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Debate 1: Palestine reaches for statehood, but is it ready?

On 23 September Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and head of the Palestinian Authority, officially submitted a bid to UN Secretary…

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On 23 September Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and head of the Palestinian Authority, officially submitted a bid to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for Palestine to be recognised as a state and granted full membership of the United Nations. This bid has precisely a zero per cent chance of succeeding. In order to achieve recognised statehood Mr Abbas needs to sway a majority of the 15 member Security Council and then two thirds (129) of the 193 member General Assembly, the gathering of all UN member states. However, five Security Council members have a veto power which allows them to unilaterally stonewall any Resolution – USA, UK, France, Russia and China. Thus far, the UK and France have indicated that they will abstain from any vote; it is to be assumed that Russia and China would support Mr Abbas as they already recognise the Palestinian Authority as a state. The USA has shown itself to be the stumbling block as Barack Obama has made clear his intention of vetoing any Resolution which would allow the Palestinian Authority to join the UN as a member state.

Of course it is galling in the extreme that, should the Palestinian cause be successful at a democratic vote – and there is good reason to think that it could be, the US (or any of the other four permanent Security Council nations) is capable of  single-handedly shutting down the whole process. Nevertheless, is the US perhaps right in this instance; is Palestine really ready for statehood? The nightmare for Israel is a re-run of their experiment with self-rule in the Gaza strip. In 2005 the Israeli Defence Force withdrew from Gaza, leaving the Hamas movement in charge, who swiftly proceeded to denounce Israel whilst their paramilitary wing set about launching rockets into their neighbour’s territory. In 2009 the IDF was forced to re-occupy the strip in order to prevent the attacks. Were the West Bank to obtain recognition as a Palestinian state, it would increase the pressure for Israel to withdraw from the territory and would even grant Mr Abbas’ administration access to the International Criminal Court at The Hague to seek indictments against Israeli leaders on the basis of the occupation. If the IDF were to withdraw in response, many in Israel and amongst Israel’s supporters fear a similar reaction. Memories are not so short for those intimately involved in the conflict as they are internationally; it has been less than a decade since the Second Intifada, a mass uprising of Palestinians pushed by Yasser Arafat which involved protests, riots, rockets being launched into Israel and suicide bombings.

Yet possibly the best reason to oppose Palestinian statehood is that they have been offered exactly that in negotiations with the Israeli government twice, including all of the concessions which they asked for – East Jerusalem as a capital, a retreat to pre-1967 borders and a removal of Jewish settlement from the West Bank – by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert as recently as 2008. The only sticking point was the issue of refugees. The Arab-Israeli War, known to Jews as the War of Independence, of 1946 – 48 created a large number of displaced Palestinians; approximately five million according to the UN Relief and Works Agency. The PLO asserts that these people should have the right to settle in Israel under any peace deal and will not budge on the issue; it was on this basis that the Israeli offers of 2000 and 2008 were rejected. The entire current population of Israel stands at around 7.7 million; the return of five million Palestinian refugees would demographically destroy Israel, effectively ending its status as a Jewish state. This is clearly something that no Israeli could ever accept. The Palestinians are asking them to throw away their very existence and everything that they have fought for since 1946. The issue of refugees has been played as a bargaining chip and has secured serious concessions, but the PLO is intent on Israel accepting the unacceptable.

Although the high-handed way in which the US has pronounced it will veto the Palestinian bid if necessary certainly rankles, it can only be the correct move here. Mr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority at large have failed to demonstrate that they are ready for statehood and the responsibilities that entails.

 

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