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A Palestinian State…In New York

Statehood was granted to Abu Mazen, but what exactly is his state? 

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Mahmoud Abbas’ successful upgrade to Vatican-status in the UN should be seen as a Palestinian victory, in diplomatic terms. Cynics who predicted that Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense” was a ploy to highlight the fact that rockets seem to freely launch over walls, thus highlighting Palestinian anathema towards a peaceful coexistence with Israel and thus preventing a UN affirmation of Palestine’s statehood bid were proven wrong. The overwhelming majority of “yes” votes in the UNGA would seem to be an international mandate for rule for Mahmoud Abbas, in the same way that the overwhelming “yes” vote for the partition of the Holy Land seemed to be an international mandate for David Ben-Gurion 65 years ago. November 29, 2012 will be remembered as an historic day for the Palestinian national identity, and rightly so. The international community has taken its most meaningful step towards the creation of a Palestinian state since the dissolution of British Palestine.

This will, in functional terms, accomplish very little in terms of moving towards a viable Palestinian nation-state on two levels. First, Mahmoud Abbas long-sought-after victory at the UNGA is overshadowed by the lack of faith he has from the Palestinian people. At a victory speech in Ramallah, Abbas promised to restore the “unity of the Palestinians and their lands and institutions.” This promise, of course, comes on the heels of Israel’s assault of the Gaza Strip, through which a ceasefire was negotiated between Israel and Hamas, the Islamists who run Gaza, in Cairo – notably without representatives of Fatah at the table. Elliot Abrams notes that Fatah has been in a steady decline since the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, with Hamas being the more popular, and more powerful, of the Palestinian political entities. After all, it was Hamas’ (and Islamic Jihad’s) continued belligerence that sparked the most significant military exchange between Israel and the Palestinians in four years, and it was Hamas who brokered a ceasefire, in which Israel was forced to give significant concessions. All the while, Mahmoud Abbas was readying for his speech to the UN.

More importantly, it is clear that Israel neither takes Abbas seriously nor sees him as a legitimate broker of a comprehensive peace agreement. Talks broke down as recently as 2010 between Israel and Fatah, largely because of Abbas’ inability to cope (this is not a normative assessment of Israel’s settlement policy; this is a criticism of Abbas’ ability to operate politically from the lesser side of a power dynamic) with Israeli intransigence over settlement construction in the West Bank. Israel does not have this problem with Hamas in Gaza, where they have not had settlements since 2006. Israel also greeted the Abbas successful non-member observer statehood bid with plans to build 3,000 new housing units in strategically important territory in the West Bank, which would significantly obstruct Abbas’ vision of a geographically united West Bank, let alone a geographically united Palestine. For better or for worse, and Israel’s new settlement plans have been roundly criticized even by states historically friendly to the Jewish State, this indicates that Israel simply does not accept Abbas’ political will as a political reality. While Fatah should not follow Hamas’ lead and start lobbing Fajr-5’s into Old Jerusalem in order to indicate to Bibi Netanyahu that they are a force to be reckoned with, a near-absolute majority in the UNGA clearly sends a weaker message. Israel recognizes not only that Hamas poses a threat to Israeli citizens in the south, but also that they have a legitimate mandate from the Palestinian people, and that Abbas and Fatah do not.

I have written and published in the past that I believe that de jure partition – partition resulting in the creation of separate states – is the only method in which prolonged, ethnic civil wars can result in lasting peace between the rival populations, and that this is the only solution for peace in the Holy Land. I believe this continues to be the case, although with some doubts as to what this partition might look like. Substantive efforts at peace between Israelis and Palestinians (UNSCOP, Oslo, Camp David) have all pushed for a two-state solution, albeit with slightly different terms. Mahmoud Abbas’ victory at the UN would seem to be a further step in this direction, but is just another episode in the saga of failed peace talks. While international recognition of a Palestinian state is, again, something to be celebrated, the truth of the matter is that none of the central players in this drama, the United States, Bibi and his Likudniks, and the Palestinian populace, gave their vote to Abu Mazen on November 29. Increasingly, at two-state solution seems farther and farther away. Functionally, at least, three sovereign nations west of the Jordan River seem more likely than two.

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Photo Credit:  Neubie

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