The Second UN Partition of Palestine

In light of Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for “non-member observer state” status in the United Nations, Palestinians across the world are voicing their anger and discontent amidst conflicting celebrations of “recognition” and “statehood”.

It is important to note that Abbas’s mandate ended in 2009 and he is de facto an unelected leader. The recognition of a PA state at the UN is likely to marginalize the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which since 1974 has been recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of all Palestinian people. This would be devastating to the Palestinian people at large.Whereas the PLO represents all 12 million Palestinians, the PA represents only those in the West Bank, 2.5 million.

The UN bid was not a bid for the state of Palestine. It was a bid for the West Bank bantustan, even that of which does not have true sovereignty. It is crucial that Palestinians and their supporters everywhere continue to demand an end of Israeli apartheid and are not moved to complacency by imitation statehood. Geographically, this state comprises less than 20% of historic Palestine, and more realistically, only 10% if Israeli settlements and military zones are factored in.

Ironically the vote fell on the anniversary of the UN Partition plan of 1947, wherein the UN partitioned 51% of Palestine to European Jewish colonizers, while “allowing” the native Palestinian population 49% of the land. This vote has served to update that contract, except this time the indigenous people are left with 10-20% and the right of return of the refugees has been threatened.

The following article was originally published by the late Edward Said, one of the most influential Palestinian scholars, in Al-Ahram Weekly On-line (1 – 7 October 1998). Despite being written over ten years ago, it is an essential read today. I am republishing Said’s work in the hopes of demonstrating that this recent partition was a premeditated action designed for Israeli colonialist intentions at the expense of the Palestinian people. Emphases have been added.

Edward SaidBy Edward Said  For several weeks, Yasser Arafat and members of his Authority have been saying loudly that, on 4 May, 1999, Mr Arafat will declare a Palestinian state. This announcement first emerged as a threat to Israel, and specifically to Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been delaying agreement on a further deployment of Israeli forces from Palestinian territory. Israeli responses to the announcement have been uniformly hostile, and very threatening: do it, says Netanyahu to Arafat, and we will be harsh in our reaction. Neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli side has been exactly specific, but this has not deterred either one from going on about a Palestinian state and an unpleasant Israeli counter-reaction. In any case, Arafat, it is said, now wants to announce his plans for a Palestinian state while he is at the United Nations, and perhaps even to Bill Clinton, who is still mired in the Monica Lewinsky mess and therefore not likely to be listening too closely or able to do very much to help. In addition, the Arabic press has been reporting that, during his numerous visits to both Arab and non-Arab countries, Arafat has been seeking foreign support for his project. By now, then, the notion that a Palestinian state will be declared on 4 May, 1999 by Arafat has acquired a momentum, if not exactly a life, of its own.

I say this with some irony because, at first glance, the notion of declaring a state for a second time (Algiers, November 1988 was the first) must strike the untutored spectator as inherently funny, since in both instances, except for about 60 per cent of Gaza, there is very little land for this state. There is some Palestinian control, without sovereignty — a major requirement for a state — on only three per cent of the West Bank, and no territorial continuity between the various spots of land that make up what is now called Area A. One likely Israel reaction might be to say that the Palestinian entity has to be in Gaza, which is already cut off from the West Bank, and more or less force Arafat to confine himself and, alas, Palestinian national aspirations, to Gaza. This would be a severe blow, no matter how much international support the declared state would have at the time. In addition, the new state would make little sense demographically, given that Palestinians in one area would be totally cut off from their compatriots in other areas.

Supporters of Arafat’s idea of declaring a state in spite of the concrete demographic and territorial problems say that the project itself would have the positive effect of stirring the Palestinian population into some sort of energy, thereby compensating for the dismal failure of the Oslo Accords on which Arafat and his increasingly small circle of supporters, advisers, and hangers-on have staked so much. There is a great deal of discouragement and lethargy in Palestine, and also elsewhere in the Arab world. So much has been written and proclaimed about the new era of peace, the benefits of peace, the economy of peace, etc., that with five years of non-peace, people are understandably disaffected, fed up with lies, fed up with Israeli arrogance, fed up, above all, with their own sense of powerlessness and failure. Master tactician and artist of survival though he is, Arafat, I believe, still thinks that he can move things along with this state idea of his and, in so doing, either avert an explosion against his faltering rule or divert attention away from it. There is always the danger that his plan may backfire but, again characteristically, he probably thinks he can deal with that when and if it happens. As for the institutions, machinery, governance of a real state, none of these are really in place. It is true that the Palestinian Authority has many functions of a state government — post office, birth certificates, security, municipal affairs, education and health — but it still far too dependent on Israel to do as states should be able to do. Thus, for instance, water is still under Israeli control, as is the use of land, and entrances and exits to the Territories. Any pressure applied by Israel on any of these can cripple the state and render it impotent. Surely no Palestinian government would want to be put in so harrowing a position.

