Bracing for a Boomerang

Getting the United Nations to vote on Palestinian statehood is not as brilliant a move as some would think, dissenters warn

The decision to ask the United Nations in September vote in favor of accepting the state of Palestine as a member of the organization marks a new watershed in the internal Palestinian discourse. Initially, outside the inner circle surrounding Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian negotiators, the Palestinian Authority chairman's initiative was greeted with suspicion. It was shrugged off as a declarative "trick" meant either to force Israel into a verbal commitment to stop construction in the settlements and thereby enable Abbas to return to negotiations, or to prompt the United States into pressuring Israel.

Gradually, in wake of Israeli refusal and American silence, the date began to assume mounting importance. Young activists (who initiated the March demonstrations against the intra-Palestinian split ), expect that after September, "some substantial change" will take place, even if it is not yet clear quite what.

Palestinians Ramallah - Reuters - March 15, 2011

Hani al-Masri, director of Bada'el (Alternatives ), the Palestinian Media, Research and Studies Center, feels, like many other Palestinians, that there is no clear strategy behind the initiative.

As evidence, he notes how the Palestinian leadership was caught off guard when Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz recently ordered a freeze on the transfer of PA tax revenues. "If the PA is not prepared for even one anticipated act of revenge by Israel, what will happen after September, when we can expect a series of similar and more serious Israeli actions?" he asks.

The talk in political circles in Ramallah is that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad does not support the initiative to declare a state (and to request that it be accepted into the United Nations ).

This also indicates the absence of a clear strategy. Yet al-Masri believes that the act of going to the United Nations is in and of itself important. "What's important is that everyone understands that the period of negotiations, as we have known them for the past 20 years, is over," he said. In other words, negotiations not based on international resolutions or the right to self-determination, but rather, on Israel's military superiority.

Al-Masri belongs to a group of independent activists who have served for years as a bridge between Hamas and Fatah, working to bring about internal Palestinian reconciliation. He believes that the recent reconciliation agreement compensates for the absence of a clear strategy behind the UN initiative. This agreement, the anticipated UN vote in September and the fact that Palestinians have stopped deluding themselves about the negotiations, he believes, strengthen the probability of a popular uprising against the occupation. He objects to dismantling the PA after "September" - an option also proposed by Abbas. The PA should focus on its civil function as a "mega-municipality," he says, whereas the Palestinian Liberation Organization should reassume its role of leading struggle for a state within the 1967 borders.

Dr. Khalil Nakhleh, an anthropologist and sociologist, takes a different view. He believes that Palestinians expectations leading up to September are unjustifiably high and will strike back at the reigning Palestinian elite like a boomerang.

When the people realize that nothing significant has changed after September, he says, they will begin to ask their leaders tough and embarrassing questions.

Nakhleh, who worked as a project manager in non-governmental organizations, and afterward in the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, thinks that focusing on the project of a small state is dangerous.

'Not a turning point in PA politics'

Approaching the United Nations "is not a turning point in PA politics," he says.

"Having a state was always depicted as the ultimate achievement, and I think that they will accept any state they get, of any size, by the powers that be - Israel and the United States. Fatah, as a ruling party, doesn't have any legitimacy without having a state. Without a state, they cannot justify their existence here since 1994. If you look at it in retrospect, the only thing that comes to mind is a bunch of money-hungry capitalists who came and benefited from the situation here.

"They were always gripping the people at deadlines. Now it's the September UN deadline. The United Nations is part of the quartet setting our agenda. Why should it suddenly change? The diplomatic moves are another mechanism to derail the Palestinian popular struggle for legitimate Palestinian rights, and liberation from occupation, apartheid and economic dependency and exploitation, while preserving the economic illegal gains of those in power."

In the coming weeks Nakhleh's book "The National Sellout" will be released in Arabic (published with the support of the Rosa Luxembourg Fund in Ramallah ). Back in 2004, Nakhleh had published a book criticizing the policy of donations to the PA and the illusion of development.

In his latest book, he intensifies his criticism of the Palestinian business sector and puts the PA and donor relations in the context of globalization.

Game about changing titles

Nakhleh asserts that the UN initiative is "a game about changing titles. If you push the idea that something is going to happen in September, then all dissenting views to the two-state solution are stymied. They're not allowed to surface. No other platforms are permitted. It becomes then a pretext of timing. The timing is wrong. How many times have we heard about the wrong timing?

"There is a big illusion that is being created. People who support or are not willing to argue about this September are the same people who accepted the notion of Oslo. A flag and a name in the United Nation will not get us anywhere, not one step toward liberating people or their minds. Our struggle is to ensure that our fate does not become the same as that of other indigenous people. While promoting the solution of a small Palestinian state, the PA is taking a position against 53 percent of the Palestinian people [who don't live on the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip]."