Raghida Dergham Headshot

Palestine at the United Nations: The Long Path of Wisdom

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This month, New York will witness the first comprehensive international gathering since the astounding Arab Awakening in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, which started earlier this year and which has unsettled and embarrassed many a major power. At the forefront of such powers, are none other than Russia and China, given their stances resisting regime change in Libya and Syria. Then there is the United States, now tainted by embarrassment from the standpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli question, because of its resistance to the accession of the state of Palestine to the United Nations; and after having failed to persuade Israel to stop illegal settlement activity. For no matter what the Palestinian strategy shall bring about, whether in terms of full accession to the UN or the recognition of Palestinian statehood, the vast majority of countries are fully aware that the U.S. administration dares not implement the pledges and promises it has made, exactly because of the Israel lobby's huge influence in U.S. elections.

Consider the case of South Sudan, which became the 193 member of the United Nations in an incredibly swift manner, following a political decision that the Obama administration helped impose as a fait accompli. By contrast, Palestine shall not be the 194th member of the international organization, also because of an American political decision coupled with threats, and warnings along the lines of suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority.

These double standards cause embarrassment within the U.S. administration itself, due to the impunity continually afforded to the government of Israel, while granting the latter whatever it may ask. This is true even when Israel challenges U.S. national interests with its intransigence and resistance to the two-state solution, over which there is consensus in the international community today. Here, the weakest link are the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, and also the Palestinian Authority.

For this reason, it may be in line with Palestinian interests not to go too far in embarrassing the Obama administration and losing its good faith as a result, something that would translate into a gift directly given to the Israeli government. It may be best for the Palestinians to help maintain the unified European position over their cause, and invest in the U.S. administration by means of a cumulative strategy that would ultimately lead to the admission of the Palestinian state to the United Nations.

Such a strategy, if coupled with an awareness campaign and a peaceful effort to lobby international public opinion -- including the Israeli public opinion -- could lead to isolating the Israeli government and robbing it of its dream of a U.S.-Palestinian estrangement, and the fragmentation of pertinent European stances, which have so far been coherent with regard to the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people. In such a manner, the Palestinian Authority would also be acting with a sense of collective responsibility towards the Arab developments as they are being raised on the international scene.

For instance, Libya's still in 'intensive care', and it requires the best efforts of the international community so as not to fall prey to neglect or the hasty assumption that it has now fully recovered. Then there is Syria, which is currently proving to be a major challenge for the international community, particularly since Russia and China continue to oppose any serious pressure on the government of Bashar al-Assad, while bearing in mind that both countries have since backtracked on their defiance with regard to the Libyan question.

It is best here for Palestine not to be used once again as a bargaining chip for barters and one-upmanship, and for the Palestinian leadership to be afforded good faith, instead of compromising it.

Talk of the conduciveness of Lebanon's presidency of the Security Council to the Palestinian issue fall but under exaggeration, sycophancy, and political grandstanding. For one thing, the U.S. administration has made it clear that it would use its veto power to prevent the Security Council from adopting a resolution on Palestinian statehood, even if the resolution is to be supported by 14 members, and this may not happen if the Europeans see a flaw in the Palestinian strategy or a deliberate effort therein to embarrass Washington just for the sake of it.

If the Palestinian strategy opts to go to the Security Council, the procedures in force require the Palestinians to make a formal request to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make a recommendation to the Security Council to favorably consider the admission of Palestine as a member to the UN. The Security Council would subsequently have to issue a resolution recommending, in turn, the General Assembly to approve the request.

But since the United States has made it unequivocally clear that it would prevent the Security Council from issuing such a resolution, Lebanon's presidency is meaningless here save for the fact that it would be presiding over a session of failure, of political confrontation with the United States, and of losing European unity over solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

This is hardly an achievement. Perhaps Damascus and Tehran would find that to be indeed an achievement, as it would expose American duplicity. However, this would not help the Palestinians under occupation in any way, nor would it help them regain their occupied territories.

Incidentally, Lebanon, in turn, is in the sphere of embarrassment, with the policy of evasiveness that it adopts with regard to the Syrian issue at the Security Council. For instance, Lebanon has dissociated itself from the presidential statement endorsed unanimously by the remainder of the Security Council members.

Lebanon is escaping forward with regard to the draft resolution being currently discussed among the members of the Security Council (This is while noting that Russia wants such a statement to merely be a call for engaging in a political process, while holding the opposition and the authorities jointly responsible for violence in Syria). By contrast, the Western nations are seeking a resolution that truly puts pressure on Damascus, with sanctions and condemnation, while refusing to hold civilians responsible for the crackdown and killing as carried out by the Syrian authorities.

