Misusing Palestine’s growing international legitimacy
The “State of Palestine” has officially been handed the chairmanship of the G-77, the largest group of developing countries in the UN. This is particularly significant considering the relentless Israeli-American plotting that aims to torpedo Palestine’s push for greater international recognition and legitimacy.
It is now conclusive that the main mission of Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, was an unmitigated failure. When Haley gave her infamous speech before pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in March 2017 — declaring herself the “new sheriff in town” on behalf of Israel — the US-Israeli designs were becoming clearer: Never again would the US shy away from defending Israel at the UN, as the previous Obama administration had done in December 2016.
In retrospect, Haley’s tactics — the aggressive language, the constant threats and outright political bullying — amounted to nothing. Her short stint of two years at the UN has only managed to, once again, accentuate the US’ dwindling power and influence on the international stage.
Instead of isolating Palestinians, the US ended up joining Israel in its own isolation. Unable to make any tangible “achievements” in favor of Israel, a frustrated US administration carried out its threats as it quit crucial UN bodies like UNESCO and the Human Rights Council, among others. In doing so, the US is now imprudently dismantling the very international order it helped to create following the Second World War.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), on the other hand, has taken full advantage of the obvious shift in the world order. Being voted to the helm of the G-77, which bonds 134 countries in a massive economic order, is an extraordinary event. But what does it mean in terms of the Palestinian quest for statehood?
The PA seems to operate within two separate — and often contradictory — political spheres. On the one hand, it is in full cooperation with Israel in terms of “security coordination,” at times serving as Tel Aviv’s policeman in the occupied West Bank. Its constant crackdown on dissent and monopolization of Palestinian decision-making have been major obstacles before the Palestinian people in their fight for rights, justice and freedom. On the other hand, the PA has been pursuing a determined path toward international recognition, starting with its successful bid to obtain Palestine’s non-member observer status in November 2012.
That momentous event, which took place despite strong US-Israeli protests, opened the door for Palestine to join various UN organizations, such as the International Criminal Court. Palestine is yet to acquire full UN membership — a pursuit that is currently being renewed. However, since September 2015, the flag of Palestine has been fluttering at the UN’s headquarters along with those of 193 other nations.
So how is one to reconcile these two realities? It goes without saying that the international support Palestine is receiving at the UN is an outcome of existing solidarity and sympathy with the Palestinian people and their rightful struggle for human rights and independence. It preceded the PA by decades and will be there for many years to come. The PA, however, has tactfully translated this international support and validation into political assets among Palestinians at home.
The Palestinian Authority’s determination to acquire greater international recognition is juxtaposed with utter laxity and disinterest in developing a unified national strategy in Palestine itself.
Indeed, much of the support that the PA and its dominant Fatah party continues to enjoy among ordinary Palestinians is driven by the following logic: Every symbolic diplomatic “victory” achieved by the PA abroad is followed by massive celebrations in Ramallah and fiery speeches telling of imminent freedom and statehood. But freedom, of course, remains elusive, partly because the PA is yet to develop a real strategy for resisting Israeli military occupation and colonization. Its determination to acquire greater international recognition is juxtaposed with utter laxity and disinterest in developing a unified national strategy in Palestine itself.
This points to an unmistakable conclusion: The PA’s strategy is merely focused on the very survival of the PA as a political apparatus and on “Palestinian independence” within an immaterial diplomatic sphere, without any tangible evidence of that independence on the ground. How else can one explain the fierce fight, in the name of Palestine and those suffering in Gaza, put up by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Ambassador Riyad Al-Maliki at the UN while the PA continues to withhold salaries from besieged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip?
The sad truth is that the fight for Palestinian recognition at the UN is, at its core, a fight for Abbas and his government to remain relevant, and solvent, in a changing international political order. Meanwhile, for Palestinians, Abbas’ diplomatic achievements represent the proverbial morphine shots injected in the collective vein of an occupied and suffering people, desperate for a ray of hope.
According to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, poverty in the Gaza Strip has exceeded 80 percent, coupled with a 54.9 percent unemployment rate. The West Bank, too, is suffering, with the Israeli army and violent, illegal settlers terrorizing the Palestinian population there. Thousands of Palestinian men and women languish in Israeli jails, hundreds of them held without trial. Not only has the PA done little to challenge that reality, it has, at times, contributed to it. Yet, oddly, the PA’s pitiful political discourse in Palestine is contrasted with a well-defined, articulate and purportedly courageous language outside.
“We will go to the Security Council for submitting our application” to obtain full Palestinian membership at the UN, Al-Maliki told reporters last week. “We know that we are going to face a US veto but this won’t prevent us from presenting our application.”
This is the crux of the PA’s strategy at the moment. Knowing that it has little legitimacy among ordinary Palestinians, the PA is desperate to find an alternative source of legitimacy elsewhere. While greater support for the state of Palestine is a positive sign indicating a changing world order, it is, sadly, being used by the Palestinian leadership to sustain its own oppressive, futile and corrupt political gambit.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.