August 2011        


Palestine’s bid for statehood: Path to liberation or disempowering distraction?

■ This article is a contribution to the discussion taking place among much of the Irish left and social-democratic press. It represents the opinion of the author only, and Socialist Voice welcomes comments and criticism as part of the debate among Palestine solidarity activists.

This September the Palestine Liberation Organisation will go to the United Nations in an attempt to have a “State of Palestine” recognised within the pre-1967 “green line” borders with Israel, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
     On the surface, this may look like a solid idea. The PLO leadership (dominated by Fatah) argues that UN recognition would strengthen the hand of the Palestinians in “peace negotiations” and that it would shift the occupation paradigm, in that Israel would be occupying a UN member-state. It is also said that this would only be “a start.” And indeed the plan would seem to have the support of a majority of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories—65 per cent according to a recent opinion poll, though this did not include Palestinian citizens of Israel or refugees in the Diaspora.
     However, dig a little deeper and the problems with this approach become clearer. First and foremost, this would effectively set in stone the “two-state” solution as the ultimate aspiration of the Palestinian liberation struggle. However, the reality is that this is a paradigm that Israeli colonisation has rendered null and void. To think that Israel will relocate the half-million illegal settlers is to believe the stuff of fantasy. Such an acceptance and concretisation of the two-state paradigm would also represent an abandonment of the 2½ million Palestinian citizens of Israel and leave more than 4 million refugees in limbo.
     The arguments about creating a stronger negotiating position or forcing the hand of the United Nations also display an incredible naïveté. Israel is not interested in achieving peace through talks: they serve only as a cover for the apartheid state as it continues to colonise more land. History shows that it has ever been thus. As for the United Nations, tangible action has never been taken in defence of the rights of occupied peoples, unless it has served the imperial interests of the UN’s most powerful member-states. Indeed anti-imperialism is a concept the PLO leadership seem to have jettisoned completely in recent decades.
     Aside from these arguments, changing the name or status of the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 will not change the occupation and the apartheid system enforced there. Indeed under international law Israel is already recognised as an occupying power in these territories, but it does not fulfil its obligations as such: instead it flouts them and carries out widespread human rights abuses and frequent military assaults on the civilian population. What has the UN done to stop this in four decades? The answer, of course, is nothing. So why expect a different outcome if Palestine becomes a “state”?
     The statehood bid also represents a danger to the grass roots of the Palestinian national liberation movement. There is a very real possibility that this could become an Oslo mark 2, in that it could see the shifting of the focus of struggle away from ordinary people and down the path of “international diplomacy” and legalism. Such a turn would undermine the work of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, which represents a very real “strategic threat” to Israeli apartheid. BDS has been so effective that the Israeli government has been forced to criminalise Israelis who promote it as a method of non-violent resistance to occupation, apartheid, and colonialism.
     To reorient the Palestinian national liberation movement away from grass-roots activism and back down the road of elitist diplomacy would be a disaster, just as Oslo was before it. It is interesting that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has called for “Arab Spring” type mobilisations in support of the statehood bid. What a pity the PA does not instead use its influence and resources to call for and organise a campaign of mass civil disobedience throughout historic Palestine. As the respected Palestinian commentator Ali Abunimah has pointed out, “today Palestinians form at least half the population in historic Palestine-Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. If they rose up collectively to demand equal rights, what could Israel do to stop them?”
     Of course it remains an open question whether the statehood bid will ultimately make it to a vote at the UN, never mind see the creation of a state of Palestine recognised by the UN. However, if it fails it is likely that this will be the death knell of the two-state solution, and this can only be a positive development.
     On the other hand, if it passes and Palestine becomes the 193rd UN member-state, solidarity activists should not be distracted from the real tasks of the movement. As the Palestinian Boycott National Committee pointed out, “recognition of Palestinian statehood is clearly insufficient, on its own, in bringing about a real end to Israel’s occupation and colonial rule. Neither will it end Israel’s decades-old system of legalized racial discrimination, which fits the UN definition of apartheid, or allow the millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes of origin from which they were violently uprooted and exiled.
     “Diplomatic recognition must result in protection of the inalienable right to self-determination of the entire Palestinian people represented by a democratized and inclusive PLO that represents not just Palestinians under occupation, but also the exiled refugees, the majority of the Palestinian people, as well as the discriminated citizens of Israel. For it to go beyond symbolism, this recognition must be a prelude to effective and sustained sanctions against Israel aimed at bringing about its full compliance with its obligations under international law.
     “As shown in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, as well as in the current struggles for freedom and justice in the Arab region, world governments do not turn against a patently illegal and immoral regime of oppression simply on ethical grounds; economic interests and hegemonic power dynamics are far weightier in their considerations.”


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