The “Paper-State” of Palestine is Worse than Useless

Israeli separation wall divides Shuafat Refugee Camp, Pisgat Zeev Israeli Settlement in West Bank

On Dec. 30, the United Nations Security Council rejected a proposal put forward by coalition of Arab states and the Palestinian Authority calling for “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces” from all Palestinian territories seized after 1967, and full Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza by December 31, 2017.

The resolution needed 9 votes to pass, but ultimately garnered 8, with United States and Australia voting against it and 5 abstentions — an outcome achieved by Washington cajoling Nigeria to abstain at the last moment. But even if the measure passed, the U.S. had already signaled plans to exercise their veto and override the vote—as it has already done 41 times on Israel’s behalf since 1972.

The proposed resolution had no enforcement mechanism, as it was not taken under Chapter 6 or 7 of the U.N. Charter which authorizes economic sanctions, diplomatic coercion or military intervention.  So even if it had passed without a veto, Israel would not have faced consequences for noncompliance without still another un-vetoed Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions or use of force (even less likely to pass). And Israel’s history with the U.N. suggests that they would not comply.

Israel is the world’s #1 violator of U.N. resolutions–be they from the General Assembly or even the Security Councilpursuing nuclear weapons, illegally seizing land and resources, carrying out devastating attacks on civilian populations and infrastructure, as well as institutionalizing  discrimination of Palestinians both within its legal borders and in the occupied territories. But despite this contemptuous disregard for international rules and norms, the United Nations has been prevented from any kind of substantive response by the U.S. veto—which is unlikely to change anytime soon, despite the strategic cost for the United States.

Given these realities, Israeli and American politicians were correct in portraying the Security Council resolution as a counterproductive farce. The entire “two-state” melodrama enables Israel’s continued oppression, empowering cynics and hardliners, Arab and Jew alike–birthing a never-ending cycle of retaliation and escalation.The only viable resolution is to unite the territories once again.

A Paper State

U.N. resolutions can create Palestine as a legal entity, but so long as the U.S. veto remains, the United Nations will never be able to deliver more than that. The body has already reaffirmed Palestinian statehood numerous times, most recently with a 2012’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 67/19, which passed with 138 votes in favor, 9 votes opposed and 41 abstentions, recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state.

This vote built on Palestine’s 1988 Declaration of Independence, which was recognized by UNGA resolution 43/117, mandating a mutual recognition of sovereignty between Israel and Palestine. (The two sides formally achieved this milestone in 1993). The 1989 resolution also called on Israel to vacate all territories captured in 1967, and return to the borders detailed in the 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine. It was approved with 104 in favor, 2 against, and 36 abstentions.

1989’s measure reiterated the terms of 1967’s UNSC resolution 242 which demanded Israel withdraw from the lands it seized in the Six-Day War and guarantee Palestine access to the seas and waterways–which Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza flagrantly violates.

Commensurate with these resolutions, 135 of the UN’s 193 member states (70%) already recognize Palestine; the only holdouts are Canada, Australia, the United States and most of Western Europe—although Europeans are increasingly coming around as well. The international consensus is beyond doubt, the UN statutes are similarly clear: Palestine is a state. But unfortunately, the Palestinians cannot actually live in a country which, for practical purposes, exists only on paper. Palestine getting full membership in the U.N. (which Abu Mazen’s proposal would not have even achieved) would do nothing to change this reality.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel could “never, ever, countenance” a fully sovereign Palestinian state. If Israel’s actions over the last 70 years are not enough evidence, the world should take Netanyahu at his word. There was never a two-state “solution” and there won’t be one in any foreseeable future.

“Two-States” is a Bad Deal for Palestinians

The White House did the Palestinians an inadvertent favor by rejecting Jordan’s resolution last month—setting aside issues regarding implementation, the proposed plan was a bad deal for the Palestinians; the “two-state” approach always has been.

Consider that Palestinians are still trying to convince Israel to settle for the land they captured in 1967—despite the fact that no existing U.N. resolution recognizes Israeli seizures from the Six-Day War as legitimate (although Abbas’ proposed legislation implicitly would have). Instead, key documents refer to the legal borders of Israel and Palestine as established in the 1947 UNGA resolution 181 (II) which partitioned the British mandate of Palestine into two states–insisting that any territorial changes beyond this can be achieved exclusively through negotiations.