The disadvantages of declaring a state seem to me far to outweigh the advantages. Most important, a state declared on the autonomous territories would definitively divide the Palestinian population and its cause more or less forever. Residents of Jerusalem, now annexed by Israel, can play no part, nor be, in the state. An equally undeserving fate awaits Palestinian citizens of Israel, who would also be excluded, as would Palestinians in the Diaspora, whose theoretical right of return would practically be annulled. Far from uniting Palestinians, therefore, the declaration of a Palestinian state would in fact divide them more than they have ever been before, rendering the notion of one Palestinian people more or less void. In whose interest is such a result? Certainly not the Palestinians’.

I have a strong suspicion that Arafat is using the declaration of a state as a way of covering himself with what looks like a gain even as he is about to accept the treacherous Israeli “offer” of nine per cent plus three per cent as a nature reserve under Israeli control. Arafat is a prisoner of both the Israelis and the US; he has no place to go, no corridor he can escape into, no excuse he can rely on. I fear that, under pressure, he will concede and accept the Israeli deal, using the declaration of a state as a way of compensating (as well as trying to fool) his people. Watch him carefully.

Another disadvantage which seems just as significant is that the Israeli idea of getting rid of Palestinians by separation will be achieved not by Israel but by the Palestinian leadership. This would be the final triumph of the desire for the Palestinian people’s disappearance by dispossession for which a century of Zionist planning and belligerence has always plotted: the elimination of the Palestinian presence as a national group on the territory of historical Palestine. The Zionists consider it to be the Land of Israel, reserved exclusively for Jews. On the other hand, we should remember that every idea of Palestinian self-determination since the ascendancy of the present PLO has envisaged and embodied an idea of non-discriminatory equality and sharing in Palestine. This was the notion of a secular democratic state and, later, the idea of two states living side by side in neighbourly harmony. These ideas were never accepted by the Israeli ruling majority, and Oslo, in my view, was a clever way for the Labour Party to create a series of Bantustans in which the Palestinians would be confined and dominated by Israel, at the same time hinting that a quasi-state for Palestinians would come into being. To Israelis, Rabin and Peres spoke openly about separation, not as providing Palestinians with the right to self-determination but as a way of marginalising and diminishing them, leaving the land basically to the more powerful Israelis. Separation in this perspective then becomes synonymous with apartheid, not with liberation. To declare a Palestinian state under such circumstances is essentially to accept the idea of separation as apartheid, not equality, and certainly not as self-determination. “Self-rule” is Netanyahu’s euphemism for it. Moreover, those who would argue that, for Palestinians, such a declared state would be the first step towards a real state, with true self-determination, are actually deluding themselves by thinking illogically. If by declaring that what, in effect, is a theoretical abridgment of true statehood is the first step towards the realisation of actual statehood, then one might as well hope to extract sunlight from a cucumber on the basis of the sun having entered the cucumber in the first place. This is an example not of serious, but of magical thought, something we have no need of now.

No, this hullabaloo about 4 May, 1999 is part of Arafat’s tried and true method for distracting us from the true difficulties we face as a people. He used to do the same thing before every National Council meeting, floating rumours about an upcoming date, then postponing, then announcing a new date three or four times, until people would greet the actual meeting itself with much delight and celebration. This time, however, the political drawbacks of his declared state project perform the additional function of obscuring the true imperative, which is first of all to unite Palestinians and, above all, to provide us with a new political vision, programme, leadership. If the last few years have proved one thing, it is the bankruptcy of the vision proclaimed by Oslo, and of the leadership that engineered the whole wretched thing. It left huge numbers of Palestinians unrepresented, impoverished and forgotten; it allowed Israel to expropriate more land in addition to consolidating its hold on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank and Gaza settlements; it validated the notion of what can only be called petty Palestinian nationalism, which in reality was little more than a few worn-out slogans and the survival of the old PLO leadership. What is now needed is first of all a symbolic political event held outside Israeli and Palestinian Authority jurisdiction that will bring together all the relevant segments of the Palestinian population, a truly national meeting or conference. From such a meeting, new outlines for resistance and liberation would be announced, coordinating not just the efforts of people in the Occupied Territories, but also those Palestinians from Israel and the whole Diaspora. It is the members of this larger group (in fact the majority of Palestinians) that Arafat neither can nor is willing to try to address, since they have been left out of the deal he made with Israel and the US, and whose hostage he now is.

