UN Palestine vote does nothing for Palestinian rights

As the UN vote on Palestine nears, opinion in much of the Western media is to support the bid. A sense of ‘about time’ and ‘Palestine deserves to be a state’ permeates the coverage. Predictably, Murdoch’s Australian shows its ingrained hatred of Arabs in today’s editorial (with no mention of the occupation, which for the paper is merely a few houses scattered on empty land).

Palestinian Ali Abunimah writes in Foreign Affairs that in fact the two-state solution is so dead and buried that the world supporting the UN vote don’t even acknowledge they are signing its death warrant:

More fundamentally, though, the entire discussion of statehood ignores the facts on the ground. For starters, the PA fails the traditional criteria for statehood laid out in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: it controls neither territory nor external borders (except for the tiny enclaves it polices under the supervision of Israeli occupation forces). It is prohibited under the 1993 Oslo Accords from freely entering into relations with other states. As for possessing a permanent population, the majority of the Palestinian people are prohibited by Israel from entering the area on which the PA purports to claim statehood solely because they are not Jews (under Israel’s discriminatory Law of Return, Jews from anywhere in the world can settle virtually anywhere in Israel or the occupied territories, while native-born Palestinian refugees and their children are excluded). The PA cannot issue passports or identity documents; Israeli authorities control the population registry. No matter how the UN votes, Israel will continue to build settlements in the West Bank and maintain its siege of Gaza. As all this suggests, any discussion of real sovereignty is a fantasy.

Nor is the strategy likely to produce even formal UN membership or recognition. That would require approval by the Security Council, which the Obama administration has vowed to veto. The alternative is some sort of symbolic resolution in the UN General Assembly upgrading the status of the existing Palestinian UN observer mission — a decision with little practical effect. Such an outcome will hardly be worth all the energy and fuss, especially when there are other measures that the UN could take that would have much greater impact. For example, Palestinians would be better off asking for strict enforcement of existing but long ignored Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 465, which was passed in 1980 and calls on Israel to “dismantle the existing settlements” in the occupied territories and determines that all Israel’s measures “to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity” and are flagrant violations of international law.

Ultimately, any successful strategy should focus not on statehood but on rights. In its statement on the UN bid, the BNC emphasized that regardless of what happens in September, the global solidarity struggle must continue until Israel respects Palestinian rights and obeys international law in three specific ways: ending the occupation of Arab lands that began in 1967 and dismantling the West Bank wall that was ruled illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice; removing all forms of legal and social discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and guaranteeing full equal rights; and offering full respect for Palestinian refugee rights, including the right of return. Palestinians and Israelis are not in a situation of equals negotiating an end to a dispute but are, respectively, colonized and colonizer, much as blacks and whites were in South Africa. This truth must be recognized, and pushing for such recognition would resonate far more with the Palestinian public than empty statehood talk.