Lebanon then, has not been spared the pain of embarrassment, nor does it hold the fate of Palestine's bid for UN membership except in a mere procedural and rather negative manner, if the Palestinian Authority indeed chooses to go to the Security Council.

In fact, there are Arab states in the follow-up committee headed by Qatar, which are pushing the Palestinian Authority towards confrontation with the United States in the Security Council and beyond. Some of these countries are offering alternative funding to that of the United States, should the latter decide on suspending aid to the Palestinians; and thus perceive confrontation as a means to buying off the Palestinian Cause and Palestinian leadership for ends that serve their regional and pan-Islamic ambitions around the world.

The President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas must first study in depth whether it is in the interest of the Palestinians to lose both the American weight and influence in the battle for the two-state solution and putting an end to Israeli occupation of the territories captured in 1967; and second, he must think carefully about whether he wants to become symbolic or marginal, should he "delegate" the reins of the Palestinian fate to another side, even if the latter consists of one or several Arab countries.

These are questions of momentous proportions, and Abu Mazen must mull them carefully as he studies the options of Palestinian self-determination. These are questions that the Palestinians must answer, if the Palestinian President chooses the path of "delegation".

With regard to the quandary of "going there willy-nilly", i.e. the fact that the Palestinian leadership has chosen to go to the United Nations come rain or come shine, it seems that there can now be no escape from that for political reasons. However, there are many ways to turn the embarrassment that the Palestinian Authority has caused for itself into some kind of an achievement.

For instance, the Palestinian Authority can go directly to the General Assembly, currently headed by Nassir Al-Nasser (Qatar), with a draft resolution that would ensure one hundred percent support by all EU member states, rendering it extremely difficult for the United States to vote against it or even abstain from voting.

The goal of such a resolution would be to build a solid platform for the bid for Palestinian membership in the United Nations as part of a long-term strategy that includes milestones for the mobilization of governments and public opinions in the course of its march.

A Palestinian strategy like this one would ensure unity among European stances, would show good faith to the U.S. administration, and would rob those who engage in political one-upmanship of the chance to manipulate Palestinian fate for their narrow ends. Today, there are 126 countries that have recognized the Palestinian state.

If anything, this is a testimony in favor of the right of the Palestinian people to their independent state, and to ridding themselves of the occupation that is essentially a violation of basic human rights.

Because it is so, the Palestinian strategy can work hand in hand with international human rights organizations. Those organizations wield in today's world huge influence in terms of altering the course of oppression and ousting tyrants. These organizations are bold, and have a global reach, and it is high time for them to be welcomed as partners in the legitimate Palestinian aspirations.

Then there is the Palestinian Spring, which troubles Israel especially if takes on a peaceful form, as with civil disobedience. There is also a significant movement within Israel and among the Jewish organizations in the United States and Europe which are proclaiming resoundingly that Palestine has a right to statehood, and to ending the occupation that has lasted more than 40 years.

A cumulative approach is therefore more advantageous to Palestinian aspirations than a strategy of confrontation or impetuous diplomacy.

President Mahmoud Abbas remains a safety valve for these aspirations, as he is aware of the tragedies engendered by involving the Palestinians in armed confrontations or turning their country into a battlefield for a proxy war. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has delivered on his promise to build the institutions of the Palestinian state, and he is also aware of the importance of continued European-American support for this endeavor financially, politically and morally.

These two men carry on their shoulders the responsibility for the salvation of the Palestinian people from occupation and for the establishment of their independent state, and the international community is committed to supporting their aspirations, whether the U.S. Congress accepts this or not.

The fact of the matter is that this Congress serves as a testimony of how the world's only superpower can be thwarted from acting in manner that suits its prominence and leadership. It is a source of embarrassment for the American people because the U.S. Congress seems to be perpetually unable to think in the logic of American national interests, so long as it is focused on self-interest.

The U.S. Congress is also hostile to the Palestinians, and appears to be in an aggressive and harmful temper today, so it is best to avoid providing it with more pretexts for further vindictiveness. It suffices to rob it of this pleasure, if not of the ability to instill animosity with the Palestinians and to force the Obama administration to follow suit.

The priorities of Mahmoud Abbas must include preserving what has already been achieved, without making excuses for the U.S. Congress or the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which is currently experiencing isolation and extreme embarrassment. The kind of approach followed in going to the United Nations may perhaps help end Israel's isolation if the wrong choice is made, and may step up this isolation, if the right decision is taken.

The Palestinian President is not in a predicament. He is in the process of maintaining the independence of the Palestinian decision-making process. And herein lie the difficulties, and the wager on making the right decision.