The fine print of Palestinian statehood

What does the UN fine print – which promoted Palestine as a non-member observer state – really mean?

The PLO/PA's apparent interest in reviving itself provides opportunities for Palestinian civil society and its allies to hold the leadership accountable for Palestinian rights [GALLO/GETTY]

Congratulations are raining as friends of the Palestinians respond with delight to the United Nations’ resounding “Yes!” to Palestine’s non-member observer state status as of November 29, 2012. But before giving free rein to their excitement, the Palestinian people – and their allies – should read the actual text of the resolution. 

Many Palestinians did not read the Oslo Accords Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) signed in the 1990s. If they had, they might have noticed that the Accords did not mention international law and human rights, did not provide for a state and did not even mention the “occupation”. Plus, the accords tied the Palestinian economy into knots that Israel could tighten or loosen at will. 

The same leadership that signed those accords now believes the UN upgrade will put the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, freedom, equality and justice back on track. 

Perhaps. There may be some openings yet the reasons for apprehension are legion, as is shown by a reading of the text.

The resolution itself is a messy text (based on the penultimate copy of the document circulated the day before submission) stuffed with references to past UN resolutions, statements and peace processes. But that is not so worrying in and of itself. 

Arab peace initiative

What is truly alarming is that, despite repeated assertions by the Palestinian leadership that they are determined to protect the rights of Palestinian refugees, the brief reference to the cornerstone UN Resolution 194 (III) is buried in the preambular paragraphs. In the operative paragraphs, “the Palestine refugees” are just one of the core issues that must be resolved, along with Jerusalem, settlements, border, security and water. 

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Resolved, how? The resolution enshrines the 2002 Arab peace initiative, which speaks of a “just and agreed upon” solution for the Palestinian refugees, in operative paragraph 5. This effectively reaffirms Israel’s control of any solution, an Israel that has never allowed the refugees to return and that continues to this day to dispossess the Palestinians in pre-1967 Israel and the occupied territory. Thus, the UN resolution gives ever-more formal sanction to disposing of the majority of the Palestinian people. 

Another worrying factor is the repeated references to a peace process so discredited that it is long past time to bury and not to praise it. 

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the operative paragraphs make no direct reference to the Oslo Accords. Rather, they refer to the “relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap”.  

Is this a positive sign? Perhaps. 

Another potentially positive sign is the affirmation, in operative paragraph 2, that the new status would be “without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role” of the PLO at the UN. Many Palestinians feared that the UN bid would come at the expense of PLO representation of the entire Palestinian people, under occupation, refugees and in Israel. 

Yet in practice can Palestinians be represented by both a state and the PLO? Despite the careful wording of the resolution, a Palestinian negotiator said in private exchanges that “state representation (entity)… overrides the PLO representation” and that an ambassador would be representing the state of Palestine. The negotiator also said the PLO is “the interim government representing the state and not the entity represented that is Palestine”. 

Clear? Not so much. It seems that the ambassador of Palestine would represent those Palestinians in the state of Palestine, that is, not all Palestinians, with the PLO’s position unclear. 

The Palestinians’ political reality is even more worrying than the resolution’s language. Not only did this same leadership sign the disastrous Oslo Accords, it stood helplessly by as Israel more than doubled its illegal settlers since 1993 with no signs of stopping its rampant colonisation. 

Freedom from occupation

In addition, the Fatah-Hamas 2007 split has greatly weakened the Palestinian national movement. Even if they reconcile, as they seem determined to do in the wake of Israel’s assault on Gaza this month, this is not necessarily cause for celebration. There is nothing democratic about either faction. Although Hamas does hold internal elections, both have brutally oppressed dissent rather than encouraging true Palestinian representation. 

“If Israel cuts aid to the PA, it will have to manage its own occupation. If the US cuts aid to the PA, it will lose its clout over the Palestinian agenda.”

In the final analysis, it boils down to a question of trust. True, the PLO did not bend to British demands that, among other things, it did not agree to join the International Criminal Court for a “Yes” vote (Britain abstained.) But it has squandered the huge resources at its disposal to lead civil resistance to the Israeli trampling of Palestinian rights. It did not make use of the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion to hold other states accountable for their support of Israel’s occupation.

It tried to torpedo the Goldstone Report after Cast Lead. It adopted a weak, limited boycott of Israeli settlement goods only after the rest of the world responded powerfully to the Palestinian civil society 2005 Call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS); and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) took on the role of Israel’s policeman. 

Can such a leadership really lead the Palestinians to freedom from occupation, justice for the refugees and equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel? Can it take advantage of the ICC and ICJ, and other UN conventions and bodies to protect its waters, airspace and people? The jury is out. 

The biggest ray of sunshine on the horizon is the virulent opposition to the UN bid by the Israeli and American governments. In fact, they have been boxed in. If Israel cuts aid to the PA, it will have to manage its own occupation. If the US cuts aid to the PA, it will lose its clout over the Palestinian agenda. 

Furthermore, the PLO/PA’s apparent interest in reviving itself provides opportunities for Palestinian civil society and its allies to hold the leadership accountable for Palestinian rights. But first, it would be good to read that document, to know just what to hold it accountable for. 

Nadia Hijab is the director of Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. She is also a public speaker, writer and media commentator.