Palestinian leaders may be hoist with their own petard at the UN as they push for "statehood"

A meaningless recognition of a Palestinian State by the UN may exacerbate the disconnect between Palestinians and their own leadership, says a former UN official.

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Divisions run deeper than merely Israel-Palestine.
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Fabio Rafael Fiallo
On 8 September 2011 11:08

We will come to Israel and the Palestinians in a moment. But first, some food for thought.

In the course of a conversation with the sociologist Max Weber in the second decade of the 20th century, the economic and political theorist Joseph Schumpeter caustically asserted that he was not unhappy to see the installation of communism in a specific place – in Russia, to be precise.

His "enthusiasm" was due to the fact that, in his view, only by testing communism would humankind realise how absurd and tragic that "utopia" was going to be.

Communism proved to be a totalitarian behemoth. Yet, having caused havoc wherever it was tested, that system could not ultimately resist the overwhelming tenacity of men and women who, risking their lives, and despite multiple setbacks, succeeded in tearing it down.

A similar fate has been reserved by history for the ideology of "Third-Worldism" and its leading principle of “self-determination”, which flourished in the wake of World War II, namely at the time of decolonisation and in the shape of Marxism-inspired revolutions in a number of developing countries.

The principle of "self-determination" soon became an expedient excuse utilised by newly established despots to prevent the international community from looking into – and eventually sanctioning – the crimes they perpetrated against their own population.

Those who have lived under the despotism of Mao, Castro, Mugabe or Gaddafi, and not least of Bashar al-Assad, know all too well the appalling human suffering and material damage that this has managed to cover up.

The recent waves of protests in North Africa and the Middle East have been the most compelling rebuke to the manner self-determination has operated in countries ruled by Third-Worldist leaders.

What has come out of those protests is not, as the conventional wisdom of the decolonisation era had assumed, an alliance between the peoples of developing countries and their leaders against foreign "imperialists", but rather the unconcealed desire of oppressed peoples to have the support of the outside world, notably the West, in their fight against the autocrats who govern them.

Examples abound. In Iran, during the street manifestations of June 2009, hundreds of thousands of men and women chanted: “Obama! Obama! Are you with them? Or are you with us?” In Libya this year, the rebels explicitly asked for military backing from Western countries.

Elsewhere, in Ivory Coast, president-elect Alassane Ouattara and his followers didn’t hesitate to call upon United Nations forces, in particular from the former colonial power, France, to help dislodge an incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, who, brandishing the principle of self-determination, refused to hand over power.

Today, another myth is bracing for collapse, namely the myth of a Palestinian statehood constructed in confrontation with, and at the expense of, the State of Israel.

For starters, it must be said that both branches of the Palestinian leadership – Hamas and Fatah – have been doing their utmost to create the conditions for a revolt against them in the disputed territories.

Hamas uses Gaza’s civilian population as human shields when launching terrorist attacks against civilians in Israel. Palestinian leaders lead lavish lifestyles fed by corruption, and all the Palestinians know it. Presidential and parliamentary elections are constantly put off. A geographical allocation of power has been set up between Hamas and Fatah, without the population having a say.

No wonder that, inspired by the mass protests in other countries of the region, manifestations of discontent with the Fatah-Hamas rule have taken place in the disputed territories since March this year, with Hamas repressing those held in the Gaza Strip.

It is against this background that the possible recognition of a Palestinian State by the UN General Assembly (GA) this month needs to be evaluated.

Recognition at the GA would be not only a legal nullity – since it would not have the required endorsement of the Security Council, where the proposal will for sure face the veto of the US – but also a political incongruity.

Indeed, the General Assembly is readying to assign statehood to a piece of land without clearly defined borders and administered by a two-headed leadership that (despite cosmetic pledges on rapprochement) is engaged in an internecine war and lacks the legitimacy of elections that are long overdue. (Elections have been promised one more time by Fatah-Hamas so as to strengthen their case for statehood recognition at the UN; but if they are serious on the promise, why don’t they just hold the elections before going to the GA?)

Under these circumstances, a UN piece of paper declaring statehood is doomed to be a fiasco; incapable of fulfilling the expectations placed on it by the population of the disputed territories.

Relations between Palestinians and their rulers can only worsen, with the former blaming ultimately the latter for having adopted a strategy – i.e. a unilateral declaration of independence – that would have failed to improve their living conditions.

After a profound delusion, convictions and priorities usually turn upside down: heroes become culprits, and yesterday’s foes are called to the rescue. It happened with communism and Third-Worldism. It could happen again with the failure of a Palestinian State, which could induce Palestinians to try and rid themselves of their current leaders.

Imagine in the streets of the disputed territories, a chant that it is at present unthinkable: “Israel! Israel! Are you with them? Or are you with us?”

The idea of hearing Palestinians ask Israel to help undoubtedly looks absurd at present. And, at present, it is absurd. But equally absurd were, a few years ago, the images that we see today of peoples of Africa and the Middle East asking Western powers to help them in their fight against their own autocrats.

The dynamics of such a volte-face could already be in motion, triggered both by the growing dissatisfaction of the population of the disputed territories with their governing elites and by the example of protests in nearby countries.

A meaningless recognition of a Palestinian State by the General Assembly of the UN may give this dynamic a decisive push, and even if the idea of Palestinians asking Israel help them build a real democracy is somewhat fanciful, the notion that the failed and divided leaderships of the Palestinian people may bring the "Arab Spring" crashing down on their own heads is not.

Fabio Rafael Fiallo is a Dominican-born economist and writer and retired official of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). His latest publication, “Ternes Eclats” or “Dimmed Lights” (L’Harmattan), presents a critique of the conventional wisdom of international organizations.

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