By: Dr. Aref Assaf
Speculations run aplenty surrounding the political or practical implications of the historic vote by the United Nations to grant an observer status to the state of Palestine. Irrespective of where one stands on the overall Palestine Israel conflict, the decision by the UN General Assembly represents a quantum step forward in the internationalization of the Palestinian issue. The symbolic timing of the vote- the same day as the 1947 UN vote on partitioning Palestine and the creation state of Israel – is likely to make this date a significant part of the Palestinian heritage, as well as the Israelis. The vote, however, goes beyond symbolism.
A recognized Palestinian state will indeed give Israel a responsible partner with international backing – one that will represent the entire Palestinian people. Admittedly, the oppressive Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories will continue unabated. Israel will thus render the two-state solution impossible. Shamefully, but so expectedly, Israel’s patrons in Washington have already introduced a legislation to further cripple the Palestinian Authority. While Palestinians are seeking symbolic achievements, Israel is creating de-facto realities that not only negate the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords but more importantly violate long-standing American positions on settlement building in occupied Palestinian lands. It is Israel that must be denied the unconditional American foreign aid, not the Palestinians who only receive a minuscule sum, and which, it should be noted, serves Israeli security needs.
The Palestinians recognize the UN upgrade will have little if any meaningful impact on their lives as occupied people. They will continue to live under an apartheid-like Israeli military occupation. But, on the international level, Palestine can now join the 1998 Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court and file a Complaint with the ICC against the illegal settlements and settlers, who are regularly committing war crimes against Palestinians. Additionally, Palestine can sue Israel on the illegal siege of Gaza. Palestine can also join the Law of the Sea Convention and get its rightful share of the rich gas fields lying off the coast of Gaza, thus freeing it from the grip of the Israel power supply control and infusing its economy with much-needed funds. Palestine can become a High Contracting Party to the Four Geneva Conventions which deals with the laws of war. Palestine can join the International Civil Aviation Organization and gain sovereign, legal control over its own airspace. Palestine can join the International Telecommunications Union and gain sovereign legal control over its own airwaves, telephone lines, and Internet links. Under the current Israeli military control, all these potential benefits will be denied to the Palestinians and admittedly, Israel will not permit their fulfillment.
Israel and its American friends have over exaggerated the potential impact when and if the Palestinians bring charges against Israel at the International Court of Justice. One of the most repeated fears about the status upgrade revolves around the fear of Israel being sued by the world court. As the saying goes, why be afraid if you have done nothing wrong? Obviously, Israel has known for a long time that it has committed untold crimes against the Palestinians, starting with the expulsion of close to two million people in 1948 and again in 1967, and the subsequent occupation of the rest of Palestine, destruction of property and the killing of thousands. The mere ability to sue guarantees the actual implementation of court decisions. The ICC lacks such an enforcement mechanism and only the Security Council, in which the US holds veto power, can validate and enforce the ICC’s findings. The Court’s jurisdictional regime recognizes the special role of the Security Council in maintaining peace and security. Worth noting is that both the United States and Israel, and a few other countries with dismal human rights records, have not ratified the ICC State treaty/ Thus their cooperation in arresting suspects, providing necessary documents will not be forthcoming. Of course, should Israel join the ICC, it will be able to counter sue the Palestinians, a prospect that may forestall Palestinians’ potential for legal recourse.
While the upgrade vote has affirmed the long-standing positions of so many countries vis-a-vis the creation of a Palestinian state, the real litmus test for the world community remains whether Israel will ever be held accountable for its violations of international law and systematic denial of Palestinian rights. While no one was surprised that the United States voted against the resolution, no one expected just how so many nations would vote with Palestine. Considering the pervasive domestic realities where even mild criticism of Israel amounts to a politician’s downfall, we are taking no bets the United States will, consequently, reevaluate its positions.
The next time a Palestinian leader appears at the UN, his speech will call for a full member status or seek the blessing of a one-state democracy in historic Palestine. The demographic numbers do not lie as according to Israel’s own data, more Arabs live in historic Palestine than Jews. When you consider Israel’s expropriation of Arab lands for the exclusive benefit of Jewish settlements in areas occupied since 1967 and which the Palestinians want for their future state, even the most optimistic pundit will resign themselves to the near death of the two-state solution. In hindsight, Palestinians UN victory is their irreversible historic consent to share the land among two states, one Arab, the other Jewish. By their declared objections, Netanyahu and his American puppet politicians, appear to support the one state solution.
Ultimately, the Palestinian cause is much more than UN recognition. Close to six million Palestinians will remain subject to an inhumane military occupation while more will remain exiled languishing in refugee camps dreaming of their homeland. This will not change.
Aref Assaf is president of American Arab forum. He is a frequent commentator on Arab and Muslim American affairs.