RAMALLAH – Nowhere are the grievances that perpetuate violence and war more evident than they are in Palestine today. But the world’s politicians continue to dance around the problem, rather than confront it. The recent deadly violence in Gaza is only the latest proof that people living under occupation and siege need a political horizon, and not simply a cease-fire: the case for an independent state of Palestine has never been so compelling as it is today.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to proceed with plans to seek a vote this week on recognition of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly has come despite pressure, promises, and threats from Israel and some of its Western allies. Rather than pursuing the UN route, the Palestinians, according to these interlocutors, should continue to depend on asymmetrical negotiations that have served as little more than a photo opportunity.
The UN vote (which coincides with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People) would not grant Palestine full membership. Rather, it would upgrade Palestine’s status to a level comparable to that of the Vatican, allowing its political leaders to bring war-crimes charges against Israelis to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Zionists in Palestine rejoiced in 1947, following the UN General Assembly vote for partition into a Jewish and an Arab state. It is ironic that, as rockets from Gaza reach the outskirts of Tel Aviv, those Israelis who celebrated the partition, and their descendants, do not see the importance of fulfilling the other half of the partition plan.
It is true that Palestinians, who comprised the vast majority of the population and owned an overwhelming share of the land, were unhappy with the partition plan, which awarded them 46% of mandatory Palestine. Today, Palestinians are seeking statehood on a mere 22% of the territory that had been part of mandatory Palestine until Israel was unilaterally established on areas much larger than those awarded by UN General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947.
Palestine’s quest for statehood within the borders of June 4, 1967, falls squarely within international law. The UN Security Council resolved in November of that year that “acquisition of territory by war” is unacceptable. Subsequent Security Council resolutions and international treaties have upheld this principle.
In fact, a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders is exactly what US President Barack Obama has called for. Similarly, the European Union has long advocated a two-state solution, with Palestine being established on areas occupied by Israel in 1967.
As Abbas has said, the upcoming General Assembly vote is not aimed at delegitimizing Israel. It follows the Palestinian National Council’s declaration in 1988 of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. It also follows the Arab Peace Initiative, adopted by the Arab League at its Beirut Summit in 2002 (and to which Israel has yet to respond).
The Arab League initiative, which was also approved by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, embraces a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, but goes one step further, calling for a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the thorny Palestinian refugee issue. By accepting the words “agreed upon,” Palestinians, Arabs, and other Muslim-majority countries have conceded that Israel will not recognize Palestinian refugees’ inalienable right to return to their homes. This should allay Israeli fears that the right of return would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
Abbas will go to New York holding an even more important card. Israel’s recent brutal violence in Gaza has united Palestinians who were split along partisan lines. Leaders of Abbas’s Fatah faction, which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and of Gaza-based Hamas have been meeting regularly to implement the Egyptian-Qatari reconciliation plan. Political prisoners from both sides have been released, and a senior Fatah delegation just visited Gaza.
Hamas officials, including Mahmoud Ramahi, the leader of a bloc in the Palestinian National Council, have publicly supported the UN recognition bid. According to Mousa Abu Marzook, Hamas’s deputy leader, his movement is not opposed to Abbas’s diplomatic initiative.
An independent and free Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel is a plan upon which the entire world agrees. Palestinians have shown that they are willing to accept minor and agreed-upon land swaps, and will be open to creative ideas for solving the problem of Jerusalem, possibly following the parameters set out by US President Bill Clinton at the end of his second term.
What is needed now more than ever is political will to give the peace process a serious boost. Obama, now free of electoral shackles, and the international community should give Palestinians’ peaceful effort a chance at life. The case for Palestine has never been so clear. A vote for recognition of Palestinian statehood is a vote for peace.