Dilemmas and Opportunities Facing the Palestinian People
The idea of the Palestinian leadership going to the United Nations in order to press for full recognition of Palestine as a state has run into many complexities. Sabeel would like to reiterate that after sixty years since the original conflict over Palestine, it is time for the international community to push for the liberation and independence of Palestine. One of the main obstacles in the way is not only the unjust policies of the Israeli government, but the inability of the administration of the United States of America to act in line with the demands of international law and on the basis of UN resolutions. We can expect that a country like Israel pursuing its own political interests, would disregard UN resolutions. What we find difficult to understand is why a country like the United States, as the major power in the world today, allows itself to protect and defend the very country that is flouting UN resolutions and eroding international law. Consequently, due to United States collaboration and collusion with Israel, we find ourselves at a deadly impasse and far from approaching the resolution of the conflict.
The situation on the ground is intolerable since it is clear that Israel with its unstoppable settlement policy and its ravenous appetite for devouring Palestinian land will not leave even a patch of land for the Palestinians to call home. What Israel does on a daily basis is being carried out in clear daylight before the eyes of the world while no country is able to stop the stark expanding injustice.
In the statement that Sabeel circulated on August 24, 2011, we tried to help our friends understand the pros and cons of going to the UN in September. In this paper, we would like to elaborate on some details and background information that could further clarify the situation.
For twenty years the Palestinians and the Israelis have been engaged in negotiations for the resolution of the conflict. Obviously this happened with the encouragement of the United States and the international community. When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles (DOP) in 1993, it was upon the understanding that within five years a comprehensive agreement will be reached ending with the establishment of a Palestinian independent state. This did not happen, and the negotiations have not yielded the desired results. They went into a vicious circle and became utterly futile.
More recently, the Palestinian Authority (PA) insisted that in order for the negotiations to achieve their goal, both sides must accept two basic and essential principles, namely, the terms of reference for the negotiations and a time frame. The PA insisted that the terms of reference must be the pertinent UN resolutions on the question of Palestine, and a set timetable. Israel did not only refuse to do that, it set seven pre-conditions:
- No right of return for Palestinian refugees.
- Jerusalem is not negotiable.
- No return to the 1967 borders.
- No stopping of settlement building.
- The recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
- Keeping the Israeli army along the Jordan Valley.
- A demilitarized Palestinian state.
The United States could not provide a solution to this deadlock. President Obama tried but failed to impress on Israel to halt settlement building while the negotiations went on. In fact, the Israeli government refused to comply, and President Obama embarrassingly, had to back down.
So it has become abundantly clear that Israel is doing everything possible to block the establishment of a Palestinian state, and is unilaterally creating a one-state reality.
Theoretically, this can point to one of two directions, either a racist, apartheid-like state which is already in the making, or a state with full democracy for all citizens that can possibly emerge.
Since we know where Israel stands on “democracy for all,” we believe that the movement is surely towards a racist state. At the same time we know that Israel does not want to rule or govern millions of Palestinians, so it is easy to conclude that Israel’s policy is to get rid of the Palestinians. Its strategy is becoming clearer by the day. It wants to drag, stall, and prevaricate in order to devour more and more Palestinian land. As it devours, it builds and expands the settlements and constructs its separation wall in order to include what it wants and to exclude what it “wishes” to leave for the Palestinians. When it completes its scheme, what is left of the West Bank will be less than 10% of historic Palestine, instead of the 22% which originally comprised the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. (And instead of over 45% that was allocated by the UN Partition Plan of 1947) The Palestinians would be confined to a small area that is not contiguous and viable but fragmented and impossible. As far as Israel is concerned if the Palestinians then want to call it a state, so be it.
Sabeel has always maintained that the ideal solution for the resolution of the conflict is the establishment of ONE civil democratic state for all the inhabitants of the area of mandated Palestine – Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. But for many reasons including pragmatic considerations, UN resolution for the two-state solution, and especially for the sake of peace and security for all, Sabeel has stood for and promoted the two-state solution which we consider the historic and generous offer of the Palestinians for a permanent peace. The Palestinian state, therefore, must include all the 1967 occupied lands with East Jerusalem as its capital, and no more compromises or concessions or swaps of land should be asked of the Palestinians.
Other options that could be considered are: a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel or a confederation or federation of states in the region.
The United Nations:
To get out of the present deadlock, the PA announced that it has no option except to turn to the UN as the world governance system, and seek the support of the international community of nations. Israel’s immediate response was to announce the building of thousands of new settlement units in the occupied territories. As usual the U.S administration and other western countries expressed their regret and opposition to the Israeli decision but failed to act against it. In the face of such a clear provocation, the U.S administration kept insisting on the resumption of the fruitless, endless, and ineffectual negotiations.