The only political vision worth holding on to is a secular bi-national one that transcends the ludicrous limitations of a little Palestinian state, declared for the second or third time, without much land or credibility, as well as the limitations that have been so essential to the Zionist form of apartheid imposed on us everywhere. I am not the only one to see our plight today as basically that of human beings deprived of the right to full citizenship. It is this that united us all as a people, whether in Lebanon, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Amman, Damascus, or Chicago. The present Palestinian leadership has neither comprehended our dilemma nor, obviously enough, furnished an answer to it. This is why we shouldn’t be too excited by Arafat’s rather juvenile enthusiasm for the prospects of what might or might not take place on 4 May, 1999. The real task, I think, is to be planning a real alternative to the nonsense at present being put about, that by declaring a state — somehow — we will actually get one — somehow. Typically, this silly slogan conceals the real difficulties in actually establishing a state, difficulties that can only be overcome by real work, real thought, the real unity and, above all, real representation of all (as opposed to a part) of the Palestinian people. Not unilateral, empty, repetitious slogans. It is an insult to the integrity of our people to keep on making up such make-believe “realities” and trying to pass them off as political substance. Arafat and his advisers should be ashamed of themselves for such banal tricks. They should stand aside so that a more serious and credible political process can replace their disastrous fumbling once and for all.

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Virtual Statehood or the Right of Return

Many Palestinians feel the newest version of the bid for statehood no longer represents them and their interests.

Omar Barghouti

Some Israeli officials support the UN bid because the PA would replace the PLO for negotiations with Israel – the PLO represents all Palestinians regardless of location while the PA represents just the West Bank and Gaza Strip [GALLO/GETTY]

“The Palestinian declaration of independence practically constitutes a victory for Israel’s declaration of independence, and this is why Israelis must celebrate in the streets and be the first to recognise Palestinian independence, calling on the world to follow suit.”

– Sefi Rachlevsky, Yedioth Ahronoth, September 5, 2011 (Israeli writer who led a recent Israeli delegation that met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to urge him to go forward with the statehood bid at the UN)

“Palestine 194” is the name of a campaign called for by Palestinian officials to drum up support for their “September Initiative”, or bid for statehood, in the hope that “Palestine” would become the 194th member of the UN. This same number, however, has historic connotations for the people of Palestine. It has been etched in our collective consciousness as the UN General Assembly resolution stipulating the right of the Palestinian refugees – most of whom were forcibly displaced and dispossessed during the 1948 Nakba by Zionist militias and later the state of Israel – to return to their homes and properties.

Without any sense of irony, Palestinian officials who have time and again colluded in eroding official international support for UNGA 194, as the Palestine Papers have amply shown, are now appropriating that very number and using it in a bid that runs the risk of surrendering the right of return associated with it for more than six decades. This is merely a symbol of the far more substantive moral, political and legal bind that this Initiative may potentially place the Palestinians and their supporters in.

The “September Initiative” is at best vague and confusing and at worst damaging to the interests of the Palestinian people. Regardless, it is entirely divorced from the will of the Palestinian people, and those advocating it have no democratic mandate from the people to employ it in any way that jeopardises our UN-sanctioned rights.

Replacing the PLO

Practically speaking, there is no possibility for Palestine to become a full member of the UN so long as the US has a veto power in the Security Council and the US Congress and White House remain in full partnership (regardless whether the dog wags the tail or the other way around) with Israel, even with its present far-right government.

What is left of the initiative, other than replacing the PLO, one way or another, with the presumed state of Palestine at the UN? If this is not the case, why can’t Palestinian officials provide the people with concrete, rational assurances to the contrary to secure mass support for this endeavor?

