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Debating a UN Debate on a Palestinian State: Noe and Raad

By Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad

   

August 1 (Bloomberg) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to take a
statehood bid to the United Nations in September has triggered a robust media
debate over the wisdom of the move.

   

After a meeting of several Palestinian parties last week, Abbas said that he
would aggressively court votes in the UN General Assembly even though the U.S.
would likely veto the recognition of a Palestinian state in the UN Security
Council, effectively undermining the move. Abbas called on Palestinians in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip to peacefully demonstrate ahead of the September
session, leading to criticism in Israel that his approach was cutting off the
possibility of a bilateral solution negotiated in accordance with the 1993
Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreements.

   

In an editorial, the Jerusalem-based Al-Quds newspaper wrote that “nobody can
hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for the stalemate" of negotiations
under the Oslo process. The paper, which is supportive of Abbas and his Fatah
party, stressed that taking the statehood issue to the UN “does not aim to
isolate Israel” and that Abbas “does not intend to confront the United
States.”

   

The daily warned:

   

  With the failure of diplomatic endeavors and with Israel impeding efforts to
  reach solutions, the situation will not remain unchanged forever. Tension
  will increase and extremism will find fertile soil.

   

Responding to the argument that the Palestinians might not be ready for
statehood, Al-Quds columnist Ziad Abu Ziad added that when the Palestinian
Authority was established in 1994, “no one spoke about readiness and whether
or not we were capable of assuming the responsibility of building an entity
for the Palestinian people to head toward a state.” Yet, he said:

   

  We started from scratch, were able to assume the burdens and started
  building our institutions. The experience featured mistakes as well as
  adequate measures. In the end, we proved the people's ability to assume
  their own responsibilities.

   

Referring to the recent ascension of South Sudan as a UN member state, Abu
Ziad exclaimed that it was born “without any infrastructure, streets or
institutions!”

   

Given that the Palestinians have demonstrated “readiness,” he concluded, “let
us talk about our non-negotiable right to live freely on the land of our
fathers and forefathers.”

   

Dr. Amin Mashakba, a columnist with the pro-monarchy Jordanian daily Ad
Dustour, charged that Israel, with its building of Jewish settlements and
roads in the West Bank, is engaged in “a race against time to divide the West
Bank into isolated areas and prevent the establishment of a connected and
viable Palestinian state." Israel, he said, is "pulling the carpet from
underneath the Palestinians’ feet through its unilateral actions, its
settlements and occupation.”

   

Mashakba predicted that Israel's actions would prompt a popular uprising in
the occupied territories “during the next few days and especially after the
month of Ramadan." Mashakba also worried about the possible consequence of
"additional divisions” among the Palestinians, with the Islamist group Hamas
potentially failing to join a promised national unity government with Fatah
that has yet to be formed, before Abbas can take his case to the UN in
September.

   

Dr. Atif Abu Sayf, a columnist in the pro-Fatah, West Bank-based Al-Ayyam
daily, warned of an even more dangerous possibility in the coming period: war,
precipitated by Israel. Israel, he wrote, may provoke a conflict outside its
borders, possibly in Lebanon or Syria, in order to disrupt support for the
Palestinian demand for statehood. He wrote, without further elaboration:

   

  The Palestinians are in attack mode for the first time, which is confusing
  Israel; if it accepts this fact it will be conceding something and if it
  refuses, it will lose.

   

Papers in hardline Syria might be expected to oppose Abbas's UN strategy,
since asking for approval of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip implicitly means accepting the state of Israel in the rest of what was
once the British mandate of Palestine. Abbas proposes to define the
Palestinian state along the ceasefire lines that existed before the 1967
Mideast war. Syria's allies Iran, Hamas and the militant Lebanese militia
Hezbollah are vehemently opposed to recognizing Israel's legitimacy. However,
columnist Fu'ad al-Wadi, writing in Syria's state-owned daily Al-Thawarah,
welcomed Abbas’s UN gambit, writing that winning "the battle of September,"
for the Palestinians, would be "an important and decisive station on their
long march" to independence.

   

Al-Wadi stressed the importance to the Palestinians of finally forming a
government of Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian parties.

   

  Perhaps one of the most important tools the Palestinians must possess and
  arm themselves with before "the battle of September" is unity. They must
  rise above differences and small details. This is also a battle, of another
  kind. And the Palestinians have paid the price of losing it for too many
  years.

   

There was no unity in the media commentary, however. For their part, pro-Hamas
columnists laid out arguments against Abbas’s strategy.

   

On the pro-Hamas Filastin website, Dr. Isam Adwan, a columnist, wrote that
Palestinians have seen this move before, notably in the late 1980s when their
leader Yasser Arafat “recognized” the state of Israel -- a concession that
produced no Palestinian state and preceded more than two decades of settlement
building by the Israelis.

   

In September, he added, the Palestinians will head to yet another disaster “in
which Palestinian recognition of Israel will be complete, and Abbas will
declare defeat and a failure to achieve freedom and independence, contenting
himself with a ‘disfigured state,’ which for so long has been rejected by our
people.”

   

Calling for a tougher stance by Hamas, he said that Palestinian “resistance
groups” should “foil this tampering with the rights of the Palestinian people
via words and deeds before it is too late.”

   

Columnist Husam al-Dajani , also writing in Filastin, concurred that Hamas’s
public stance on Abbas’s September strategy has not been forceful enough. He
wrote that if Palestinians were left with a rump state in just the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, resistance groups would face international sanctions and
international military action if they continued to battle to recover more of
“historic Palestine.” Al-Dajani wrote, “This represents the greatest danger to
the future of the resistance. It also constitutes an elimination of the
Palestinian cause.”

   

Still, he concluded:

   

  This does not mean that we should not invest in determining which states
  will vote in favor of the Palestinian people's right to establish their
  independent state.

   

Suggesting that the effort could reap diplomatic benefits, especially if
statehood is ultimately rejected, al-Dajani stressed that Palestinians “should
work on establishing bilateral relations that serve the national liberation
project. We must form lobbies with these states, which can be used to pressure
the U.S. so it will act fairly toward the Palestinian people.”

   

As hot as the debate over Abbas's strategy got, al-Dajani's remarks showed
that even for a commentator opposed to settling the Palestinian issue along
the 1967 ceasefire lines, it was hard to resist entirely the idea of a
settlement at long last.

   

(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View
blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)

   

To contact the writers of this article:

   

noe@mideastwire.com.

   

To contact the editor responsible for this article:

   

Lisa Beyer at lbeyer3@bloomberg.net or +1-212-205-0372.

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