By Arab News
By Osama Al Sharif
Barring a last minute development, such as a diplomatic initiative of monumental proportions, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will deliver a speech on Friday at the UN and then submit Palestine’s formal application for full membership into the international organization. It will be a move that the whole world will watch, follow and then react to. For many it will be an important game changer in Middle East politics, which for decades has been engrossed in the dramatic nuances of the Arab-Israel conflict and Palestinian struggle for liberation and independence.
Critics of the Palestinian move, and they stretch from Washington to Tel Aviv and from Gaza to Damascus, have different reasons to be unhappy. The Americans say it’s a deviation from the peace process, which in their view is the only path toward a mutually agreed upon political deal. Israel says it will consider it as a hostile act and will render previous agreements null and void, forcing it to adopt its own unilateral stands. Hamas, on the other hand, believes Abbas is throwing away Palestinian rights, such as the right of return, and that only resistance will end the occupation.
It’s been 60 years since the UN recognized Israel, 45 years since it occupied the West Bank and Gaza and almost 20 years since the peace process took off in a bid to create a Palestinian state. The legal, and moral, case for recognition of Palestine is solid. The only thing standing in its way now is a US veto in the Security Council, which will certainly happen. But even then the Palestinians will head to the General Assembly and get enough votes to clinch that recognition. That will be an enormous victory for the Palestinian cause and it will change the dynamics of the conflict even if the General Assembly’s vote will not secure full membership.
Once the process kicks off we can expect a number of reactions and developments. We know that the US will veto the plan in the Security Council, but what is also important is the position of other permanent and nonpermanent members. The argument for not backing the Palestinian case is weak, damaging and hypocritical. To talk about the peace process as the only venue for a political breakthrough will only draw criticism and frustrations.
Recognition of Palestine does not undermine the two-state solution but actually cements it as the only possible scenario to end the occupation along the 1967 lines. It does not close the door on future negotiations nor does it give away legitimate rights and claims including the right of return. It does not contradict with previous UN resolutions or international law.
On the other hand it repatriates the conflict back to the UN allowing the Palestinians to argue their case, as an occupied nation, in front of different legal bodies and forums. It undercuts unilateral Israeli actions in the occupied areas, like building settlements, annexation of East Jerusalem, expropriation of water resources and many others.
Israel is right to fear the Palestinian move. For decades it had enjoyed US protection from international pressure and avoided accountability using the peace process as an excuse. Now it risks suffering isolation and reprimand and maybe even sanctions. But that should not be surprising. For years it had an opportunity to conclude a historical settlement. It wasted every chance. It callously humiliated the Palestinians and escalated its aggression on their land and possessions.
For the Americans the Palestinian initiative comes at a delicate time in the life of the region. Their veto will only create anger among Arabs and Muslims and underline Washington’s blind bias and double standards in relation to Israel’s occupation.
Submitting Palestine’s application will unleash a successive chain of events. But that will take time. The US will try to postpone an actual vote in the Security Council for weeks and maybe months. Going to the General Assembly will not happen soon. Meanwhile, the reality of living under Israeli occupation will not change much. Israel is expected to take punitive measures against Abbas and the Palestinian National Authority. But one would assume that the PNA itself will no longer be needed. Abbas should be ready with a Plan B once Israel begins to take hostile and vindictive actions.
Without the PNA hundreds of thousands of Palestinians associated with it will suffer. Its demise will create challenges and compound problems. It is here that the Arabs, and the international community, should step in to make sure that Palestinian suffering, as a result of terminating the flow of US aid, is avoided.
In the past weeks many US and Israeli pundits have ridiculed the notion of an independent Palestinian state, shooting holes into the concepts of its viability and sustainability. This is an affront to the struggle and sacrifices of millions of Palestinians over the past decades and in no way excuses years of Israeli occupation and criminal practices.
The Palestinians have taken hold of their future, regardless of what outcome awaits them. After many years of aimless negotiations with Israel and loss of most land to settlements, they are taking their cause to the international community. It is their right and the world should support them.
— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.