And if the most parroted goal of having Palestine recognised as a state is to pursue legal channels to hold Israel accountable to international law, why has the Palestinian leadership squandered the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice against Israel’s wall and colonies? Why has it tried to bury the UN Goldstone Report on Israel’s assault on Gaza and, when it was forced to reverse itself, did absolutely nothing to follow up on the report’s recommendations, adopted by the UN?

The PLO remains the sole legitimate representative of all Palestinians, regardless of their location. This includes Palestinians under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem); Palestinian refugees, both in exile and in historic Palestine, who constitute a majority of the people of Palestine; and Palestinian citizens of Israel, the indigenous minority that remained steadfast during the Nakba of 1948 when most Palestinians were uprooted and dispossessed by Zionist militias and later the state of Israel. The PLO, as such, is the embodiment of the Palestinian right to self determination which all Palestinians are entitled to.

The UN has consistently recognised the Palestinian people, regardless of place of residence, as “the principal party to the question of Palestine”, as the prominent Oxford University legal authority, Guy Goodwin-Gil, has argued. “It is thus the people of Palestine, as a whole,” he adds, “who possess the right to return and the right to self-determination.”

The September Initiative has left so many questions unanswered regarding how it purports to protect the representation of Palestinian refugees, let alone Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to defend the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights. Goodwin-Gill’s argues convincingly that, while the PLO represents, at least nominally, all Palestinians (including the refugee majority), thereby protecting our collective right to self determination, a Palestinian state cannot claim to represent refugees outside its “borders”, thus making their claim to the right of return and participation in self determination (both protected by international law) that much more difficult to assert.

Cognizant of the central role the PLO plays in the struggle for Palestinian rights, Israel has for quite some time been propping up the PA at the expense of the PLO, in a calculated attempt to circumscribe the rights that Palestinians can claim through the latter. The Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank closely connected to the Israeli establishment, has as early as 2005 openly advocated in a policy paper switching “the official Palestinian interlocutor from the PLO to the PA in order to facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders”, to better fit Israel’s expansionist agenda.

The Reut paper accurately lays out the advantages expected for Israel from such a switch of the Palestinian representative, “The PLO, as the representative of the entire Palestinian People, will likely demand the expansion of the agenda of the political process to include issues pertaining to the entire Palestinian people such as the issue of Palestinian Refugees or Jerusalem; whereas the PA, if recognised as the formal interlocutor, is likely to limit the agenda of the political process to issues affecting its residents in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and, to a certain extent, East Jerusalem.”

Some Palestinian analysts have opined that we must endorse the Initiative and try, from within, so to speak, to contribute to its formulation in a way that can protect our rights. The obvious flaw in this path is two-fold. Given the lack of democratic mandate and accountability mechanisms for the current, unelected Palestinian leadership, no one can guarantee any significant influence on its decisions and whimsical adventures.

What have 20 years of the ‘peace process’ accomplished?

This September marks the 20th anniversary of the failed “peace process”. Hoping to escape accountability, especially in light of the budding Arab Spring and the related sharpening assertiveness among Palestinian youth everywhere, the same Palestinian officials responsible for this failure now want us to believe that they are going to the UN to advance the struggle for our rights.

Why haven’t they done so, one can only wonder, during the endless rounds of so-called negotiations, while Israel was busy entrenching its colonial presence in the oPT?

During twenty years of talks, used by Israel to cover up its systematic pillage of Palestinian land, especially in occupied Jerusalem, the Naqab (Negev) and the Jordan Valley, whole communities of Palestinians were ethnically cleansed or incarcerated behind a land-grabbing wall that denies them access to livelihood and land. Gaza was pulverised by an unprecedented, deadly air, land and sea assault and remains under a brutal, illegal siege. Racist laws have mushroomed in Israel, further denying Palestinian citizens their rights and aggravating their misery under Israel’s system of racial discrimination which completely fits the UN definition of apartheid. Palestinian refugees have remained deprived of their inalienable, UN-protected right to return to their homes and lands from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948.

This could not have happened without the veneer of normalcy offered to Israel by a pliant Palestinian leadership that lacks vision, skills and principles, and that has categorically rejected and undermined every form of resistance, including non-violent methods, as a means to achieve Palestinian rights.

