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Say Goodbye to the Failed 'Peace Process' as Palestine Goes to the UN

It's outrageous that Washington is threatening the Palestinians and the UN itself with dire consequences if a move is made toward UN recognition of statehood.

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The break — finally! — from the U.S.-backed “peace process” in favor of a UN-centered diplomatic initiative, whatever its particularities, represents a shift of historic proportions. 

More specifically, UN recognition of a Palestinian state, whether a Member State in the unlikely event of Security Council approval, or the far more likely Observer State authorized by the General Assembly, means that the State of Palestine can participate in other kinds of global engagement. Perhaps the most important possibility will be the opportunity to sign on to the International Criminal Court. That would enable Palestine to call for ICC prosecution of Israeli war crimes committed in what would by then be the territory of a State Party to the ICC’s Rome Treaty. There are no guarantees, of course. ICC prosecution, like UN membership, is a thoroughly political process. And for the same reason that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have so far avoided jail cells in The Hague, it is certainly possible that Israeli war criminals might escape as well. But the presence of the State of Palestine within the ICC still transforms the potential for international accountability and a small modicum of justice. 

Then there are the dangers. 

Since the mid-1970s, Palestinians have been represented at the UN by an Observer Mission of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO, deemed the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” by the UN itself, historically embodied the interests of all three sectors of the Palestinian people: those living under occupation in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem; those living as second-class citizens of Israel; and crucially, those millions of Palestinian refugees whose right to return to their homes remains unfulfilled. There is great fear that replacing the PLO at the UN with the “government” of an inchoate “state” of Palestine could lead to the disenfranchisement of all Palestinians outside of the 1967 Occupied Territory. 

The related danger is the potential loss of advocacy for the right of return, guaranteed by UN Resolution 194 and committed to by Israel when it was allowed to join the UN in 1949, but never implemented. The fear is that a government of Palestine would not have the authority — nor, more importantly, the political will — to fight for recognition and implementation of that right. Certainly there is no UN prohibition on any government that wants to defend the rights of any people. The Government of South Africa, or, of course, the new Government of Palestine, could in theory take up the cause of Palestinian refugees and the need to implement Resolution 194. But political will remains a problematic reality. Given that the PLO’s own advocacy for the right of return over the years has been limited, the fear looms large that a government of Palestine focused on realizing its official yet non-existent state, would see refugee rights as a much lower priority.  

So there are clear differences among Palestinians in how this process is moving forward. But for people in the U.S., the real outrage is watching U.S. officials who still believe they have the right to accept or reject Palestinian decisions about how and in what venue to struggle for their own freedom. 

It is outrageous that Washington is threatening the Palestinians, threatening other Member States, and threatening the UN itself with dire consequences if a move is made toward UN recognition of statehood. The Palestinians are being threatened with loss of all U.S. humanitarian aid, Congressmembers are urging that any country voting for statehood should lose U.S. aid, and UN agencies are being told directly that they will lose U.S. funding if they welcome Palestine to their work. It’s an old story; in the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003, the U.S. sent threatening letters to most governments in an effort to prevent the UN from moving against the looming war. The U.S. embassy in Pretoria wrote to the South African government that “[g]iven the current highly charged atmosphere, the United States would regard a General Assembly session on Iraq as unhelpful and as directed against the United States. Please know that this question as well as your position on it is important to the U.S.”

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