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Palestine’s New Status: A History Rerun or a New Palestinian Strategy

UN General Assembly vote to upgrade Palestine to non-member state

Palestine has become a “non-member state” at the United Nations as of Thursday November 29, 2012.The draft of the UN resolution beckoning what many perceive as a historic moment passed with an overwhelming majority of General Assembly members: 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.

It was accompanied by a passionate speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But decades earlier, a more impressive and animated Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat sought international solidarity as well. The occasion then was also termed ‘historic’.

Empowered by Arab support at the Rabat Arab League summit in October 1974, which bestowed on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the ever-opaque title “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, Arafat was invited to speak at the UN General Assembly. Despite the fervor that accompanied the newly found global solidarity, Arafat’s language signaled a departure from what was perceived by Western powers as radical and unrealistic political and territorial ambitions.

In his speech on November 13, Arafat spoke of the growing PLO’s legitimacy that compelled his actions: “The PLO has earned its legitimacy because of the sacrifice inherent in its pioneering role and also because of its dedicated leadership of the struggle. It has also been granted this legitimacy by the Palestinian masses…. The PLO has also gained its legitimacy by representing every faction, union or group as well as every Palestinian talent, either in the National Council or in people’s institutions….” The list went on, and, despite some reservations, each had a reasonable degree of merit.

The same, however, can hardly be said of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA), which exists as a result of an ambiguous ‘peace process’ nearly 20-years ago. It has all but completely destroyed the PLO’s once functioning institutions, redefined the Palestinian national project of liberation around a more ‘pragmatic’ – read self-serving – discourse that is largely tailored around self-preservation, absence of financial accountability, and a system of political tribalism.

Abbas is no Yasser Arafat. But equality important, the Arafat of 1974 was a slightly different version of an earlier Arafat who was the leader of the revolutionary Fatah party. In 1974, Arafat made a statehood proposal that itself represented a departure from Fatah’s own previous commitment to a ‘democratic state on all Palestine’. Arafat’s revised demands contained the willingness to settle for “establishing an independent national state on all liberated Palestinian territory”. While the difference between both visions may be attributed to a reinterpretation of the Palestinian liberation strategy, history showed that it was much more. Since that date and despite much saber-rattling by the US and Israel against Arafat’s ‘terrorism’ and such, the PLO under Arafat’s Fatah leadership underwent a decade-long scrutiny process, where the US placed austere demands in exchange for an American ‘engagement’ of the Palestinian leadership. This itself was the precondition that yielded Oslo and its abysmal consequences.

Arafat was careful to always sugarcoat any of his concessions with a parallel decision that was promoted to Palestinians as a national triumph of some sort. Back then there was no Hamas to stage a major challenge to the PLO’s policies, and leftist groups within the PLO structure were either politically marginalized by Fatah or had no substantial presences among the Palestinian masses. The field was virtually empty of any real opposition, and Arafat’s credibility was rarely questioned. Even some of his opponents found him sincere, despite their protests against his style and distressing concessions.

The rise of the PLO’s acceptability in international arenas was demonstrated in its admission to the United Nations as a “non-state entity” with an observer status on Nov 22, 1974. The Israeli war and subsequent invasion of Lebanon in 1982 had the declared goal of destroying the PLO and was in fact aimed at stifling the growing legitimacy of the PLO regionally and internationally. Without an actual power base, in this case, Lebanon, Israeli leaders calculated that the PLO would either fully collapse or politically capitulate.

Weakened, but not obliterated, the post-Lebanon war PLO was a different entity than the one which existed prior to 1982. Armed resistance was no longer on the table, at least not in any practical terms. Such change suited some Arab countries just fine. A few years later, Arafat and Fatah were assessing the new reality from headquarters in Tunisia.

The political landscape in Palestine was vastly changing. A popular uprising (Intifada) erupted in 1987 and quite spontaneously a local leadership was being formed throughout the occupied territories. New names of Palestinian intellectuals were emerging. They were community leaders and freedom fighters that mostly organized around a new discourse that was created out of local universities, Israeli prisons, and Palestinian streets. It was then that the legend of the Intifada was born with characters such as children with slingshots, mothers battling soldiers, and a massive reservoir of a new type of Palestinian fighter along with fresh language and discourse. Equally important, new movements were appearing from outside the traditional PLO confines. One such movement is Hamas, which has grown in numbers and political relevance in ways once thought impossible.

