Marwan Barghouti, a jailed Palestinian leader who was important to the “Second Intifada” or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, has called for “million-person marches” in support of the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations this September. Barghouti supported the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, but turned to violence against Israeli security forces when the Israelis reneged on their promises. He is serving 5 life terms for killings during the uprising. He now supports a two-state solution and a return to peaceful means. He is often thought likely eventually to be released by the Israelis and may become President of the Palestinian state; some compare him in this regard to Nelson Mandela. (Those who dismiss him would surely have to do the same to former Israeli PM Menachem Begin, by the way).
The protest movements sweeping the Arab world have so far little touched the Palestinians, though Palestinian refugee demonstrations near fences (erected by Israelis to ensure that those expelled in 1948 can never return to their ancestral homes) have taken place in Lebanon and Syria. Controversially, Israeli troops have fired across the border into Lebanon and Syria, killing and wounding protesters still on Lebanese and Syrian soil.
There have been some small Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank against the corruption of the Fateh-dominated Palestine Authority, but these were quickly broken up.
But Barghouti’s idea of combining the diplomatic push at the UN with public demonstrations could well catch fire. Israeli officials of the far right-wing Likud government discouraged the idea, just as they oppose the push for UN membership on the part of the Palestinians, saying it risks causing violence. This response is sheer propaganda, since it is peaceful protests that are being called for and the deaths at the protest in Lebanon, e.g., came at the hands of trigger-happy Israeli soldiers.
Having Palestine recognized as a state in which Palestinians have citizenship is important, and is probably a prerequisite of any real peace process. Most Palestinians outside Jordan at the moment are stateless. They lack citizenship in any state that can protect their rights. This condition of lacking so much as a passport, or the right surely to own property (what they have can be taken from them at will at any time by Israeli settlers) robs them of any real legal standing. Imagine if you did not belong to a state, had no citizenship. What if you wanted to travel? Other countries don’t have agreements with your country and might not let you in (they might be afraid you’ll illegally immigrate since you lack citizenship). What if someone commits a legal tort against you. Which court will you go to? A foreign court, to press a charge against that country’s national? Without citizenship, you’d be permanently screwed. Which is what the Palestinians are.
The Israelis have treaty obligations to the Palestinians as a result of the Oslo process, but have reneged on virtually all of them and have not only not returned control of the West Bank to the Palestinians but have settled hundreds of thousands of Israelis on Palestinian land since 1993. The Likud government continues aggressively to steal Palestinian territory, which has led even the most compliant Palestinian leaders, such as Mahmoud Abbas, to refuse to bestow a fig leaf of a “peace process” on this sham and massive theft of resources from one people by another. (Israel has never been awarded the West Bank by the UNSC or any other recognized international body, and is only the occupying power there. Israel is a signatory to the UN charter, which forbids member states from usurping territory from neighbors by force. The Israelis therefore do not now and have never had any legal claim on the West Bank in the terms of contemporary international law. They continue to occupy 4 million stateless Palestinians, some of them refugees whose families were chased out of what is now Israel and who have never received a dime in compensation.)
By being recognized as a member of the UN by most UNGA members, Palestine will gain some needed legal standing to oppose settlers’ theft. They may even gain standing in some countries to sue settler companies with accounts abroad. They will be in a better position to pursue international sanctions and boycotts on Israeli squatters.
It seems a little unlikely at this point that a two state solution is any longer plausible, and the benefits of a majority UNGA vote for Palestine won’t include a real state. In my view it is more about giving the Palestinians standing, as they wend their way to some dignified, humane status other than their current degradation at the hands of strangers in their own land.
It now seems certain that the vast majority of UN General Assembly members will vote to give Palestine membership in the United Nations. (Some observers confuse this move with seeking statehood; the Palestine Authority is already technically an embryonic state (though lacking in the abilities of a state); what is at stake is whether it is a UN member, implying that other UN members should accord it full diplomatic status.)
The Palestinians have doggedly and cannily worked the diplomatic circuit in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as the more hospitable countries in Europe. The Israeli Right, by launching the Lebanon and Gaza Wars and by assiduously settling the West Bank, made that country look like a bully to most of the world, and so did yeoman service to the Palestinian cause. The Netanyahu government now hopes that, of 30 countries it considers advanced democracies, it can convince a majority of them, at least, to decline to vote for Palestine’s admission to the UN.