Why should anyone trust this same “leadership” to defend our rights?

Moreover, as we have learned from the South African struggle against apartheid, diplomatic initiatives, even the most well-intended, cannot on their own restore rights or end colonial injustice; in order to win our rights, we must apply sustained, morally-consistent, effective pressure against our oppressor, both from within and internationally. Effective resistance coupled with global solidarity is the key to freedom, justice and self determination.

Instead of seeking to weaken Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid to compel it to recognise our rights, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during a recent address to a group of Israeli intellectuals urging him to proceed with his UN bid, declared, “We don’t want to isolate Israel”.

He assured his audience that, as long as he remained in office, security coordination between the PA and Israel will continue, in order “to prevent terror and keep the situation calm and quiet”. The spokesman of the Israeli delegation, notable writer Sefi Rachlevski, was quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth on September 5 saying, “We are a group that fully supports [Israel’s] declaration of independence and the Zionist dream of establishing the State of Israel, and we see the Palestinian initiative a definite continuation of that.”

Palestinians have a right to statehood, but this is only one channel for expressing our far more fundamental and inclusive right to self determination.

Palestine’s rights according to international law

UNGA Resolution 3236, of 22 November 1974, elevated the applicability of the universally respected right to self determination to the people of Palestine to an “inalienable” right. Resolution 3236 “reaffirms the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine, including: (a) The right to self-determination without external interference; (b) The right to national independence and sovereignty.”

It also reaffirms “the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return,” and emphasises that “full respect for and the realisation of these inalienable rights of the Palestinian people are indispensable for the solution of the question of Palestine.”

A morally-consistent, rights-based approach to resolving the question of Palestine, therefore, necessitates addressing these inalienable rights of the indigenous people of Palestine.

Adhering to a discourse based on human rights and international law, the Palestinian BDS National Committee, BNC, by far the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society groups, has raised serious concerns about the September initiative’s safeguarding of the right of return and the PLO’s status, while welcoming international recognition of our right to statehood.

In an important statement, the BNC said:

“Diplomatic recognition must result in protection of the inalienable right to self-determination of the entire Palestinian people represented by a democratised and inclusive PLO that represents not just Palestinians under occupation, but also the exiled refugees, the majority of the Palestinian people, as well as the discriminated citizens of Israel. For it to go beyond symbolism, this recognition must be a prelude to effective and sustained sanctions against Israel aimed at bringing about its full compliance with its obligations under international law.

In light of the above, and inspired by the will and the power of the people which have  given rise to the Arab spring, the BNC calls upon people of conscience and  international solidarity groups to proceed with building a mass BDS movement … before and after September.”

Fatah leaders in the Nablus region of the West Bank distributed on August 28 a statement raising the same key concerns:

“The right to self-determination is a collective right of all Palestinians, irrespective of their geographic location … All diplomatic initiatives, including the initiative at the United Nations this September, must preserve the status of the PLO as the sole representative in the United Nations and protect and advance the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

Prominent Palestinian civil society figures, in turn, independently published a statement (Arabic) that resonates with the BNC’s concerns above. So has Stop the Wall, a respected grassroots campaign against Israel’s wall and colonies.

At a time of Israeli impunity and intensifying colonialism, occupation and apartheid, a principled Palestinian leadership would follow the example of Mandela and Gandhi, leading the masses in popular resistance and inspiring effective and sustained international solidarity in order to tip the balance of powers – a necessary condition for exercising our UN-sanctioned rights.

Ignoring the will of the people and potentially sacrificing their basic rights in order to secure some illusory advantages at the “negotiations” table hurts Palestinian interests and endangers the great advances our popular and civil struggle has achieved to date, particularly as a result of the global BDS movement. It would in effect reduce the Arab Spring to a Palestinian autumn.

Going to the UN should be strongly supported by all Palestinians – and, consequently, by solidarity groups worldwide – if done by a trusted, democratically elected, accountable leadership and if it expressly represents the will of the Palestinian people and our collective right to self determination.

Alas, neither condition is met in the current “September Initiative,” which may end up replacing the “194” we’ve always struggled to implement with a “194” that is little more than another irresponsible leap away from accountability and from the inevitable repercussions of the sweeping Arab Spring.

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian analyst and human rights activist based in Palestine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera