The artful magician relies on basic tricks in order to perform his illusions. He talks to distract the audience, giving irrelevant details to keep their minds occupied. He uses his skills to draw their attention to a certain place. Then, while all eyes are focused in one direction, he subtly and deftly carries out his deception, making them believe in a distorted reality; something their common sense tells them cannot be, but that their minds are inclined to accept.
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The artful magician is Israel. The grand illusion is that the Palestinian application to the UN for non-member status is a unilateral step designed to bypass negotiations. Moreover, that this is something perverse, a barrier to peace, “diplomatic terror” even.
Israel talks about statehood as if it were a decision upon which it should be consulted, and the outcome of which it should ultimately be allowed to determine. Declaring independence as a state is a sovereign decision and the right of all nations: it is something which, throughout history, has never been negotiated bilaterally. This declaration of independence is naturally a unilateral step. It was a unilateral step for USA in 1776. It was a unilateral step for Israel in 1948. And it was a unilateral step for Palestine in 1988.
But such declarations and the existence of the state have nothing to do with the UN bid. The 1933 Montevideo convention (the treaty on statehood accepted as part of customary international law) makes it clear that the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states. Indeed, Palestine fulfils all of the four fundamental criteria of the Montevideo Convention. Palestine has a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with the other states.
What Palestine is seeking from the UN is recognition in accordance with international law. Applying to the most representative multilateral body in the world, the organization where countries meet to resolve global affairs is not a unilateral step. To date, 132 of the UN member states, more than 75% of the world’s population, have already individually recognised Palestine.
Israel claims that the UN bid is an attempt to bypass negotiations. This is simply untrue. Membership of the UN will not replace the need to negotiate on a number of issues with Israel, in order to reach a just and enduring peace. What it will do is help to salvage what is left of the two-state solution, the solution supported by the entire international community as the way to resolve this conflict.
Israel disingenuously makes reference to the Palestinian economy, questioning its “stability” and “readiness" for statehood. The 45 year-long illegal Israeli occupation is the overarching cause of economic problems in Palestine. This occupation imposes 522 movement restrictions throughout the West Bank; places Gaza under constant siege; and steals large tracts of Palestinian land and natural resources. This occupation imposes a ceiling on every aspect of Palestinian life and costs the Palestinian economy a staggering 84.9% of its annual GDP. These facts aside, the simple truth is that economic stability is not a requirement for UN membership.
All of Israel’s claims, like the magician’s sleight of hand, serve to divert and distract from what is really happening. He can plant a seed of doubt in the mind of even the most rational and impartial observer. You know that the rabbit can’t disappear from the hat; the laws of physics won’t allow it. It is ridiculous to believe otherwise. Similarly, you know that the request for membership in the most representative organization in the world is a peaceful and diplomatic step. You know that it is ridiculous to demand that an occupied country get approval from its occupier before applying for UN membership. The idea that we are supposed to get permission from our oppressor to obtain our freedom is simply absurd.
But this is the beauty of the illusion. While your brain knows better, you are being cleverly led to believe the absurd.
Meanwhile in the magician’s other hand, and away from your attention, the illegal settlements continue to expand; the forced displacement of the Palestinian population takes place in East Jerusalem, Hebron and the Jordan Valley; the illegal wall continues to suffocate communities, annex occupied East Jerusalem and cut families in two. Israel is carrying out an endless string of unilateral actions which are devastating the lives of ordinary Palestinians, shattering the prospects of the two-state solution and jeopardising peace in the region for years to come.
A magician creates illusions to entertain. Israel does it, because Israel wants to impose its own version of reality. The illusionist knows what is real. Israel’s aim is to create Greater Israel at the expense of the two-state solution, to continue expropriating more and more Palestinian land and resources and to force Palestinian communities into walled Bantustans, in order to make the prospect of an independent Palestinian state ‘disappear.’
There is no doubt about it. Israel is a gifted craftsman, a master illusionist, the best in the business. The question is: How long will the audience allow themselves to be deceived?
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO Executive Committee and holds responsibility for the Department of Culture and Information.