When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations this week, it will signal a significant step forward in the continuing search for peace with Israel. Full membership of the state of Palestine in the United Nations elevates our status in the international community, and we will be able to negotiate with Israel on a more equal basis.
President Abbas has repeatedly emphasized Palestinian commitment to the peace talks when he said: "Our first, second and third priority is negotiations. There is no other way to solve this. No matter what happens at the United Nations, we have to return to negotiations."
We have all been witness to the dramatically changing times in the Middle East called the "Arab Spring." I am confident that the time for Palestinian admission as a full member is now, a time recognized by the nations of the world. We will be addressing those 193 countries at the United Nations and we are going to remind them that we have been occupied by Israel since 1967. Our freedom is long overdue.
The Palestinians, represented by the PLO, have long sought to establish an independent, sovereign state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The obvious question is simple: if not now, when? There has been a lack of progress in the peace negotiations due to Israeli intransigence, and the continued fait accompli policies of the Israeli government such as illegal settlements. This status quo cannot simply continue. The United Nations provides the forum for preserving the two-state solution that President Obama and the international community strongly support. By going to the UN, the Palestinians are trying to preserve the two-state solution in the face of Israeli efforts to completely destroy it.
It cannot be said too often that Palestinian membership in the United Nations is a mere stepping stone to creating a new reality more conducive to achieving a peaceful resolution to the long conflict. With that established, the chances for successful negotiations will improve greatly. The creation of a Palestinian state is a prerequisite for stability, peace and security in the entire region.
What is especially troubling for us is the threat from Congress to cut off aid to Palestine if we take our admission petition to the United Nations. Rep. Kay Granger, a Republican from Texas, has said: "If they (Palestinians) take that step, we will no longer fund. We will stop our funding because our position is that it stops the peace process -- because they are going outside the peace process." I believe it is in the best interests of the United States to support Palestine's United Nations initiative and to continue to provide aid. American aid has played a significant role in helping us to provide the Palestinian people with essential services, such as health and education, and in supporting our economy. Cutting off aid as a response to our diplomatic, non-violent move at the United Nations will have a serious impact on our ability to meet our obligations particularly in the security sphere.
This is a turbulent time in our region and the United States has always been supportive of a people's right to self-determination. We have seen this recently in South Sudan, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Opposing the Palestinian request to admit Palestine to the United Nations contradicts U.S. fundamental ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy.
Palestine is a state. We meet all the conditions of the Montevideo Convention for Statehood: a permanent population; regular democratic elections, governing ourselves effectively; and we have relations and treaties with other countries. The statehood bid has the overwhelming support of two-thirds of Palestinians, according to a recent poll undertaken by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. Achieving our objective at the United Nations will not impact the role the PLO plays in representing Palestinians everywhere and in protecting their inalienable rights.
I'm confident my government is taking the right step in going to the United Nations seeking statehood. We believe the world will know that this is the right time and the right decision if there is ever to be a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Statehood is not an alternative to peace negotiations, but rather a tool to support them.
Maen Rashid Areikat is the Chief Representative of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States, based in Washington D.C..