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By Will Todman
Abbas did it. After months of frenetic diplomatic activity, during which the US tried to derail the Pale stinian President’s bid for recognition of a state of Palestine at the UN, he delivered his letter at the General Assembly.
More than sixty years after the creation of the state of Israel, you may expect that Palestinians would support any attempt to accelerate the re-establishment of a state of Palestine. However, while travelling through the West Bank this September, it became clear to me that a number of Palestinians are decidedly pessimistic about Abbas’ audacious move.
The reality is that a state of Palestine will not suddenly exist
Most Palestinians and Israelis I spoke to agree that even if, as is expected, this bid is successful in the UN General Assembly, it would mean very little on the ground. The reality is that a state of Palestine will not suddenly exist. This will not bring about a final two state solution. An official in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said to me, “I have watched this conflict for long enough to know that nothing will change. In fact, I suspect the repercussions will make life harder for Palestinians in the West Bank.”
Israel’s foreign minister threatened “harsh and grave consequences” for the Palestinians should the statehood recognition bid succeed. Israeli press reported in late August that the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) would arm settlers with tear gas and stun grenades as part of ‘Operation Summer Seeds’, both a reaction to and cause of growing tensions.
While I was in the West Bank, checkpoints were being prepared for use once again, ready to clamp down on Palestinians’ travel. One student who studies in Jordan expressed her concern that if she chose to travel to Amman for the new university term, she might not be able to return to her home town of Nablus in the West Bank if travel restrictions are imposed.
Millions of refugees would lose their representation in the UN
But the majority of Palestinians are refugees who do not live in the West Bank or Gaza, and for them the implications of this bid are more serious. The seat of ‘Palestine’ is currently held by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) and has observer status. The PLO gains its sovereignty not from a claim to sovereign land, but as the sovereign representative of the Palestinian people. This bid would make the PA (Palestinian Authority), not the PLO, the Palestinians’ representative. However, the PA only represents those Palestinians living within the West Bank and Gaza and so all those refugees living abroad would be entirely cut off. Should a state of Palestine be recognised by the UN, with the PA assuming the chair, millions of refugees would lose their representation in the UN.
As a Palestinian refugee living in a refugee camp in Beirut said, “I have never voted in an election for Mahmoud Abbas. Who says he represents me?” Indeed, it should be recognised that Abbas’ legal mandate expired over a year ago and that the PA does not even represent the wishes of those within the occupied Palestinian Territories as it is Hamas, not Fatah, who are in power in Gaza. Abbas may have proved his nerve by standing up to the world’s most powerful country, and the biggest supporter of Israel. But he has chosen to seek the recognition of a state that does not exist over the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees.
Israel will not accept this state even if the UN does: settlement building is unlikely to cease. So, aside from the futility of this political bravado of an authority which does not represent its people, living conditions may actually get worse for Palestinians and many refugees living in neighbouring countries would not only be stateless, but without representation in the UN.
As a journalist working in the West Bank said to me, “This is not just political hot air. This hot air is toxic.”