As the bid for statehood at the UN draws closer, legal scholars wonder who has legitimacy to represent Palestinians.
Gaza City – The Hamas-led government in Gaza is distancing itself from the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s upcoming bid for full membership in the United Nations for both political and ideological reasons.
Hamas has said little about the bid, marking a sharp contrast to the frenzied political activity elsewhere in the region and beyond.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is planning a 10-day campaign, of rallies, marches and sloganeering, to promote the bid. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, will deliver a major address on the issue on Friday night.
For Israelis, the UN vote, which most simply refer to as “September”, is a looming diplomatic nightmare.
The overwhelming attitude in Gaza, however, has been to keep silent. Hamas officials complain that their counterparts in the West Bank never consulted them, and that no public events are planned, although a small group of activists is trying to organise rallies in Gaza City.
Many ordinary Gazans simply shrug the whole affair off, saying it will have little impact on their daily lives.
“There are a lot of problems with the proposal, with what it will mean for refugees, for the right of return,” said Alaa al-Rifati, the minister of the economy in Gaza. “As usual this is an initiative from one side.”
‘Wait and see’
Hamas has not endorsed the bid because they see it as a Fatah-led initiative. Relations between the two factions remain sour despite years of reconciliation talks.
“Because nobody consulted us, we, Hamas, do not take this issue seriously,” Ahmed Yousef, the deputy foreign minister in Gaza, told Al Jazeera.
Even so, active opposition of the bid places Hamas in the awkward position of campaigning against a Palestinian state.
Most officials in Gaza have therefore chosen to keep quiet, adopting what they call a “wait-and-see” policy. When asked about the issue in interviews, many are cautiously critical.
Yousef refused to call the vote symbolic, saying only that it is “a step in the right direction”.
“The Hamas government didn’t support this step, but we didn’t reject it either,” said Ihab al-Ghusain, an interior ministry spokesman.
“We want the Palestinian people to have their national rights, but we are frustrated with the United Nations.”
Al-Ghusain also noted that some legal scholars have been critical of the vote; specifically, that its implications for the right of return, and for the legitimacy of the PA itself, are unclear.
Officials in Gaza are also sceptical the PA will actually follow through. Abbas has not yet submitted a formal bid to the UN, a move many Palestinians thought he would do last month.
Aal-Rifati wondered whether Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, would back down at the last minute.
“There needs to be coordination with other Palestinian groups. We’re not even really sure if Abu Mazen is still going to the United Nations,” al-Rifati said.
“He was supposed to submit a proposal last month, but he did not … and he has not announced if he will go to the Security Council.”
Doubtful of change
Such sentiment was common on the streets of Gaza City, where many people had expected Abbas to drop the bid under pressure from the United States and Israel.
Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior member of the PA and Fatah’s central committee, said on Tuesday that the PA will seek full recognition from the Security Council.
The main criticism has been that the bid will not change daily life in Gaza. A “yes” vote would not end the Israeli blockade, neither would it ease the travel restrictions on Palestinians or improve their stagnant economy.
Ahmed Suleiman, sitting with his family on one of Gaza City’s beaches, said he would rather see progress on the arduous reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah.
“I think it’s a good step. But I wish that the reconciliation would happen and the situation would improve between Gaza and the West Bank,” he said. “But I don’t think the reconciliation will happen. There’s no trust.”
The two factions seemed close to a deal earlier this year, at least closer than they have been in years. Talks stalled this summer over a range of issues, including the makeup of a possible unity government. Abbas has reportedly put any further talks on hold until after the UN vote.
The vote offers Hamas an opportunity to place blame on its estranged counterpart in Ramallah. If the bid fails, or if it succeeds but nothing changes, Hamas can point to another empty gesture by Fatah.
Some Gazans think the vote could offer a public-relations victory for Palestinians.
“I think most of the Palestinian people believe [the situation] will become better because more countries will recognize Palestine,” said Abu Mohammed, a vendor with a small cigarette stand near the Gaza seafront.
“Right now, many of them have no idea of Palestine, so if they recognize us, it will improve our situation. It’s better if more countries recognize Palestine,” he said.
A group called “Palestine 194” is trying to organize rallies in Gaza in the run-up to the UN vote. Hamas has not approved the marches, or rejected them, because officials said they have yet to make up their minds.
Yousef, the deputy foreign minister, said he doubted there would be many mass demonstrations, for or against, the UN bid.
“Recognition of the Palestinian state is something very important because instead of talking about ‘disputed land’, it means we are talking about the land of the Palestinians,” said Yousef, stressing that this was a personal opinion.
“This is something important for the future of the Palestinian people.”