The U.N. report preceding this resolution found that, at the time, Palestinians owned more than 94 percent of the property in Britain’s Mandate of Palestine, and comprised two-thirds of its population. Despite the fact that there twice as many Palestinians as there were Jews in the mandate, the UN partition plan awarded 55 percent of the territory, including prime lands and resources, to Israel. The Arabs, understandably, rejected the plan. It was a bad plan.

The proposal barely achieved the required two-thirds threshold in the General Assembly, with 33 voting in favor, 13 opposed and 10 abstentions. And the vote was taken prior to de-colonialization, when the Assembly was about one-fourth of its current size, comprised primarily of the United States, Western Europe and their client states in Latin America. This makes the notion that the vote represented an international will or consensus extremely problematic.

Attempts to implement the partition led to a border war in which Israel prevailed, declaring independence in 1948. It was admitted as a member of the UN in 1949 via UNGA resolution 273 along a vote margin similar to the partition plan (37 in favor, 12 opposed, 9 abstaining)—but under the conditions that it return all territories not accorded them by UNGA resolution 181 (II), provide the right to return for Palestinians displaced by the war, guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of race or religion and abide by subsequent U.N. resolutions. Needless to say Israel has and continues to unapologetically violate every single one of these precepts, thereby voiding the terms of their membership in United Nations. But these kinds of details are irrelevant in light of the U.S. veto.

One-State Solutions

The U.N. proposal, endorsed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, would have left Palestinians with less than half of the territories relegated to them in 1947 despite their population having increased more than fivefold in the interim—leaving aside questions of critical resources like water, which would have remained largely under Israeli control given 1967 borders and the power disparities between the two “states.” And the new Palestinian “state” would have almost certainly remained cleaved in two by Israel. It is hard to see how enshrining these boundaries at the U.N. could be considered a “victory” for Palestinians.

Nonetheless, Abbas responded to the proposal’s failure by electing to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). But this, too, is a farce from a cynical politician. Israel did not ratify the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and therefore cannot be held accountable by the Court unless referred by the Security Council — a move that the U.S. would most certainly veto. This means the court can do little more than investigate crimes on behalf of Palestine and issue reports and condemnations much like other U.N. bodies have already done ad nauseam —except when it comes to crimes by Palestinians. Hamas, for instance, would be subject to ICC prosecution in virtue of Abbas’ decision; Israel would not.

Abu Mazen has also expressed interest in yet another Security Council bid in 2015, after they body’s annual membership rotation. Both of these, bad ideas which are already generating substantial blowback.

A much more effective response would be for Abbas to instead dissolve the Palestinian Authority and turn over control of the West Bank to Israel —  as he repeatedly threatened to do — and then encourage Palestinians to demand annexation with all rights, protections and benefits granted to other Israelis.  This would be a game-changer.

Israel justifies its mistreatment of Palestinians by claiming that Arabs are not its responsibility: whether they live within Israel or the occupied territories, they all ultimately belong in the unsettled West Bank and should be provided for by their own government — an attitude emphasized by Israel’s recent “nationality law” which defines the country as an explicitly, perhaps exclusively, Jewish state.

Given the one-state reality on the ground, removing the illusion of sovereign Arab institutions would render Israel responsible for the population it has subjugated for the last 70 years. A failure to rise to this challenge would expose it as an apartheid state.

In a unified state, Palestinians would actually be the majority if afforded the same right to return granted to the Jewish diaspora: there are 3 million registered Palestinian refugees in neighboring Lebanon, Syria, Jordan alone. And demographic projections suggest Jews will soon be the minority even without considering the Palestinian diaspora. Accordingly, Palestinians would have much more leverage in a one-state scenario; their quest would then be for equitable power-sharing and civil rights.

But given that most Israeli Jews vehemently oppose a single state for the reasons described above, an alternative amenable to all parties might be to reintegrate Gaza, the West Bank and Israel as a federation of semi-autonomous states with Jerusalem as its capital—a proposal not far removed from the vision of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The Defense Minister’s proposal is, perhaps unsurprisingly, far too generous for Israel; there would have to be a substantial restructuring with regards to territory, resources, and how the countries relate to one another—but it is a start.

The first step in either process would be to abandon the quixotic pursuit of a two-state outcome, and with it, a status quo which will indefinitely favor Israel at the expense of Palestinians.

Published 1/6/2015 on Al-Jazeera America

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