Has no one been listening?

The feigned surprise at the Palestinians’ move to seek UN recognition in September – and to finally take responsibility for their situation – is absurd.

May 23, 2011 23:45
4 minute read.

NATALIA SIMANOVSKY 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Last week, The New York Times published an op-ed written by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In the article, Abbas made the case for why the 192 UN member states should recognize Palestinian statehood at the upcoming General Assembly meeting in September. Not surprisingly, his plea triggered an immediate response from the Israeli political establishment, specifically Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

According to Netanyahu, Abbas’s op-ed “grossly distorted documented history” by neglecting to mention the Palestinians’ failure to accept two states at the time of the 1947 Partition Plan. Moreover, Abbas refused to acknowledge that following David Ben-Gurion’s proclamation of Israel’s independence in 1948, five Arab armies invaded the nascent state for the sole purpose of crushing it in its entirety.

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This most recent exchange of heated words between the two leaders has serious implications, especially as we move closer to September, when we will be faced with a new reality that could change the nature of the conflict forever. It is imperative, therefore, that we take a look at what September really means for both sides, and why Abbas and the Palestinians are pursing the state-building plan with tireless vigor.

The motive behind the state-building plan officially launched by the “darling of the West,” Dr. Salam Fayyad, in August 2009 is the creation of a state of Palestine for Palestinians; it is not about the continuation of the conflict with Israel. In other words, it is not so much about Israel as it is about the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and their readiness for national statehood and sovereignty. It is about Palestinians taking overdue responsibility for their own condition, and no longer playing the role of stateless victims. It is about challenging Israeli excuses of why Palestinians are not ready for their own state, which were completely legitimate in the past but have become much less so today.

IN FACT, those excuses have become obsolete. Since August 2009, the Fayyad government has been successfully building a transparent, accountable government, reforming the security sector, strengthening the economy and, most importantly, preparing its people – who have been quietly undergoing a major shift in their promotion of nonviolence as legitimate resistance – for statehood. The strides have been so remarkable that the PA has fulfilled all the necessary requirements for statehood according to both the Montevideo Convention and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Unbeknownst to the general Israeli public is that for the past few years, the Palestinian government and civil society have been building a state from the ground up, so that when the occupation ends, the transition to two states will be peaceful and sustainable.

So what will happen in September? Will it be the beginning of the end as some predict, or will it open a new chapter in the decades-old conflict that will ultimately lead to peace? No one really knows.

What is certain, however, is that no state or international forum can force Israel to change the status quo. The way to an independent, sovereign Palestinian state is through political accommodation, and the Fayyad government knows this. This is why both Fayyad and Abbas have not only remained committed to negotiations (contrary to popular opinion), but have gone to great lengths to show that the state-building initiative is part of the political process, not in lieu of it.

Moreover, UN recognition of a Palestinian state is not an end in itself. In fact, going to the UN is but one of many diplomatic moves that we will see the PA pursue.

What Israelis must understand – and the sooner the better – is that the motive behind these maneuvers is to place pressure on Israel to end the occupation. It is really as simple as that. Just listen to what every senior PA figure, including Abbas and Fayyad, have been saying for the past two years – that the state-building enterprise, which includes going to the UN this autumn, is part of their effort to place international pressure on Israel to end the occupation.

When the UN recognizes Palestine based on 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital, will Israel cede one inch of territory, or give the Palestinians the 60 percent of the West Bank it currently occupies? Will Israel divide Jerusalem into two just because the UN member states offer recognition of Palestine? It is understandable that the momentum for official international recognition of a Palestinian state is viewed with heightened suspicion by Israel and many members of society; there are, after all, a number of legitimate concerns, especially regarding Hamas. But the advantages of the creation of Palestine cannot be overlooked: First, it guarantees the two-state solution, ensuring that Israel remains Jewish and democratic; second, Israel’s responsibility toward the Palestinians will be dramatically reduced, for a Palestinian state would become responsible for its own citizens, territory and borders; and third, an independent Palestine will relieve Israel’s legitimacy problem, for the relationship will be that of two sovereign states, as opposed to the current asymmetrical relationship between a state and a non-state.

The writer is a recent graduate from the London School of Economics. She is currently dividing her time between Jerusalem and Ramallah researching Palestinian institution building.

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