That reality proved alarming to the US, Israel and of course, the traditional PLO leadership. There were enough vested interests to reach a ‘compromise’. This naturally meant more concessions by the Palestinian leadership in exchange for some symbolic recompense by the Americans. The latter happily floated Israel’s trial balloons so that the Israeli leadership didn’t appear weak or compromising. Two major events defined that stage of politics in 1988: On Nov 15, the PLO’s National Council (PNC) proclaimed a Palestinian state in exile from Algiers and merely two weeks later, US Ambassador to Tunisia Robert H. Pelletreau Jr., was designated as the sole American liaison whose mission was to establish contacts with the PLO. Despite the US’ declared objection of Arafat’s move, the US was in fact pleased to see that the symbolic declaration was accompanied by major political concessions. The PNC stipulated the establishment of an independent state on Palestinian ‘national soil’ and called for the institution of “arrangements for security and peace of all states in the region” through a negotiated settlements at an international peace conference on the basis of UN resolution 242 and 338 and Palestinian national rights.

Although Arafat was repeatedly confronted by even more American demands – that truly never ceased until his alleged murder by poison in Ramallah in 2004 – the deceleration was the real preamble of the Oslo accords some few years later. Since then, Palestinians have gained little aside from symbolic victories starting in 1988 when the UNGA “acknowledged” the Algiers proclamation. It then voted to replace the reference to the “Palestine Liberation Organization” with that of “Palestine”. And since then, it has been one symbolic victory after another, exemplified in an officially acknowledged Palestinian flag, postage stamps, a national anthem and the like. On the ground, the reality was starkly and disturbingly different: fledgling illegal Jewish settlements became fortified cities and a relatively small settler population now morphed to number over half a million settlers; Jerusalem is completely besieged by settlements, and cut off from the rest of the occupied territories; the Palestinian Authority established in 1994 to guide Palestinians towards independence became a permanent status of a Palestinian leadership that existed as far as Israel’s would permit it to exist; polarization caused by the corruption of the PA and its security coordination with Israel lead to civil strife that divided the Palestinian national project between factional and self-serving agendas.

The support that ‘Palestine’ has received at the United Nations must be heartening, to say the least, for most Palestinians. The overwhelming support, especially by Palestine’s traditional supporters (most of humanity with few exceptions) indicates that the US hegemony, arm twisting, and Israeli-US propaganda was of little use after all. However, that should not be misidentified as a real change of course in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority, which still lacks legal, political, and especially moral legitimacy among Palestinians who are seeking tangible drive towards freedom, not mere symbolic victories.

If Abbas thinks that obtaining a new wording for Palestine status at the UN would provide a needed political theater to justify another 20 years of utter failures, then time is surely to prove him wrong. If the new status, however, is used as a platform for a radically different strategy that would revitalize a haggard political discourse with the sole aim of unifying the ranks of all Palestinians around a new proud national project, then there is something worth discussing. Indeed, it is not the new status that truly matters, but rather how it is interpreted and employed. While history is not exactly promising, the future will have the last word.


About the Author

Ramzy Baroud

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Ramzy Baroud
Ramzy Baroud is a PhD scholar in People’s History at the University of Exeter. He is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). 
  • dubinsky

    and just think, Baroud, if only the Palestinians had accepting the UN’s offer of a state in 1947, how much better off they would be these days and wouldn’t be relying on windy assertions of some future.

    such a shame that they decided on war

    • Mike Thompson

      It seems, dubinski, that you are confusing a Hollywood fiction of the 1947 Palestine events with the reality.

      The UN has never, nor did it ever have authority to create or offer to create a State. The vote you are referring to was to Partition Palestinian land. It had many conditions, including Palestinian`s right of return to the homes they had been driven from by European Zionist terror groups in the preceding years.

      The CIA and British military were in no doubt that European settlers in Palestine had an overwhelming military superiority, the US channeled vast amounts of arms, Illegally, including B17`s, via Czechoslovakia (Neat eh!), beating the intrinsic population into submission.

      This “Fact on the Ground” was later accepted when the UN accepted Israel as a member of the UN.

      Just think dubinski, how would you have felt if you were in the shoes of a Palestinian at that time, or since? Over 60 UN resolutions condemning Israeli actions, plus 41 US vetoes all ignored by Israel with the tacit approval of the US, and the enthusiastic backing of mainstream US media.

      Democracy! you must be joking.

      • dubinsky

        it seems, Mike, that it’s yourself suffering from confusion……not only DID the authority to partition the land rest with the UN, but the world agreed with it.

        there IS no higher authority on Earth…..

        not even Arab propaganda

        or the phantasms of dopes.

