Are Palestinian plans to go to the United Nations a case of passing the political hot potato, reinventing the Oslo process or a hopeless last stand?
Tuesday 6 September 2011
The Palestinian initiative has succeeded in one thing so far: it has stirred up controversy and grabbed the world's attention despite the intensive media coverage of the ongoing Arab revolutions in Libya, Syria and Yemen. An intensive battle is now taking place in the media because Palestinian plans to seek UN recognition are of political and symbolic value more than anything else – which is fitting since the Palestinian Authority has no capacity to influence reality under occupation anymore.
Palestinian officials seem to have no real strategy behind this call except the vague hope of reviving or reinventing the Oslo process, as illustrated by a document prepared by the former chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, which expressed the hope that this move would facilitate future dialouge with Washington.
However, on the ground, UN recognition will not free Palestine from the occupation and will not restore or honour the historical rights of Palestinians. Nevertheless, with the situation in deadlock, the Palestinians are not left with much other choice but to pass the hot potato of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the international community in another form.
But is it about passing the hot potato again to its cook or is it about exposing, before the mirror of global public opinion, the naked ineffectiveness of the international community, especially the US administration, to broker a just peace deal? Is the Palestinian initiative a symptom of impotence or is designed to question impotence?
It could simply be a way for Palestinians to reject the “siege” Israel has been inflicting on them through a series of measures aimed at aborting the peace process and making the world believe that Israel has no “partner for peace”. This siege in all it forms – whether through hindering negotiations, increased settlement activities, the “apartheid” separation wall, or the daily humiliation the Palestinian people are subjected to by the Israeli occupation – could be likened to a “new Masada” in which Palestinians are pushed into a suicidal last stand in September, in their only remaining “fortress”, the United Nations.
But why is going to the United Nations suicidal? Because so far there's no clear vision of what kind of state or lack of awaits the Palestinians the day after. There are also questions about the legitimacy of this state. “Who, though, is the state, and what are the democratic links between those who will represent the state at the UN and the people of Palestine? An abstract entity – a state – is proposed, but where are the people?” is the alarming question posed by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University, in an interview with al-Jazeera.
So why go there? Perhaps it is an attempt to win the media battle.
In February 2010, the images of young Palestinians disguised as characters from the film Avatar during a protest against the separation wall in Bilin caught the attention of the international media and spread virally via the social media platforms. In the world of modern mass communication, the image speaks, provokes and can act as a mobilisation multiplier, as is being demonstrated by the ongoing Arab revolutions.
The current “tent protests”, which have brought together Israelis of almost all political stripes, have effectively acted as another way to force the “siege” on the Palestinians and contribute to their state of despair. Not only do Palestinians lack a peace partner in most Israeli governments of the past 18 years, but they were also disappointed to realise that the Israeli civil society protesting against the socio-economic policies of their state – which Dan Senor glorified in his book The Start-Up Nation – managed to exclude their rights, especially in the early days of the movement.
Why did the largest social movement in Israel's history succeed in ignoring Palestinian rights including those of Palestinian-Israelis? It also failed to include the least criticism of Israel's occupation policy, and even announced clearly from the beginning that there was no room for politics in these demonstrations.
However, one political party, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, which represents a large number of leftist Palestinian-Israelis and Israeli-Jews, took the wise step of joining the movement when they realised the risk of being excluded. Tents were pitched in some Arab villages and cities, such as Nazareth and Haifa, where Arabs and Jews came together to campaign for equal rights, justice and peace for all. This was the first time that Arabs were included in the mobilisation.
Perhaps successive Israeli governments succeeded in dehumanising the Palestinians in the Israeli collective mind. Nevertheless, there are voices of dissent, such as Akiva Orr who considers the tent demonstrations are only the beginning of the end of young Israelis being “political fodder”, as he put it in a recent commentary he made on J14. “Give them time and many will become anti-Zionist. One cannot be weaned in a week from what one embraced uncritically for many years at home, in nursery and school.”
But can the Palestinians afford this “time” for Israelis to wake up? Can Palestinians continue to afford the impotence of the international community while they continue to live under siege and in deadlock?
Whether or not Palestinian can afford the time, they do possess an abundant supply of hope. As late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish put it in his poem, State of Siege, Palestinians are affected by an incurable “disease called hope”:
We do what prisoners do
We do what the jobless do
We sow hope
Nevertheless, Israelis, together with the international community, should realise that, under these circumstances of change in Israel and the energising regional context of Arab revolutions, the Palestinians can no longer afford to sit idly by and watch their boat of hope sink, day after day, in the maelstrom of the status quo.