By Georgina Reeves
The internet is awash with opinions about the looming Palestinian Authority bid for statehood at the United Nations in a few weeks. There are some interesting and well-argued articles supporting both the pro- and anti-statehood position. Most recently, legal opinions from Guy Goodwin-Gill and Dr Francis Boyle have been brought in to the mix, and has further muddied an already complex and emotive subject. There are also many articles that obfuscate some of the core issues that face Palestinians regarding the subject of statehood. And let us not forget, this is an issue for Palestinians. It is for them to determine the path they need to choose tread in their struggle for self-determination.
Commentary to date has focused on the declaration of statehood: what it means to whom, why it is or isn’t a good thing, the impact on Israel, the rights of Palestinians who do not live in the occupied territories and so on. But what happens on September 24th, the day after the vote? While it may seem logical to assume the vote will fail—the US has declared it will veto the attempt—what if it does succeed? After all, the energy that the PA appears to be putting behind the campaign, one would hope that they believe they can and will succeed, even though they know the odds are against it. Shouldn’t a diplomatic effort such as this be underpinned by the fundamental belief that it shall succeed, and therefore all efforts should be made in readiness for this success?
So, the 24th dawns and a new country is formally welcomed in to the United Nations. ‘Welcome to Palestine’, a refrain I’ve heard so often and with such passion and belief. But what exactly will the Palestinian Authority do? And I mean ‘do’ in the most active sense. Have Abbas and his coterie actually sat down to discuss, formulate and draw up specific and tangible plans to enable the newly created state of Palestine to function as a state on September 24th, with all that entails? There’s a myriad considerations that any authority hoping to govern needs to think about very seriously.
Let’s consider, for example, border controls. While Israel doesn’t have defined borders that it acknowledges, the rest of the world does accept that the 1947 armistice line demarcates where Israel finishes and the occupied territories of Palestine begin. A border agency must be established to enforce immigration and customs regulations as well as developing the legal framework to determine regulations. Palestinian officials will need to instigate discussions and formulate agreements with Jordan, Egypt and Israel to implement these border regulations. A system for visitor, work and diplomatic visas will need to be set up. Physical and administrative systems for the import and export of all goods must be established. These can’t be developed overnight, nor can they be established without meticulously detailed planning.
And how about citizens? Someone needs to tell the 500,000 plus Jewish residents living in illegally-constructed colonies in Palestine what their status is. And the refugees, and the diaspora. People tend to like to know where they stand. Has the PA got a plan ready to enact the moment that Palestine is accepted as the 194th country? (And there is certainly some irony in the fact that Palestine would become the 194th country after all the efforts to ignore United Nations resolution 194.) In East Jerusalem, will foreign missions convert their consulates into embassies? Has someone been in touch with them to let them know that their diplomatic status is due to be upgraded shortly, vote permitting? And talking of votes, local, national and presidential elections need to be held as soon as possible. All Palestinian Authority diplomatic missions around the world should already be registering Palestinians living overseas, in readiness to embrace them as part of the nation of Palestine. A legal framework needs to be developed to ensure the rights of every Palestinian are upheld and protected.
Nation-building is not some vague exercise that can be achieved through rhetoric and a whirl of diplomatic visits. Running a state confers a huge amount of responsibility on the authority concerned. Being a nation is more than writing some rules, employing some people, establishing some departments, creating some bureaucracy. It’s about the relationship between the authority and its people: the respect and the trust, the belief and the partnership.
Or, does Abbas believe that this is just another ploy, another move in the political game of brinkmanship that has yielded nothing for Palestinians and everything for Israelis? It is interesting timing, calling on the United Nations now for such recognition. While Barack Obama may not have achieved anything visible thus far for Palestinians, the language from the White House has certainly shifted somewhat in relation to Israel’s behaviour towards Palestinians. Illegal settlement activity has finally been condemned by this administration, although it is also quick to back that slap on the wrist up by reinforcing the notion of its unbreakable bond with Israel.
Is Abbas really going to press ahead and alienate a US president up for re-election? Forcing Obama to choose between Israel and Palestine when his second term is looking far from achievable is not a clever move and the outcome is certain: the US administration will always support Israel over Palestine. It is plausible that a backroom deal is done and the declaration is called off at the last minute, which would save face for many. But then, as usual, ordinary Palestinians are the losers. Abandoned yet again by their leadership, and continually used as political pawns by Arab nations and the wider international community, it is hard to imagine Abbas going through with it. But then again, perhaps this time he has gone too far?
September 24th will come and go, and regardless of what happens at the UN in New York, nothing will likely change for the millions of Palestinians living under occupation, living in squalid poverty in camps in the Middle East, and living in exile throughout the world. If nothing else, September 24th should unite Palestinians—no matter who or where they are—in calling for the establishment of a new organisation, elected by the people, to represent their hopes and aspirations. Let the farce surrounding the UN vote usher in a new and more promising era for Palestinian self-determination.
– Georgina Reeves splits her time between London and Bethlehem, and is a co-founding trustee of Ahdaf, a British charity supporting Palestinian students.