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A year after failing to win UN recognition as an independent state, the Palestinian Authority (PA), in a desperate, ill-calculated move, appealed to the UN to change its status from "non-member observer entity" to "non-member observer state". Despite claiming otherwise, the new recognition only attained a certain implicit degree of recognition of Palestine's statehood.
In an attempt to strengthen his position and regain his fictional political legitimacy, Palestinian president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas resorted to this move, which unfortunately resulted in more concessions from the PA and undermined the Palestinian claim to their land. The UN bid was the PA's desperate last effort to revive the dead two-state solution and obtain UN endorsement of the 1967 borders, which the PA thinks should serve as the basis for negotiations to resolve the conflict. By claiming a diminished Palestinian state, the PA has effectively given up over 80 per cent of Palestinian land, infringing upon the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees, and depriving 1.5 million Palestinians — who are citizens of Israel — of their historical and cultural claim to Palestinian land or identity. The full consequences of this resolution on complex issues, like the status of Jerusalem or the legality of Palestinian resistance thus far guaranteed under international law, are still unknown.
If Abbas and the PA were genuine about obtaining recognition for Palestine, then they should have approached the Security Council, which has the authority to recognise statehood. And if the PA was already willing to make concessions for free, then it would have been better off asking the UN to reinstate the 1947 Partition Plan, which would grant Palestinians at least 43 per cent of the historic Palestine.
Furthermore, if the international community is indeed supportive of the Palestinian cause, as the media's recent coverage of the bid implies, then what explains the inability of the PA to garner enough support in the Security Council to gain full UN membership back in 2011? When this UN resolution was initially contemplated, there were serious doubts about whether the Europeans would support it. However, this stance has changed following the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, growing European concerns over the Hamas's popularity, and the possibility of the creation of an Islamist Palestinian state in Gaza. The Europeans have realised the need to support Abbas and reinforce the role of the PA over the Hamas. That is why they tried to distance themselves from the opposing US and Israeli stand and largely endorsed the bid. Nevertheless, those who follow the Israeli-Palestinian issue closely would notice that nothing much has changed in the official international position. The US continues to support Israel and threatens to use the veto against any resolution undermining or criticising Israel. Those supportive of the Israeli position still adopt the official Israeli narrative and describe the Palestinian move as a unilateral act that aims to undermine the peace process. In reality, no one can force the Israelis to go back to the negotiation table unless they want to, not even the US.
One argument that supporters of this bid have been pushing forward is that the new status would enable the Palestinians to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) and level war crimes charges against Israel. However, Abbas was quick to reassure the Israelis that he had no immediate plans to take Israel to the ICC, and that he would rather resort to that option in the future in case of Israeli aggression. In this context, it is important to mention that this is the same PA that, upon the US's request, stalled and buried the Goldstone report on Israel's attack on Gaza in 2008 at the UN Human Rights Council. Besides, a quick review of all the past failed attempts to prosecute Israeli officials, and the fact that political leadership in some countries, like the UK, were willing to go as far as to change their own laws to guarantee the safety and immunity of Israeli officials, makes this ICC option unforeseen.
Although some hail the vote as historic, the UN General Assembly has passed one resolution after another affirming Palestinian rights over the past 65 years. However, none of these resolutions had teeth. In fact, Israel repeatedly ignores Security Council resolutions, not to mention those of the General Assembly, so why would this resolution be any different? No number of UN resolutions will force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land, or even go back to the talks table. Israel already declared it would build thousands of new Jewish houses in West Bank settlements on the Friday following the UN vote. In addition, Israel has halted the transfer of tax and tariff money it collects from the PA, perhaps following through on its threat to overthrow the Palestinian authority and punish it over the UN vote. Israel's angry response should not be taken as a sign of Palestinian triumph, but as part of Israel's continuous battle to influence international public opinion.
The writer is assistant professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey and the author of '"Israeli-Arab" Political Mobilization: Between Acquiescence, Participation, and Resistance'
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