For Independence, stop at New York

DAN-CHYI CHUA
Jun 01, 2011
*Special to asia!

Decades of peace talks have led nowhere. Now the Palestinians plan to take their case to the United Nations, where they believe they can get majority support for an independent Palestine. The question is: Will it work?

“... This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves.  If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations -- an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

US President Barack Obama to the UN General Assembly, September 2010

Today is the first day of June 2011. The past nine months have brought the Israelis and Palestinians no closer to any such agreement.

The Palestinians have declared that in three months, they will be seeking recognition as a UN member state, a tacit acknowledgement of a state's sovereignty. According to Egypt's ambassador to the UN, the Palestinians already have the support of 116 nations in the 192-member UN General Assembly, with more likely to join them in the coming months.

But the United States is not likely to be one of them.

 

The American factor

On May 19, Obama said in a speech on the Middle East:

“Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.”

In an interview soon after with the BBC, Obama added that the notion of solving the issue of an independent Palestinian state  through the UN as “unrealistic” and that for the Palestinians “whatever efforts they mount in the United Nations will be symbolic.”

The US could – if it wished – obstruct the Palestinians from even getting the United Nations General Assembly to vote on the issue in the first place. As a permanent member of the Security Council, Washington can wield its veto and prevent the Palestinian vote from going ahead.

Joseph Deiss, president of the UN General Assembly, confirmed that for the Assembly to vote on the Palestinian application for membership, there could not be a veto from any permanent member of the Security Council.

This is in accordance to a non-binding but generally upheld advisory opinion by the UN's International Court of Justice in 1950, that the UN cannot admit a member into the organisation without a positive recommendation from the Security Council.

By the end of this speech that did nothing to break the deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the US Congress had fêted Netanyahu with some 29 standing ovations.

Yet even if the prospects of success via the UN channel are dim, the Palestinian Authority have little alternative but to go ahead. 

Last week prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively stamped out any possibility of compromise, during his address to the US Congress. On the issue of Palestinian land occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967, he said,

“Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.”

As for Jerusalem, it “must remain the united capital of Israel.”

By the end of this speech that did nothing to break the deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the US Congress had fêted Netanyahu with some 29 standing ovations.

Buoyed by the overwhelming reception in Washington, Netanyahu returned home to see his approval ratings boosted as a result and scorned Palestinian plans to go to the UN.  

"No one has the power to stop the decision to recognize a Palestinian state in the UN General Assembly in September,” he said. “It can also be possible to make the decision there that the world is flat."

For all that bravado,  Israel is working hard on the diplomatic front to lobby for support against the Palestinian move.

An Israeli daily quoted an international law expert as warning that UN recognition of Palestine would embroil Israel in a “relentless legal quagmire vis-à-vis the international community”

"Instead of being the legitimate administrator of the area pending a decision about its final status, we  [Israel] will be considered the illegal occupiers of a UN-member state."

An Israeli daily quoted an international law expert as warning that UN recognition of Palestine would embroil Israel in a “relentless legal quagmire vis-à-vis the international community”

"Instead of being the legitimate administrator of the area pending a decision about its final status, we  [Israel] will be considered the illegal occupiers of a UN-member state."

 

Palestine without Borders?

The Israelis may have much to lose from the Palestinians going to the UN in September, but for the Palestinians, this too will be a path wrought with complications.

In the event that they do manage to elicit a General Assembly that brings them into the fold of the international community, what shape then will the new independent Palestine take? Right now, it is little more than an archipelago strewn among among Israel's illegal Jewish settlements and military zones.

And there are also all the outstanding issues like the status of Jerusalem, right of return of millions of Palestinians, security arrangements, just to name a few?

...what shape then will the new independent Palestine take?

Palestinian officials have said that they could forego heading to the UN in September and return to negotiations, if Israel will extend a freeze on construction on occupied Palestinians land.

But what will induce Netanyahu to consider a construction freeze, when he has rejected repeatedly before? Is the avoidance of a humiliation and that “legal quagmire” in September enough?

What lies ahead is much uncertainty. Faced intimately with the potential conundrum that awaits them, the pessimism of the situation is not lost on the Israeli and Palestinian people.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

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