In his anticipated speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is expected to make another impassioned plea for the recognition of Palestine as a full member.
Abbas’ landmark speech would not be the first time the Palestinian Authority president has lobbied for such status. In September 2011, the PA’s pursuit of full recognition was thwarted by the Barack Obama administration, forcing the Palestinians to choose the next best option, a “symbolic” victory at the General Assembly the following year. In November 2012, UNGA Resolution 67/19 granted the State of Palestine non-member observer status.
In some ways, the resolution turned out to be symbolic indeed, as it didn’t change anything on the ground. On the contrary, the Israeli occupation has since deteriorated, a complex apartheid system deepened and, lacking any political horizon, Israel’s illegal Jewish settlements expanded like never before. In addition, much of the occupied Palestinian West Bank is actively annexed to Israel, a process that sparked a slow but systematic campaign of displacement, felt from occupied East Jerusalem to Masafer Yatta in the hills of southern Hebron.
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Proponents of Abbas’s diplomacy, however, cite facts such as Palestine’s admission to more than 100 international treaties, organizations and conventions. The Palestinian strategy appears to be based on achieving full sovereignty status at the UN, so that Israel will then be recognized as an occupier, not just of Palestinian ‘territories’, but of a real state. Israel and its allies in Washington and other western capitals understand this well, hence their constant mobilization against Palestinian efforts. Given the dozens of times Washington has used its veto power at the UN Security Council to protect Israel, the use of veto is also likely, should Palestinians return to the UN Security Council with their application for full membership.
However, Abbas’s international diplomacy seems to lack a national component. The 87-year-old Palestinian leader is hardly popular with his own people. One of the reasons that resulted in his lack of support, aside from endemic corruption, is the PA’s continued “security coordination” with the Israeli occupation that Abbas has been raging against in his annual UN speeches. These “coordinations,” generously funded by Washington, translate into the daily arrest of Palestinian anti-occupation activists and political dissidents. Even when the Donald Trump administration decided to end all aid, including humanitarian aid to Palestinians in 2018, the $60 million allocated to funding the PA’s security coordination with Israel remained untouched.
Such a stark contrast has taught Palestinians to lower their expectations of their leader’s promises of complete independence, albeit symbolically.
But the contradictions did not start with Abbas and the PA, and certainly do not end with them. Palestine’s relationship with the world’s largest international institution is marred with contradictions.
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While the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 remains the primary historical frame of reference for the colonization of Palestine by the Zionist movement, United Nations Resolution 181 was equally important, and to some extent even more important.
The significance of the Balfour Declaration stems from the fact that colonial Britain – later given a ‘mandate’ over Palestine by the League of Nations, the predecessor to today’s UN – made the first official written commitment to the Zionist movement. to grant them Palestine.
“His Majesty’s Government is in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” the text read in part. This quest, or “promise,” as many are known, would have come to nothing tangible had it not been for the other colonial, Western allies of the Zionist movement to make it a reality.
It took exactly 30 years for the Zionist quest to translate the promise of the then British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, into a reality. UN Resolution 181 of November 1947 is the political foundation on which Israel existed. Although the current borders of the State of Israel far exceed the space allotted to it by the UN Partition Plan, the resolution is nevertheless often used to establish a legal basis for Israel’s existence, while the Arabs are chastised for refusing to accept what they rightly saw as an unjust deal.
Since then, the Palestinians have continued to struggle with their relationship with the United Nations, a relationship that is dominated by many contradictions.
In 1947, the United Nations was “largely a club of European countries, English white settler states, and Latin American countries ruled by colonial elites of Spanish descendants,” wrote Michael Lynk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Palestine. in a recent article on the division of historical Palestine.
While the geographic and demographic makeup of the UN has changed dramatically since then, real power remains concentrated in the hands of the former Western colonial regimes which, apart from the US, include Britain and France. These three countries represent the majority of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Their political, military and other forms of support for Israel remain strong. Until the distribution of power at the UN reflects the true democratic aspirations of the world’s people, Palestinians are expected to remain at a disadvantage at the UN Security Council. Even Abbas’s fiery speeches will not change this.
In his memoir, referenced in Lynk’s article, former British diplomat Brian Urquhart, “who helped launch the UN,” wrote that “the partition of Palestine was the first major decision of the fledgling United Nations, the first major crisis and, arguably, his first major misstep”.
But will the UN’s current paradigm of power make it possible to finally rectify this historic ‘misstep’ by giving the Palestinians long-delayed justice and freedom? Not quite yet, but global geopolitical changes underway could provide an opening that, if navigated correctly, could serve as a source of hope that there are alternatives to Western bias, US vetoes and Israel’s historic intransigence.
The views expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect Middle East Monitor’s editorial policy.