Recognising Abbas

As Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) addressed the United Nations, many observers remained suspicious of his planned unilateral declaration of Palestinian Arab statehood, but were not necessarily able to articulate why. Jonathan Neumann reviews reviews the basics.

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Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) at UN submitting statehood bid
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Jonathan Neumann
On 26 September 2011 09:21

As Abu Mazen’s (also known as Mahmoud Abbas) gambit comes to a head at the United Nations, many observers remain rightly suspicious of his planned unilateral declaration of Palestinian Arab statehood, but are not necessarily able to articulate why.

It’s worth reviewing the basics.

Firstly, let us examine what this call for statehood represents. Widely recognised as a ‘delay tactic’for negotiations with Israel (this statehood business has, after all, been proceeding for months now at the expense of constructive discussion), fundamentally this unilateralism is a repudiation of the idea of negotiations.

Indeed, it contradicts the tenets of the Oslo process. And this is borne out by the last two years, when repeated Israeli concessions, goodwill gestures and invitations to the negotiating table fell on deaf ears in Ramallah.

Secondly, we should ask what the purpose of this statehood petition is. For illumination, take the ‘activist’chosen to launch the campaign for statehood recognition, Latifa Abu Hmeid, who stood before the UN headquarters in Ramallah holding the Palestinian Arab petition to the UN.

Ms Latifah is, as it happens, the proud mother of five, one of whom was a suicide bomber, while the other four currently serve life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison.

Palestinian Arab statehood is, let us contend, a means, not an end. A PA official recently told The Jerusalem Post that this statehood petition was designed to ‘shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’to one over an ‘occupied state with defined borders’’, while Saeb Erakat, the lead PA negotiator, called in The Guardian for Israel to recognise the Palestinian Arab ‘right of return’, indicating a two-state solution is not even on the radar.

Echoing these sentiments, the PLO’s ambassador to Lebanon remarked, ‘when we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.’

In the same comments, he made clear that Palestinian Arab ‘refugees’would not become citizens in the new state - and that pronouncement applies not only to the many refugees in other Arab countries, but to the refugees within the borders of the new state as well!

To put this statistically, an astonishing forty-five percent of residents in the new Palestine would be stateless! (Not to mention the many Palestinian Arabs in the ‘diaspora’.) All because granting them citizenship might challenge the inviolable ‘right of return’.

This dovetails with statements made repeatedly by Abu Mazen, refusing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state or a permanent reality and ever to forego the ‘right of return’, which, to any observer of Middle Eastern politics, is code for ‘the demographic destruction of Israel’.

Even if the drive for statehood at the Security Council fails, and Abu Mazen settles for recognition by the General Assembly or an upgraded status there, the PA would still be awarded a public relations victory in return for refusing to negotiate - hardly a prudent lesson for the international community to be teaching - and would be granted access to international fora where it could further embarrass Israel.

The international boycott campaign, meanwhile, would be enthused and, in their eyes, legitimated. Recognition of statehood, therefore, is not the Palestinian Arab attempt to bring a unilateral end to this conflict, but merely the next stage of Arab belligerence, another tactic in the ongoing effort to destroy the Jewish state.

Thirdly, few have considered what kind of state the newly-recognised Palestine would be. The answer is, in a word, failed.

There is an unjustified assumption that the Palestinian Arabs, as things stand presently, can handle statehood, and yet, the reality is quite the opposite. The internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas continues, and now the added dimension of a power struggle between the PLO and the PA over external representation has emerged.

This week, riots have erupted in Palestinian Arab-controlled areas over this petition, while rocket attacks from Gaza persist and the security threat from the West Bank remains.

Either the government is in control, in which case blame for this violence lies at its feet, or it is not, in which case it cannot guarantee law and order, which is the most basic requirement of a functioning state.

Meanwhile, a recent economic survey found that some sixty percent of the PA’s GDP comes from donations from foreign governments, which is not exactly a promising economic basis for a new state, and of course fuels the entrenched corruption of the PA. And that says nothing of the endemic corruption within the various NGOs and UN agencies operating in the territories.

Moreover, the report found critical infrastructure to be lacking, indicating that the PA does not have the economic tools to govern. Which leads to another question: will Israel continue to provide electricity, gasoline, water, security, and humanitarian supplies to Palestinian Arab towns and cities after statehood? Will UNRWA continue to provide healthcare and education at American and European taxpayer expense? What will the borders be, and the status of Israelis in the West Bank?

In short, while international declarations may seem appealing, we have no idea what the arrangements on the ground will be, and for good reason: that is what negotiations are for!

This statehood petition functions as another power play and quest for legitimacy by a PA president now seven years into a four-year term, and as populist grandstanding with no constructive benefit. Any successes on this diplomatic front will be met by failure and disappointment on the ground.

Palestinian Arabs will suffer, and Israel, inevitably, will be blamed.

Jonathan Neumann has written on the Middle East for The Jerusalem Post, Standpoint, and the Henry Jackson Society, among others, and he is currently the 'Tikvah Fellow at Commentary Magazine'.

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