    • http://www.jeremyrhammond.com Jeremy R. Hammond

      Oh, so the Palestinians should have just given up their land in 1947, and then Israel wouldn’t have had to engage in ethnic cleansing operations shortly thereafter and invade and occupy and illegally colonize yet more land since ’67.

      • dubinsky

        given up WHAT “their land” ?

        nobody was taken land away from the owners.

        perhaps you meant to say that the Palestinians claimed that sovereignty over all the land should go to them…and although they never HAD sovereignty over any of the land…..somehow their non-negotiable demand MUST be honored.

        well, it wasn’t and they went to war rather than accept partition….that was their choice….and it sucked.
        but that was their choice.

        like elections, wars have consequences and the Palestinians ended up screwing themselves … rather than chasing the Jews into the sea.

        nope I’m not gonna say that the Palestinians shouldn’t have chosen war, but I will point out that they not only deserved to lose the war as their planning and execution of it was pathetically bad, but I’ll also note that they were very fortunate that they were treated with leniency in comparison to that which they swore to do to the Jews if the result was an Arab victory.

        • http://www.jeremyrhammond.com Jeremy R. Hammond

          There’s no sense arguing facts with you. They are as I stated them. The minority Jews owned only about 5.8% of the land at the time. Most was owned by the majority Arabs. The “Jewish state” of Israel was created by ethnically cleansing three-quarters of a million Arabs from Palestine.

          • dubinsky

            there really is no sense that you’re offering.

            what you ARE offering is very few facts selectively extrapolated from the whole and presented as if they comprise a truth that they don’t.

  • m h rubin

    Keep this type of victory coming. I am glad that Baroud sees real progress.

    But eventually, there will be an invasion of Gaza and the installation of a peaceful regime that will recognize Israel. The perfect parallel for this is what the Indian army did in East Pakistan. India invaded East Pakistan and set up a peaceful regime in what is now called Bangla Desh. The border between India and Bangla Desh has been peaceful ever since. No more rockets, mortars or bombs coming from the muslim Bengalis!

    Baroud should see that this is what is in store for Gaza, Judea and Samaria unless the leadership there mellows out and quits shooting and bombing. There are many, many Palestinian Arabs who are sick and tired of their leadership and only want to go about their daily work in peace and quiet and dignity without being harassed by Hamas and Abbas gangsters. They are ready to work in the new peace government that will take over there with Israeli protection. Note that world opinion and the U.N. accepted the Indian hegemony in Bangla Desh after about 5 years (Hey, by the way, was East Pakistan a member of the U.N.?) The same will happen in Gaza.

    With all the anti-Israeli sentiment that Baroud, Hammon and company hope for, the objective facts are that politicians say one thing and business leaders do something else. Israel is full of talented and creative people, has burgeoning energy resources and a stable politics and economy. I don’t see Intel pulling out of Israel any time soon.

    • Mike Thompson

      I note you give a parallel of India and Pakistan, let me give you a more relevant one.

      The 1099 Crusade, driven by Western religious fervour and a desire to create a Christian Kingdom in the Levant, the combination of overwhelming military strength and a disunited series of Arab rulers allowed the Franks to succeed and for almost 200 years they imposed western Christian values on the intrinsic Arab population.

      Two factors combined to bring to an end to this foreign dominance, declining support in the West and growing Arab resentment resulting in unity, with first Saladin and later Baybars, who was far more determined and ruthless, driving out every last western invader.

      Sex between Crusaders and Islamic Arabs, was harshly punished with< at the very least, the mutilation of participants. Last year a female Israeli having enjoyed consensual sex with an Israeli Arab, subsequently discovered he held Islamic beliefs and the Israeli Court jailed him!

      The Levant has had many ruling Empires, coming and going, all allowed the intrinsic population to continue with their everyday lives. The two exceptions are the Crusaders and The Israelis, and the parallels show the same reactions.

      We are nearing the end of US world dominance, China, 5 times larger than the US, has strong and growing interests in the Middle East, in the new world order the Israeli parallel with the collapse of Outremer will become increasingly relevant.

      It`s Scary!

  • m h rubin

    My dear Thompson, don’t count the US out. And don’t count Israel out either. Israel has allies around the world, including China.

    Also, anecdotes are interesting but they do not necessarily provide guidance for the future. There are movies from Israel about romance between Jews and Arabs. Great movies, shows that prejudice is not so great that it cannot be overcome between Jews and Arabs, n’est pas?

