to sideline the Goldstone Report [into the Gaza attacks of 2009], as well as trying to stop the Human Rights Council flotilla investigation.”

“They are the same people who did absolutely nothing with the International Court of Justice’s decision on the wall,” Abunimah added.

Internationalising worries

Mouin Rabbani, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington, said the move by the PLO to present such a bid for statehood should not be completely dismissed.

“It is an essential first step towards irrevocably removing the question of Palestine from the Oslo framework and putting it back in with the international community,” he told Al Jazeera. “At the same time, this means it is all the more important that it is done through a Palestinian national consensus.”

Follow Al Jazeera’s special coverage of the statehood bid

“In other words, it should be done through a proper strategic transformation, rather than a tactical manoeuvre,” he said.

“What I find frustrating is the way some, or many, of the critics of the initiative confuse the internationalisation of the question of Palestine with the surrender of Palestinian rights,” he said. “In my view, it’s the exact opposite; it’s only through internationalising the Palestinian question can you start to achieve those rights. It should not be whether you go to the UN, but rather how you go to the UN.”

For other refugees, international recognition and an official state have the possibility of easing relationships between the diaspora and the host country where they are currently residing

Suheil Natour, editor of Palestinian journal, Al Hurriyah, based in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera he hopes the statehood bid succeeds, as it has the potential of improving relations between Lebanese and Palestinians.

“While Lebanon will continue to recognise us as Palestinian refugees [if the statehood bid was to succeed], if anything it will diminish the fear the Lebanese have in naturalisation,” said Natour. “This would be a basis to move forward in terms of amelioration in our relationship.”

For others in the diaspora, there is a strong concern over the fact that the same recognition may remove the right to return, forcing them, as refugees, to remain in their host country.

A bid for survival

“Most of the Palestinian people, not just the diaspora, have been excluded from decision making about this bid, and about the course of the movement to achieve Palestinian rights,” Nadia Hijab, director of Al Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, based in the United States, told Al Jazeera. “This bid comes across as a way of a leadership that no longer has a democratic mandate consolidating its hold on power.”

It was only in the last few days that finally Abbas announced the bid would go straight to the Security Council for a position as a fully-fledged member.

The lack of information regarding the details of the bid and its consequences has caused frustration, leading to accusations of lack of transparency.

These accusations were cemented in the argument that the bid team have yet to disclose any of the details regarding what a ‘Palestinian state’ actually means, especially in terms of representation. This has left some wondering over the true objectives of the bid, and others, such as Guy Goodwin Gill, an expert in international law, go so far as to highlight legal issues that may arise from the bid.

“It shouldn’t take a professor from Oxford to come out and state the obvious, such as the right of return,” argues Karim Makdisi. “These should have been studied and examined for a while beforehand, rather than making declarations that could backfire in the long run.”

“The timing of this bid is not coincidental,” said Makdissi. “Even with the tiny bit of authority the PA has had on the ground, this has been choked by the Israelis over the past few years, which leaves a huge question mark over the PA’s role. The alternative to the bid would be to dissolve the PA, especially following all of its recent failures.”

“Essentially it’s a bureaucratic move for survival,” he said. “The PA as a bureaucracy wants to survive, and they have come to understand that their role on big political issues has become untenable, and they’re increasingly asked why they still exist.”

Protests against the bid 

The US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) held a rally on September 15 in New York to protest against the bid for statehood, claiming that it endangers Palestinian rights and institutions, especially the right of return.

“The statehood bid jeopardises the rights of two-thirds of the Palestinian population,” explained Dima Abi Saab, spokesperson for the USPCN, to Al Jazeera. “The declaration of a Palestinian state would essentially mean that the Palestinian refugees who have been living in refugee camps across the Arab world, waiting to return home, many of which still hold the keys to their original homes, would never be able to return to Palestine.”

For the USPCN, any diplomatic initiative taken that will have significant repercussions on the future of Palestinians, whether within the OPT or in the diaspora, must be brought forward “by a legitimate representative”.

“This bid is lacking on many levels, but mainly because it has not taken into account what would happen to the millions of Palestinians living in the diaspora,” she said. “We at the USPCN believe that these initiatives will not help Palestinians achieve their right of return, nor will it bring Palestinians any closer to liberation.”

As the SC members mull over the decision to grant the Palestinians with an official state, many within the diaspora are hoping for once, the UN will vote against Palestine.

Follow Nour Samaha on Twitter: @Samahanour

Source: Al Jazeera

More from Features
Most Read