Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 26 September 2011
Palestinians win moral victory at UN
The Palestinian quest for statehood won a moral and political victory
last week at the United Nations. The road to formal statehood at the
UN and actual statehood on the ground will continue to be steeply uphill.
It has been a dramatic week in the arena of diplomatic politics. The
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had his day at the United Nations,
striking a blow for Palestine
to be recognised as a state.
"I don't believe anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our
application for full admission in the United Nations," he said
at the General Assembly as he waved a copy of the letter of application
for statehood he had presented to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
"The time has come."
He won standing ovations as well as a moral victory. But actual
statehood through the UN is less certain.
Within an hour, the Israeli Prime Minister made a strong attack on Abbas
and his action, arguing Israel's
case against the Palestinian bid, stressed Israel's security fears, and pleaded
with Abbas meet with him immediately in the UN building to negotiate
His speech won a spattering of applause, compared to the bouts of lengthy
and loud applause for Abbas, clearly showing where the sympathies of
the majority of the UN members lie.
But the next steps will be uphill for the Palestinians. Their
application has already been given to the Security Council, which has
the power to decide whether statehood is accepted or rejected.
The Council is expected to start meeting on this issue early this week,
but it may be weeks before a decision is made.
The United States
is backing Israel
and has made clear it will veto the application if necessary. Such
a veto will not only make the US lose further credibility in the Arab
world but also spark outrage from the Arab streets, as it would expose
the superpower as being extremely biased instead of an honest broker.
The US is thus working overtime to persuade
the other Council members not to vote for the Palestinians, so that
it won't have to use its veto and stick out like a sore thumb. Nine
votes are needed out of 15 for the Palestinian application to succeed.
The Quartet – comprising the US, European
and the UN – met on the same day (23 September) when Abbas addressed
the General Assembly, and issued a statement calling for both sides
to meet as soon as possible. It also gave a time table, with
a target to reach a peace deal within a year.
The Quartet's move was seen by some to be an alternative to the Palestinian's
UN route to statehood. But Abbas, on a plane home to Ramallah,
gave the impression to reporters that he wasn't impressed at all by
the Quartet move, which is too little, too late.
The road of bilateral talks with Israel,
with the US
government acting as mediator, has failed to bring a peace deal for
the last two decades. Instead, Israel
has greatly expanded its settlements in the occupied territories including
East Jerusalem. Its extremely brutal bombing of Gaza a few years ago killed
and injured thousands and turned Palestinian homes and buildings to
rubble and shocked and outraged the world.
The Israeli aggression and settlement building in the midst of supposedly
peace talks discredited Abbas and his administration, especially after
the leakage by Al Jazeera and the Guardian of details of some of their
negotiating positions, which some felt were capitulating to the Israelis.
Meanwhile hopes that US President Obama would be an honest broker after
his initially stiff behaviour towards Israeli PM Netanyahu (and his
proclamation that the settlements building must halt, and that a peace
deal should be based on the pre 1967 borders) faded fast as the Israeli
PM and lobbies succeeded in turning his position around.
So much so that Obama's speech at the UN last week was described as
pathetic by veteran analyst Robert Fisk. The Palestinian leader Hanan
Ashrawi could not believe what she heard from Obama. "It
sounded like the Palestinians were occupying Israel.
There wasn't one word of empathy for Palestinians. He spoke
only of the Israelis' troubles."
Just as bad, the US
President scolded the Palestinians for demanding statehood from the
So the chances that the Palestinian application will succeed at the
Security Council is probably nil. But the tide of public opinion
and of wider diplomacy has turned and will continue to strengthen for
the Palestinian cause.
Eventually, if the Palestinians cannot garner enough votes or the US exercises
its veto at the Security Council, the Palestinians can still go
to the General Assembly and win a vote
to upgrade its status from an observer entity
to an observer state. This will indirectly win them recognition
The plight of the Palestinians is indeed pitiful
and tragic, and their efforts deserve strong support. Even though
only a moral and political victory may come out of this, it may provide
them more hope and more ways to continue their struggle.
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