Monday, 3 December 2012

Palestine, the UN vote and Israeli 'responses'

While the UN's qualified recognition of Palestinian statehood changes little and may even have some regressive effects, it's a welcome landmark in popularising the Palestinian cause, further isolating Israel and shaming its diminishing band of state backers.

The UN vote to upgrade Palestine to observer state was carried overwhelmingly, with 139 states for, 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Palau, Panama, United States) and 41 abstentions (including the UK, Germany and Australia).

Although the vote was not for full state membership, it's telling that Israel acted so vehemently in seeking to deny Palestine even this modicum of enhanced standing.

Israel's bitter 'response' to the vote: that it will proceed with building another 3000 houses, thus realising a contiguous link between East Jerusalem and its West Bank settlements.

In summoning the Israeli ambassador, the UK is, apparently, now:
"furious at Israel's decision to take punitive measures in response, including the authorisation of the 3,000 new settler homes and the development of land east of Jerusalem known as E1 for construction. A Foreign Office spokesperson said on Monday: "We deplore the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. This threatens the viability of the two-state solution."
Leaving aside its negation of the Palestine bid, Britain's belated 'fury', we can be sure, lies not in any proactive support for the Palestinians but in the discomfort it feels in Israel having upset its default posture of a 'peace processing' 'two-state solution'.

Likewise, Hillary Clinton's muted 'criticism' of the announcement only confirms Washington's own window-dressing and resilient loyalty to a state acting, like the US, as a law unto itself.

As with Israel's previous disregard for such 'warnings', there's a reasonable certainty that this latest illegal construction would have proceeded anyway, with or without the UN vote.

So, while helping to garner global awareness and public support, does the UN's ratification amount to any real advancement of the Palestinian case on the ground?

Again, in terms of the physical occupation/siege, it solves nothing: Israel, as we see from the ongoing expansion, remains in total control.

However, it does alter the political/legal configuration of the issue, as in the new fact that one state, Israel, is now occupying another state, rather than a 'territory', albeit a state with only observer standing.

Moreover, that observer status now permits Palestinian participation in various UN bodies and, more significantly, the International Criminal Court, a more acute concern for Israel, the US and UK.

As Francis Boyle (professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law) specifies: "This can be the start of a ‘Legal Intifadah’":
1. “Palestine can join the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court and file a Complaint with the ICC against the illegal settlements and settlers, who are committing war crimes;
2. “Palestine can join the Statute for the International Court of Justice, sue Israel at the World Court, and break the illegal siege of Gaza;
3. “Palestine can join the Law of the Sea Convention and get its fair share of the enormous gas fields lying off the coast of Gaza, thus becoming economically self-sufficient;
4. “Palestine can become a High Contracting Party to the Four Geneva Conventions [this deals with the laws of war];
5. “Palestine can join the International Civil Aviation Organization and gain sovereign, legal control over its own airspace;
6. “Palestine can join the International Telecommunications Union and gain sovereign legal control over its own airwaves, phone lines, bandwidths.”
Norman Finkelstein argues, in similar vein, that the UN vote represents a significant milestone in the Palestinians' legal standing, a key advancement realised by adhering to "the baseline of international law" - unlike Israel's modus operandi, which is to openly dismiss and flout it.

Yet, while acknowledging these new legal openings and gathering global support for Palestine, Ali Abinimah has strong doubts about the overall worth of the 'upgrade', believing that it merely confirms Palestinians' lowly aspirations in yielding to far less than a full rights agenda, while serving to prop-up a quisling Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.

In the wake of the latest attacks on Gaza, the strong European turn in support of this latest Palestinian bid can also be read as such countries registering their 'concerns' without having to engage in any more serious censure of Israel. It's also something of a rearguard nod to the 'moderate Abbas' rather than having to extend any kind of conciliatory hand towards Hamas.

Hamas's own declaration of support for the UN bid, reflecting its onward rapprochement with Fatah, suggests other valid concerns about a possible watering-down of Palestinian rights.

Joseph Massad also warns that the vote risks abrogating key Palestinian rights, authenticating Israel's racist colonial state and effectively handing over negotiating/spokesperson powers from the PLO to the PA.

As Massad notes, beyond all the claims being made for 'statehood', the principal issue of basic Palestinian rights  - notably, the right of return - is still uppermost for most Palestinians. And any realisation of that, as Ali Abunimah correctly asserts, will require a much more sustained agenda of internal Palestinian resistance and international solidarity.

Yet, despite these valid reservations over the UN 'victory', one can still take some encouragement from the actual vote. As Jonathan Cook (at his public facebook page) notes:
The UN vote in favour of the Palestinians is a small moment of triumph against Israeli bullying that should be celebrated. Observer status may mean little in practice, at least in the short term, but it marks a notable shift in the world community's acceptance of Palestinian rights, a trend that will continue to accelerate. It also complicates Israel's relations with the Palestinians, particularly on the issues of the settlements and war crimes, that may benefit the Palestinians over the longer term.
Despite Israel's vociferous hostility to the resolution and America's 'warning' that it 'sets back a negotiated peace', the vote represents a very public endorsement of Palestinian rights. In the wake of the latest travesty against Gaza, it's another ringing rebuke to Israel, the US and 'pragmatic' abstainers like the UK.

Israel's decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenues also helps expose its full vengeful nature - as does the deeply hateful and racist outpourings of Israel's own UNICEF 'peace ambassador' Judy Salom Nir-Mozes.

With typical chutzpah, Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor twisted the UN defeat thus:
"A defeat for Israel? I see it differently. The Arabs have an automatic majority at the UN. Only 87 of the 193 members of the UN are countries defined as democracies. In other words, more than 100 members of the UN are countries living under repressive regimes."
Might it ever occur to the 'maligned' Prosor that his is one of the most repressive, apartheid-driven regimes on earth, stealing ever-more land, starving and bombing Gazans into submission and denying basic democratic rights to its Arab 'citizens'?

In stark contrast to Israel's own selective 'democracy' and contempt for international law, the Palestinian win at the UN will be seen, in world opinion, as the actions of a courageous underdog standing up to a cocky bully and its playground protectors. Whatever long and difficult task ahead in breaking the occupation and realising true Palestinian rights, the value of such moral and popular publicity should not be underestimated.


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