x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Symbolic call for 'statehood' only emboldens Abbas

Upgrading Palestine's status to "observer state" will not lead the UN to force Israel out of Palestine. Only new tactics and fresh ideas will change realities on the ground.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas returns to the United Nations today with the intention to seek, once again, a declaration that Palestine is a "state". But unlike last year, there will be no street parties in occupied Palestine, no dramatic speeches and no two-storey blue chairs stationed in the centre of Palestinian city squares. Though this year's General Assembly resolution will likely get the requisite number of votes to upgrade "Palestine's" status before the UN, the outcome will be the same for Palestinians: on the ground, nothing will change.

Upgrading Palestine's status to that of an "observer state" will not lead to a UN action forcing Israel's withdrawal from Palestine. There will be no end to Israel's occupation, no Chapter 7 resolutions in the Security Council and no war crimes prosecutions for Israel's continuing colonisation.

What Palestinians will get is another largely symbolic statement that the world stands with us, but no actions to back those sentiments.

So, if this is the case, why does Mr Abbas insist on going ahead with such moves, and why do Israel and the United States oppose them?

The answer to both of these questions lies in the flaws of the so-called "peace process" and in the body it created: the Palestinian Authority.

Established in 1994 as a temporary government, the Palestinian Authority had two primary goals: to provide jobs to thousands of Palestinians so as to wean them off of the Israeli labour market, and to create national institutions that would eventually become fully functioning ministries pending promised Palestinian statehood in 1999. The PA was marketed as the Palestinians' first step to ruling ourselves rather than to be ruled by Israelis.

Accordingly, many Palestinians clamoured to assume posts within the PA and took pride in establishing institutions that functioned despite the barriers of the Israeli occupation. The PA, for its part, did virtually everything that the international community (and Israel) demanded: be it carrying out a repressive crackdown against Hamas in the mid-1990s, allocating more money to the "security" sector than to education and health combined, or engaging in endless "reform" projects.

In these efforts the leaders of the PA believed that if they followed the edicts of the international community (and Israel) Palestinians one day would be free.

But with the international community unwilling to challenge Israel, and the existence of a gross disparity of power between Israel and the Palestinians, the promised freedom did not materialise.

With the collapse of negotiations more than a decade ago, and the failure by the international community to pressure Israel to end its military occupation, the PA's structural flaws were revealed: rather than being a tool to end the occupation, the PA was transformed into a vehicle to continue the occupation.

The very existence of the PA, and its subservience to the international community, was antithetical to a strategy to end Israel's military occupation. Through the establishment of its various security branches - manned by thousands of Palestinians and making the Palestinians the most policed people on Earth - the once "national" institutions came to be viewed by many as the security subcontractor to the Israeli occupation.

Today, with Israel's unabated and insatiable appetite for Palestinian land and resources, the lack of international pressure to stop Israel and the lack of any strategy by the PA to challenge Israel, Palestinians have taken to the streets demanding an end to the very Oslo Accords that created the PA. Support for the PA and Mr Abbas is now at an all-time low. So, in order to appease Palestinians, and perhaps gain another year for a dying political regime, Mr Abbas continues to resort to symbolic measures to demonstrate that he is pushing for Palestinian freedom.

For Israel's part, it is clear that it is content continuing its apartheid and the United States is content in supporting it. Even uttering the words "state of Palestine" - no matter how devoid of meaning - is difficult for both. But, unlike last year when Israel and the United States threatened to cut off funds to the PA for its UN bid, this year such talk has dissipated in favour of measures to ensure the survival of the PA, so as to ensure that the PA continues to afford Israel the security, stability and normality it desperately seeks, despite its gross human rights and international law violations.

And sadly, the PA will oblige.

The PA will continue to provide security to its occupier and Mr Abbas will not take the steps needed to secure Palestinian freedom: he has not supported Palestinian calls for boycotts and Israel's isolation, and he has failed to press for international sanctions on Israel.

Moreover, while claiming to support non-violent resistance, the PA has done nothing to organise or support it. Rather, the PA will not rock the boat while at the same time trying to demonstrate to Palestinians that it is.

The time has come for Palestinian leaders to stop reusing old symbolic tactics aimed at boosting their popularity and instead lay out a strategy to challenge Israel's continuing denial of freedom - a strategy that abandons the charade of negotiations. As the saying goes, "history repeats itself first as tragedy and second as farce".


Diana Buttu is a lawyer who previously served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team