Over the past month or so, several well-intentioned friends and family members from Australia and elsewhere have sent me links to online petitions from activist organisations, urging the UN member states "to endorse the legitimate bid for recognition of the state of Palestine". The thing is, most of the tuned-in, politically active Palestinians I know, are opposed to this bid.
Why? Well, it largely comes down to one hugely important detail to do with political representation. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) is currently a permanent observer in the United Nations, a status which has not been granted to any other liberation organisation. This is a permanent seat inside the UN which ensures representation of all its people, regardless of where they are living. Now when you consider that 70 per cent of Palestinians are refugees, this last point is extremely important.
What I’ve learned from the number of seminars and public lectures I’ve been to in Bethlehem over the past fortnight is that a "state" can only represent its immediate dependents. If the bid is passed, and the Palestinian Authority replaces the PLO in the UN context, what will happen when this new Palestinian state claims the rights of refugees living in Jordan or Lebanon, for example?
Add to the mix the fact that there is currently no precedent for this type of move whereby a liberation organisation has attempted to be recognised as a state inside the UN while not being remotely autonomous, and you’ve got yourself one helluva question mark. A big, fat ambiguous question mark which could ultimately rule out any true prospect for peace.
At this point, it’s important for us to be clear about what UN admission would actually mean because it certainly does not equate to a right to statehood. Rather, this upgrading inside the UN would allow the Palestinian representative to claim additional rights within the UN system and perhaps as a result of that change in member status, enable "The State" to access more effective legal mechanisms, including the International Criminal Justice system. Maybe.
If you’ve read or watched any media recently on the topic, you could be forgiven for thinking that this September initiative was actually going to result in real, positive change for the people of Palestine; that the Israeli soldiers stationed at checkpoints inside this new state would suddenly disappear, that Israel’s "security fence", also known as the "apartheid wall", which continues to be built on Palestinian land (no where near the 1967 borders stipulated by this new state) would begin to be dismantled, that the Israeli settlements which have not stopped sprouting up everywhere (especially on prime, agricultural Palestinian land and often nearby hugely valuable and remarkably rare water reservoirs) would simply fade away into the horizon, along with the illegal Israeli settlers. Sadly, this is not the case.
Some human rights organisations hope that this upgrade of Palestinian representation in the UN system will strengthen Palestine’s influence over the international community’s willingness to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories and its continuous violations of international law. But, as a Palestinian friend of mine said the other night, "we don’t have too delve very deep into analysis to discover that over the past 63 years, the international community has done very little to resolve, or indeed, help the Palestinian case".
Would this change of status within the UN system really be all it takes, after all this time, to finally change the direction of the international community? Is it really worth jeopardising the unique and internationally recognised representational role and capacities of the PLO?
Personally, I doubt it.