    I cite the Indian example as a model for Israel to handle a hostile religious and nationalist population. This is a 20th century precedent that can easily apply to hostile populations in Gaza, Judea and Samaria. I understand the narratives about the theft of land by Zionists etc. Both sides claim a right to the land. While the Arab side arbitrarily cuts off historical prospective of the Jewish people, the Jewish narrative reaching back beyond the crusades to the original Jewish kindoms inspired the modern Zionists who successfully established a political enterprise that resulted in modern statehood. This is a fact that nobody denies.

    Now the questions becomes what will happen to the hostile populations that were supposedly displaced by the new Jewish political enterprise. Will they be defeated? The model I favor, and which was implemented by India, will have to eventually be implemented by Israel as long as the Arab population is led by belligerent Arab nationalists and UN shakedown artists (please no pablum on the narrative of who is right or wrong.) The Israelis have some political problems regarding alleged war crimes and the accompanying hysteria in the clubbish anti Israel media, etc., but if they move quickly and decisively, the India/Bengal model that played out in Bangla Desh will be accepted, especially if the Arab insurrections is put down decisively and the borders are relatively quiet. That is the success model of the Indian Army, that is, enough POWER was utilized to QUIET the situation such that the result was accepted by the world community. The Israeli leadership will come around to this realization and act accordingly, and most Arabs will go along with the installation of a puppet because it will be economically satisfactory for the majority. As long as the war has been going on there have been Arab collaborators willing to accept Israeli shekels in spite of the death penalty usually meted out to these people when they are caught. How much better things will be once the Hamas and Abbas/Fatah gangs are quieted and disposed of.

    I note that the muslim world has for a long time accepted the Bangla Desh solution and has recognized Bangla Desh and has maintained diplomatic ties with India. Nobody disputes this. QED

    • Mike Thompson

      The “Indian solution” you seem to find relevant, is not comparable to the Levant, which contrary to the myth “A land without people, for a people without a land”. Was shown to be false in the King-Crane commission findings released in 1922.

      It said a Jewish State in the Middle East was not viable, as 1. It would require the removal of the ethnic population, and 2. It could only be sustained by force of arms. Not so the Creation of East and West Pakistan, which resulted from mass (albeit violent) population movement on land that was exchanged.

      For what it`s worth, I was a natural supporter of Israel, an enthusiastic fund collector for Israel (Admittedly Muriel Marks was influential), my automatic sympathies were for Israelis who were more like myself than Arabs. I became confused at conflictions in pro. Israeli versions of history, so started to “seek knowledge” which , in time, completely transformed my attitude.

      I mention this, simply because you and I can debate till the cows come home on an academic basis.

      The people who`s opinions really matter are those on the ground. David Ben-Gurion said of the Palestinians in 1948 “The old will die and the young will forget”. That has not happened, indeed Arab opinion of Israel is hardening (Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza and Hesbollah now holds the balance of power in Lebanon`s parliament, both creations from Arab response to Israel).

      Israel could not exist as it does without US support, You may feel this will be an eternal situation, you may well be right, if so it will be the first time ever in the history of mankind. I do not hold such a hopeful opinion.

    • Farid Uddin

      Dear m h rubin, you made a disparate comparison between Palestinian struggle for statehood and that of Indian-Pakistan war during 1971. In East Pakistan the fighting begun by its own people. More than one hundred thousands guerrilla fought to liberate East Pakistan from West Pakistan.India helped them by giving training and shelter on the ground and diplomacy in abroad.It was not until 6th December, ten days before Bangladeshis victory, India invaded East Pakistan. Before Indian invasion Bangladeshi Freedom fighters had liberated vast of its territory by themselves.In East Pakistan the war was basically between the East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Here India favored East Pakistan and in the end gave strong military assistance that made victory for East Pakistani inevitable. But in Palestine what the Israel will do by invading Gaza. How will they obliterate the large numbers of Hamas members, simply by killing them or evicting them from the territory to nowhere( probably in the sea like Rohingaya in Myanmar)? That will be another genocide. In case of East Pakistan the West Pakistani army was considered outsider, occupying force. But in Palestine the scenario is opposite. There Hamas has become indispensable part of their struggle and Israel is considered as an occupying force.So invading Gaza will give nothing but another international admonition and resentment for Israel, sufferings of innocents, crimes against humanity.Israel just cannot survive on mistakes what it is continuing to do.