False ‘Victories’: Is the PA Using the ‘State of Palestine’ to Remain in Power?

Mahmoud Abbas heads a meeting of the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah. (Photo: via Wafa, file)

By Ramzy Baroud

The ‘State of Palestine’ has officially been handed the Chairmanship of the G-77, the United Nations largest block. This is particularly significant considering the relentless Israeli-American plotting to torpedo Palestinian push for greater international recognition and legitimacy.

It is now conclusive that the main mission for former United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was an unmitigated failure.

When Haley gave her infamous speech before the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, in March 2017 – declaring herself the ‘new sheriff in town’ on behalf of Israel – the US-Israeli designs were becoming clearer: never again will the US shy away from defending Israel at the UN as the previous Obama Administration had done in December 2016.

In retrospect, Haley’s tactics – the aggressive language, the constant threats, and outright political bullying – amounted to nothing. Her short stint of two years at the UN has only managed to, once again, accentuate the US dwindling power and influence on the international stage.

Instead of isolating Palestinians, the US ended up joining Israel in its isolation. Unable to make any tangible ‘achievements’ in favor of Israel, a frustrated US administration carried out its threats as it quit crucial UN bodies like UNESCOHuman Rights Council, among others. In doing so, the US is now imprudently dismantling the very international order it helped create following World War II.

The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, has taken full advantage of the apparent shift in the world order. Being voted to the helm of the G77 – which bonds 134 countries from the South in a massive economic order – is an extraordinary event.

But what does this mean in terms of the Palestinian quest for statehood?

The PA seems to operate within two separate – and often contradictory – political spheres.

On the one hand, it is in full cooperation with Israel regarding ‘security coordination‘, at times serving as if Israel’s policeman in the Occupied West Bank. Its constant crackdown on Palestinian dissent and its monopolization of Palestinian decision-making have been significant obstacles before the Palestinian people in their fight for rights, justice, and freedom.

On the other hand, the PA has been pursuing a determined path towards international recognition, starting with its successful bid to obtain a non-member observer status for the State of Palestine in November 2012.

That momentous event, which took place despite US-Israeli strong rejection and protests, opened up the door for Palestine to join various UN organizations such as the International Criminal Court.

Palestine is yet to acquire full UN membership, a pursuit that is being renewed at the moment. However, as of August 2015, the flag of Palestine has been fluttering at the UN headquarters, along with those of 193 other nations.

So how is one to reconcile between these two realities?

The international support that Palestine is receiving at the UN is an outcome of existing solidarity and sympathy with the Palestinian people and their rightful struggle for human rights and independence. It has preceded the PA by decades and will be there for many years to come.

The PA, however, has tactfully translated this international support and validation to political assets among Palestinians at home.

Indeed, much of the support that the PA and its dominant Fatah party continue to enjoy among ordinary Palestinians are driven by the following logic: every symbolic diplomatic ‘victory’ achieved by the PA abroad is followed by massive celebrations in Ramallah, fiery speeches of imminent freedom and statehood.

But freedom, of course, remains elusive, partly because the PA is yet to develop a real strategy for resisting Israeli military Occupation and colonization. Its determination and vigor to acquire more international recognition are juxtaposed with utter laxity and disinterest in developing a unified national strategy in Palestine itself.

This points to an unmistakable conclusion: The PA’s strategy is merely focused on the very survival of the PA as a political apparatus, and on ‘Palestinian independence’ within an immaterial diplomatic sphere, without any tangible evidence of that ‘independence’ on the ground.

How else can one explain the fierce fight, in the name of Palestine and those suffering in Gaza, put up by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Ambassador, Riad al-Maliki at the UN, while the PA continues to withhold salaries from besieged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip?

The sad truth is that the fight for Palestinian recognition at the UN is, at its core, a battle for Abbas and his Authority to remain relevant, and solvent, in a changing international political order.

Meanwhile, for Palestinians, Abbas’ diplomatic achievements represent the proverbial morphine shots injected in the collective vein of an occupied and suffering people, desperate for a ray of hope.

According to the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, poverty in the Gaza Strip has exceeded 80 percent, coupled with a 54.9% level of unemployment. The West Bank, too, is suffering, with the Israeli army and violent illegal Jewish settlers terrorizing the Palestinian population there. Thousands of Palestinian men and women languish in Israeli jails, hundreds of them held without trial.

Not only has the PA done little to challenge – or, at least, attempt to reverse – that reality, it has, at times contributed to it. Oddly, the PA’s pitiful political discourse in Palestine is contrasted with a well-defined, articulate and purportedly courageous language outside.

“We will go to the Security Council for submitting our application,” to obtain full Palestinian membership at the UN, Palestinian Ambassador, al-Maliki, told reporters on January 15. “We know that we are going to face a US veto, but this won’t prevent us from presenting our application”.

This is the crux of the PA strategy at the moment. Knowing that it has little legitimacy among ordinary Palestinians, the PA is desperate to find an alternative source of legitimacy somewhere else.

While greater support for the ‘State of Palestine’ is a positive sign indicating a changing world order, it is, sadly, used by the Palestinian leadership to sustain its own oppressive, futile and corrupt political gambit.

– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

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