Mouin Rabbani on Palestinian Statehood

September 14, 2011

In News

At the U.N., Palestinians Keep Cards Close to the Chest

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13, 2011 (IPS) – When the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly opened Tuesday, one of the key questions lingering in the minds of most delegates was the state of Palestine – literally and metaphorically.

Will the Palestinians go to the Security Council seeking full membership at the United Nations – even at the expense of being vetoed by the United States?

Or will they be content with “enhanced observer status” in the 193- member General Assembly, where the Palestinians can garner an overwhelming majority of states to back them?

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the newly-elected president of the General Assembly, Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser of Qatar, said, “Everything is up in the air.”

“I have no idea which way they want to go,” he said. “It’s up to the Palestinians. But they have not contacted me. Nor have I seen the text of any draft resolution. We will have to wait and see.”

Pressed for an answer, he said there are several theories floating around resulting in endless political speculation and confusion about the state of play.

“Believe me, I can assure there no secrets in the U.N. If there is a draft text,” he said, he would be more than willing to share it with reporters. “But there is no such draft text – at least not yet.”

“I believe in transparency. But I don’t have any idea of what the draft resolution would be like because it has to be negotiated,” Al- Nasser added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to be in New York next Monday, when he is likely to hand over his application to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for transmission to the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Until then, everyone is being kept in the dark.

One U.N. ambassador told IPS, “We really don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes because the Palestinians are playing their cards close to their chest.”

Abbas has publicly expressed his disappointment over the negative reaction from U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has threatened to veto any application by Palestine for full membership at the United Nations.

Playing for time, Obama wants the Palestinians to resume their talks with an intransigent Israel.

In an interview with a U.S. weekly, Abbas put it in more colourful language: “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze (which has been violated by the Israeli government time and time again).”

“I said OK. I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump,” said Abbas.

Mouin Rabbani, a visiting senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies and a highly-respected Middle East political analyst, told IPS that two decades of negotiations have achieved nothing except the further consolidation of Israeli control over the occupied territories, in large part because of consistent U.S. support for Israeli impunity.

“It is therefore high time for an alternative and more effective approach to resolve this conflict and achieve a credible two-state settlement,” he argued.

Given the systematic failure of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy under unilateral U.S. sponsorship, returning the question of Palestine – in all of its dimensions – to the multilateral forum of the United Nations is an essential first step, said Rabbani, who is also a contributing editor to the Middle East Report.

He said serious questions can and should be raised about the manner in which this is being approached by the Palestinian leadership.

“But the era in which the U.S. and other Western powers profess support for the principle of Palestinian statehood while thoroughly undermining it in practice must come to an end. Supporting a Palestinian state, provided none is established, simply won’t do anymore,” he added.

Meanwhile there are reports that a Security Council veto against Palestine would help Obama garner the support of the powerful pro- Israel lobby in his second run for the presidency next year.

And perhaps in his second term as president of the United States, Obama could take a more sympathetic stance towards Palestinians, goes the argument.

Asked about this prevailing view, Rabbani told IPS, “The proposition that he will act any differently if re-elected is simply wishful thinking, and has not even a shred of evidence to support it.”

Those making this argument, he said, are the same who previously suggested we would witness change after Obama won the election – when his main contribution was uncritical endorsement of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip.

After Obama took office, Obama serially capitulated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, particularly on the issue of settlement expansion, he noted.

And after the mid-term elections, the Obama administration vetoed a Security Council resolution on further settlement expansion largely consisting of Obama’s own words, and began adopting the demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

“If Obama is indeed re-elected, we should expect to be told to wait until he inaugurates his new administration, gets the mid-term elections out of the way, ensures a Democrat is elected to succeed him, has been approved for renewal of his driving license, and so on,” he said.

He also said that as the U.S. increasingly consigns itself to irrelevance in the Arab-Israeli equation by conducting itself as Israel’s sub-contractor rather than an independent superpower, Palestinians would do well to bid good riddance to Washington’s “mediation” and undertake systematic efforts to once again internationalise their cause.

It was, after all, in the latter context that the Palestinian struggle achieved genuine progress, while the era of U.S.-sponsored diplomacy can only be described as an era of one defeat after the other, Rabbani said.

Such a strategy, however, required first and foremost a strategy to mobilise all available Palestinian resources, as well as the active mobilisation of regional and international solidarity with the Palestinian people. To date these elements are largely missing from the leadership’s calculations, Rabbani declared.


thalif deen | u.n.bureau chief | inter press service news agency | room L-214 united nations |  | 212-963-6156 |