Ceding ground

The latest UN bid could end up undermining Palestinian claims to land

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.

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