As we write this statement, the PA is determined to go to the UN on September 20, 2011 with an application for recognizing Palestine as a state with full membership in the international body. Such recognition will help the Palestinians to negotiate with the Israelis from a position of equal status as a recognized state.
According to the UN Charter, a state can obtain UN membership if both the Security Council and the General Assembly vote affirmatively in its favor. In September the Palestinians will submit their application for membership. The Palestinians realize that to go to the UN Security Council first is to be repulsed by a guaranteed United States veto; while to go to the General Assembly first where there is no veto, they stand a good chance to acquire the needed two thirds majority vote. It is important to note that there are 193 countries that make up the UN body. For Palestine to become a member, at least 129 countries must vote for it, of which 126 already recognize the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders.
It is important to remember that the conflict over Palestine started in the UN General Assembly in 1947 when it voted to partition the country into two states totally ignoring the will of the Palestinian majority and their right to self determination. The UN, therefore, is the right address; it created the problem and it has the responsibility to resolve it.
Protecting the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people
The “inalienable rights of the Palestinian people” is a matter of utmost importance that we need to flag. For Palestinians it is the most sensitive matter. There is a potential danger that the whole issue will turn into a trap that could jeopardize their legitimate rights. Therefore the questions that need to be posed are:
- Will the recognition of a Palestinian state under the present circumstances be the end of the road?
- Will such recognition lead to the establishment of a viable independent, sovereign state within the 1967 borders that can realize the inalienable rights of the Palestinians?
As we try to respond to those dilemmas we can envisage the following:
- To have a state that is non-contiguous and non-sovereign without the legal authority and jurisdiction over its land, will only amount to a non-state.
- Without strong allies, the Palestinians might be denied any further right to struggle for the liberation of their land, and will put a lid on our fate.
- The PLO was established as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people throughout the world; and it is important that the PLO continue in that role in order to protect the inalienable rights of all Palestinians.
The PA is hoping that the UN General Assembly will overwhelmingly vote to recognize the right of the Palestinians to independence and sovereignty over all the land that was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war – the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Palestine will become the 194th state within the United Nations. If that happens in September 2011, three threatening and crucially fearful questions would still need answers:
One: How will the UN enforce its decision to end the Israeli occupation so that full Palestinian sovereignty can be realized over all the liberated land?
Two: What happens to all the illegal Israeli settlements that fall within the Palestinian state?
Three: What happens to UN Resolution 194 regarding the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees?
Sabeel as a liberation theology movement working basically for justice, peace, and reconciliation prophetically offers the following suggestions:
1. If Israel refuses to comply with the UN decision, the UN can ask all member states to use the whole range of nonviolent methods of resistance including boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) to make it comply. It will take time, but it is a start. There are other options that the UN has at its disposal. If there is an international will to force the government of Israel to conform with and submit to the demands of the international community, it can be done. We have seen the UN in action when other countries have not complied with UN resolutions.
2. Whereas the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in and around Jerusalem are considered illegal according to international law, and thus illegitimate, then all the settlements become automatically an integral part of the Palestinian state. And whereas the Palestinians aspire for a civil democratic state irrespective of race, ethnicity, or religion, there will be no objection if some Jewish people choose to live in Palestine peacefully under Palestinian Jurisdiction.
- The government of Israel must recognize its responsibility for the displacement of the Palestinian refugees between 1947- 49. Israel has consistently refused to implement UN Resolution 194, on which basis it was allowed to become a member of the UN. The Right of Return is an international right, as well as an individual inalienable right. Once Israel accepts that this right applies to the Palestinians, then its implementation would be negotiated.
It is important to remember that the United States is not only unwilling to support the Palestinians in their decision to go to the UN, it is exerting great pressure to persuade them not to go. This is a real obstacle, especially when one remembers that President Obama himself mentioned the establishment of a Palestinian state in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2010. He said that the world can have an agreement that will lead to the creation of a new Palestinian state next year (that is, 2011). It seems also that the Europeans are not willing to take a strong and clear stand apart from the United States.
As we stand at this juncture confronted with these dilemmas and opportunities, it is difficult to predict whether going to the UN in September will be a great opportunity for the Palestinians to claim their rights, or whether Israel and the United States, because of their opposition and influence, can turn it into a trap. If it is turned into a trap, it could entail unforeseen disastrous consequences to all the people of the region and the prolongation of the occupation to every body’s misery.
If going to the UN is a right that must be claimed come what may, it will provide an opportunity to the international community to stand up for the rights of the Palestinians and put an end to the occupation and the ongoing injustice, suffering and dispossession.
However, we need to realize that such a step might demand renewed unity among our people, new elections, new leadership, and a new strategy that could bring about the establishment of a viable state in Palestine and at the same time achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and peace in the region.
Therefore, as we move to this new stage, we ask our friends to pray for us and to stand with us as we continue our struggle for justice, peace and liberation on the basis of United Nations resolutions and the demands of international law.
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
September 5, 2011