Nowhere are the grievances that perpetuate violence and war more evident than they are in Palestine today. But the world’s politicians continue to dance around the problem, rather than confront it. The recent deadly violence in the Gaza Strip was only the latest proof that people living under occupation and siege need to be offered a political horizon, and not simply a cease-fire: The case for an independent state of Palestine has never been so compelling as it is today. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to proceed with plans to seek a vote this week on recognition of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly has come despite pressure, promises, and threats from Israel and some of its Western allies.
Rather than pursuing the U.N. route, the Palestinians, according to these interlocutors, should continue to depend on asymmetrical negotiations that have served as little more than a photo opportunity.
The vote at the United Nations (which coincides with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People) would not grant Palestine full membership. Rather, it would upgrade Palestine’s status to a level comparable to that of the Vatican, it that way allowing its political leaders to bring war-crimes charges against Israelis to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Zionists rejoiced in 1947, following the U.N. General Assembly vote for partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. It is ironic that, as rockets from Gaza reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv, the Israelis who once celebrated the partition, and their descendants, do not see the importance of fulfilling the other half of the partition plan.
It is true that Palestinians, who at the time comprised the vast majority of the population and owned an overwhelming share of the land, were unhappy with the U.N.’s partition plan, which awarded them 46 percent of Mandatory Palestine. Today, Palestinians are seeking statehood on a mere 22 percent of the territory that had been part of Palestine under the British Mandate until Israel was unilaterally established on areas much larger than those awarded to the Jews by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947.
Palestine’s quest for statehood within the borders of June 4, 1967, falls squarely within international law. The U.N. Security Council resolved in November of that year that “acquisition of territory by war” is unacceptable. Subsequent Security Council resolutions and international treaties have upheld this principle.
In fact, a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders is exactly what U.S. President Barack Obama has called for. Similarly, the European Union has long advocated a two-state solution, advocating that Palestine be established on areas occupied by Israel in 1967.
As Abbas has said, the upcoming General Assembly vote is not aimed at delegitimizing Israel. It follows the Palestinian National Council’s declaration in 1988 of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. It also follows the Arab Peace Initiative, which was adopted by the Arab League at its Beirut Summit in 2002 (and to which Israel has yet to respond).
The Arab League initiative, which was also approved by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, embraces a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, but goes one step further in calling for a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the thorny issue of the Palestinian refugees. By accepting the words “agreed upon,” Palestinians, Arabs, and other Muslim-majority countries have conceded that Israel will not recognize the inalienable right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. This should allay Israeli fears that the right of return for Palestinians would effectively end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
Abbas will go to New York holding an even more important card. Israel’s recent brutal violence in the Gaza Strip has united Palestinians who were split along partisan lines. Leaders of Abbas’ Fatah faction, which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and of the Gaza-based Hamas movement have been meeting regularly to implement an Egyptian-Qatari reconciliation plan. Political prisoners from both sides have been released, and a senior Fatah delegation has just visited Gaza.
Hamas officials, including Mahmoud Ramahi, the leader of a bloc in the Palestinian National Council, have publicly supported the U.N. recognition bid. According to Mousa Abu Marzook, Hamas’s deputy leader, his movement is not opposed to Abbas’ diplomatic initiative.
An independent and free Palestine alongside a safe and secure Israel is a plan upon which the entire world agrees. Palestinians have shown that they are willing to accept minor and agreed-upon land swaps, and will be open to creative ideas for solving the problem of Jerusalem, possibly following the parameters set out by U.S. President Bill Clinton at the end of his second term in 1999.
What is needed now more than ever is political will to give the peace process a serious boost. Obama, now free of his electoral shackles, as well as the international community should give the peaceful effort of Palestinians a chance at life. The case for Palestine has never been so clear as it is today. A vote for recognition of Palestinian statehood I, to put it bluntly, a vote for peace.
Daoud Kuttab, who is a Palestinian and a former professor of journalism at Princeton University, is general manager of the Community Media Network in Amman, Jordan. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (www.project-syndicate.org).