But it is difficult to see the Likud’s logic here. The Palestinians win a moral (and possibly legal) victory if a majority at the UNGA welcome them to the organization (even though the US will veto the final step in this process). If Brazil, India and China assent, then that will account for much of the world. Moreover, some heavy hitters in Europe will certainly vote for. Spain now says it will vote for Palestine’s admission to the UN. Norway is a shoo-in. Even the stance of the UK is not entirely clear. The Irish Times notes, “Ireland is among European countries sympathetic to the application, with others including Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and the UK.”
Using mass rallies of the Arab Spring sort to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the stateless Palestinians just before the UNGA vote could increase this tally.
But Barghouti may not be thinking far ahead enough. A true Arab Spring of the Tunisian and Egyptian sort does not only have implications for the Israeli occupation. It might well overturn the corrupt and authoritarian current Palestinian leadership, whether the fundamentalist Hamas or the secular nationalist Fateh. Palestinians have not been well served by their own leaders, who have been too little interested in democracy and peaceful protest. Million-person marches may be double-edged swords.
The USG Open Source Center paraphrases an article on Fateh stalwart Nabil Shaath’s thoughts on the Palestinian search for UN membership:
Fatah’s Sha’th Speaks About ‘Fierce Battle” on Recognition of Palestinian State
Al-Ayyam (Electronic Edition)
Wednesday, July 20, 2011…
Document Type: OSC Summary…
On 19 July, Ramallah Al-Ayyam in Arabic — privately owned, pro-Fatah daily — publishes a report carrying exclusive statements made by Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Sha’th. Speaking to Al-Ayyam, Sha’th has said: “The Palestinian side is facing a fierce battle with the Israelis and the Americans regarding the issue of the recognition of the Palestinian state.” Sha’th added: “We should not only depend on the achievement we have made. There is a good diplomatic move, but Israel is moving against us.”
According to the newspaper, “Sha’th, who has concluded a tour to Armenia, Ukraine, Russia, Greece, Germany, Britain, and Ireland, added: Israel is taking the battle in all seriousness. To Israel, if it gains the battle, this means the halt of the recognition of the Palestinian state.”
The newspaper adds that Sha’th also pointed out that “Israel’s membership in the United Nations has been based on two conditions which have not been implemented yet.” Sha’th also said: “We can go to the International Court of Justice, demanding that Israel’s membership be invalidated, if Israel does not implement both conditions. These conditions are about the implementation of the partition resolution that gives us 44 percents of the land of Palestine, and the implementation of the 194 resolution regarding the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland. Therefore, the United States may use veto at the UN Security Council.”
According to the newspaper, Sha’th also stressed that the Palestinians will continue its diplomatic move “which should be a popular move on the ground and an international move, on top of which is obtaining the world recognition of an independent Palestinian state, and seeking to achieve full membership at the United Nations.” Sha’th added: “The only worry is that some people abroad, as well as some people inside the Palestinian territories, as it seems, still think that our turning to the United Nations is not sure. They also think that we may retract our move at any time, and the Americans may pressure us.” Sha’th also stressed to the Palestinian people and all Palestinian communities throughout the world that the Palestinian side is “serious” about this diplomatic move, which is “not a tactical” move.
Sha’th also updated Al-Ayyam on his recent tour to the European countries.
Regarding the Quartet meeting held in Washington, Sha’th said: “The paper that the United States presented to the Quartet committee, and which has been foiled by Russia and the EU, says: No return to the 1967 borders. The paper adds that the negotiations should take into account the settlements which have been constructed since 1967 and until-now, and Israel’s defensive needs. The paper also says that the issues of Jerusalem and refugees will be delayed indefinitely, Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state, and we should recognize that the Israeli Army is the only army that can defend Israel’s security. This means that at any time after the establishment of the Palestinian state, the Israelis will have the right to enter our country in order to defend themselves, and when reaching any agreement, withdrawal will only take place gradually based on Israel’s approval of our security preparedness. Moreover, this US paper has not mentioned the settlements or the halt of these settlements given that the settlements are the main problem.”
In short, Sha’th reiterated the Palestinian stance that refuses to recognize the Jewish nature of Israel.