Palestine and the UN bid for statehood

Palestine and the UN bid for statehood
by Duncan Shipley-Smith

A recent legal opinion highlighting the challenges and risks facing the Palestinian people in their quest for statehood in the lead up to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s bid at the United Nations in September.

The opinion, written by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University and a member of the legal team representing Jordan’s government in ‘The Wall’ case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in 2004, tackles the issues of Palestinian rights, representation, and the right of return, which may all be seriously affected by the outcome of the bid. His legal judgement can be accessed here

Frankly I disagree with Goodwin-Gill’s pessimistic view. It should be stressed that his is a legal opinion that has not been tested.

The ‘right of return’ is a given supported by international law and treaty that cannot be negotiated away. One cannot give away an ‘inalienable right’.

The PLO is not the ‘sole legitimate representative’ of the Palestinian people since the election of Hamas. In fact, the lukewarm reception of Abu Mazen in the refugee camps in Lebanon is indicative of the lack of support for the PLO. The refugees cannot vote on their own future. I recommend this article: Refugees in Lebanon react to Abbas visit – In Pictures – Al Jazeera English

When the PLO adopted the posture of armed resistance their popularity was unquestioned – the same goes for Hamas. Posters of Arafat the resistance hero still dot the buildings of the refugee camps – you won’t see one of Abbas. When Arafat, renounced violence, recognized Israel etc during Oslo it became obvious the PLO had shifted politically and lost support. The PLO was a useful and corruptible entity that was more dictatorial than democratic and in recent times has shifted more closely in step with US and Israeli policy. Cooperation on policing (Dayton’s Army) and fruitless participation in the so-called peace process while Israel continues to steal Palestine has stripped the PLO of legitimacy. It is perceived by many Palestinians as unrepresentative of their aspirations.  Mohammed Dahlan’s collusion with the US in the failed military coup against Hamas after its election win is another example of the anti-democratic conspiratorial activity of the PLO.

On another front, the US and Israel would prefer to keep their puppet and maintain the status quo. For this reason I believe the opposite to Goodwin-Gill’s opinion. The unity deal between Hamas and the PA is anathema to Israel’s control and maintenance of the status quo. The US congress unanimously agreed to economic sanctions if the PA went ahead with the UN bid. Why? Unity is a threat to US backed Israeli impunity.

If unity prevails and the democratic process extends to the diaspora then a more true representation of the entire Palestinian population is possible and is a direct threat to the neo-colonialist policies of ‘divide and rule’ and the external funding of a corrupt and complicit elite.

I think Abbas realises that the writing is on the wall and has basically said so himself. Settlements are expanding, the occupation continues, the peace process has been scuttled and will not start if Hamas is included (according to the US). Business as usual is not an option and the PLO has had its day. The Palestinian street is ambivalent about the UN bid because they realize it will do nothing to change the daily reality of occupation and oppression. So to argue against the necessity to safeguard the PLO I put forward the idea that the PLO should be disbanded and replaced by a more democratically representative body recognised by the UN. The PLO is bound by previous asymmetric agreements, it’s abolition would take with it the baggage of the failed peace process. One only has to listen to Clinton’s mantra of ‘abiding by previous agreements’ to see why Washington wants the status quo unchanged. The US exerts controlling power through its proxies Israel and the PLO.

Having said that I believe that a unity government installed through a democratic process that includes the diaspora will go a long way to encouraging the world community to recognise such a state-like quality and give access to the international legal arena in which the rights of a state’s community can be argued for and enforced. Resolution 194 (which has been disputed since the beginning), 242 3236 and others can be debated and argued for in the international court.

I can envision a UN peacekeeping force finding a place after withdrawal of settlers and the occupation force in the same way Sharon evacuated Gaza.

This phrase puzzles me a little: The Palestinian struggle is not just about ending the occupation, but about ensuring that the inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees can be realised as demanded by international law and a number of UN resolutions. It is to liberate not to legalise partition.

Does this imply that partition is to be undone? This is the unitarian one-state solution which would require the undoing of UN resolution 181 and achieve the unmaking of Israel. The right of return of Palestinians displaced from the nascent Jewish state is a very tricky subject indeed but one upheld by international law.

To sum up, I assert that the international covenants and treaties on civil, political and human rights, the clarification and imposition of the many, (some disputed) UN resolutions – many of which condemn Israel – will not go away if the statehood bid is made. The rights of each and every Palestinian under international law will not change, but the accession of a legitimate democratic representative of the Palestinian people to the international legal and political arena will further its ability to achieve the self-determination enshrined in the UN charter with the support of the international community. I believe this is an essential step in the necessary process of sidelining the US/Israeli alliance’ systematic erosion of the Palestinian position.

Ron Prosor has signalled a poor chance of Israel preventing the success of the bid with only U.S., Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic agreeing to oppose the vote and, confusingly, Abbas indicated he no longer intended to make a unilateral bid:

More importantly the Gillard government has signalled that it will not support the Palestinian UN statehood bid in September with Rudd favouring an abstention and Gillard a definite ‘no’ on the basis of unconditional support for our ally Israel. That puts Australia in the ‘moral minority’ with over 130 nations expected to support the bid for an independent Palestinian state; a right enshrined in the UN charter that Australia, as a member state , is obligated to uphold.


“Passivity always serves the interests of the status quo”. Salman Rushdie

2 thoughts on “Palestine and the UN bid for statehood

  1. I do not believe that many of us have fully understood the way in which BDS strategy undercuts debates about ‘the two-state-solution’ versus ‘one state solution’.

    Does Palestine actually exist today, especially with Israel absorbing the West Bank as a kind of economic Bantustan?

    For years the Palestinian Authority has tried to make it seem like Palestine as a state is already in place and all that is lacking is formal declaration of the state by the international community (see the film ‘The Iron Wall’ by Mohammed Alatar).

    However Palestine does not exist as a state— yet Palestine has people, history, past, memory, catastrophe, food, culture, and poems. Israel, the UN, the US, no imperialist country can ever define Palestine. Statehood confines Palestinian people to nationalism, the BDS campaign is an attempt to break away from the confines of nation states to a world where people have rights beyond these old constructs.

    Just look at what the Palestinian people themselves are asking for —


  2. Ray Bergmann says:

    Mustafa Barghouti, a PA presidential candidate in 2005, believes the long-standing Palestinian leadership in Ramallah may have made one final, but ultimately welcome, miscalculation in going to the UN.

    Asked by a reporter on Saturday if he thought the UN bid could trigger punitive measures that could lead to a potential collapse of the PA itself, Mr Barghouti said: “I wish they would do that – it would release us from the chain that’s been around our necks for years.”

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