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Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011, 8:45 am

“Palestinian Spring” Underway, as UN Statehood Bid Moves to Security Council

By Miles Kampf-Lassin

Supporters hold signs as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at his headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank, on September 25, 2011. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority and chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, returned home from the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York to Ramallah on Sunday, where he declared to a boisterous crowd of supporters that:

"The Palestinian spring is certainly under way, with the creation of an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. The journey is long and there are many obstacles, but with our people's steadfastness, we will overcome these obstacles."

This announcement coincided with the Palestinian statehood application, submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday. It will be debated and eventually voted upon by the UN Security Council, determining whether Palestine will be recognized as a full member state rather than its current status as observer entity.

While the bid for full membership is doomed to fail due to the promise of a veto by the United States, articulated by President Obama, the push for statehood through the UN does represent a significant development in the ongoing political stalemate between Palestine and Israel. It presents a new possible route to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Once the United States vetoes the application, the Palestinians will likely move for a full General Assembly vote where a large majority of countries support the statehood bid. Upon approval of the resolution, Palestine would then be admitted as a non-member observer state, a step above its current status which would allow it to apply to join UN agencies as well as the International Criminal Court, presenting the opportunity to push for investigations and convictions in allegations of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. 

These are still only possible outcomes of the statehood bid, but one clear consequence has been the further international isolation of Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently told fellow cabinet ministers in a private meeting that “By sharpening tension with the Palestinians, we are inviting isolation on Israel.” And General Amos Gilad, the chief of Israeli's diplomatic-security bureau, recently warned, also in private, that UN recognition of a Palestinian sate would result in isolation "no less severe than war."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu did his country's international reputation few favors in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Friday. Instead of attempting to bridge any of the longstanding tensions between Israel and Palestine, he devoted most of his time to defending Israel and his government from mounting international criticism.

On the issue of illegal settlement construction, Bibi pleaded that these incursions are necessary:

because Israel is such a tiny country. Without Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, Israel is all of 9 miles wide...That’s about two-thirds the length of Manhattan. And don’t forget that the people who live in Brooklyn and New Jersey are considerably nicer than some of Israel’s neighbors.

This is a truly bizarre defense of a nation breaking international law; there are many similarly sized nations that do not continually violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Even President Obama has derided this settlement activity and called for a freeze on such building—until recently, when his re-election bid has apparently trounced his previous convictions. While Bibi as well as Obama's speeches to the UN may have pleased pro-Israel constituencies, they did little to deter international pressure on Israel to recognize Palestine and negotiate a lasting peace.  

Still, the growing isolation of Israel and a campaign for UN recognition do not necessarily amount to an uprising of the like seen across much of the Arab world this year. The immediate effects of these votes within the halls of the UN, however meaningful, will do little to change life for Palestinians living under occupation, especially those in the Gaza strip. And it will certainly mean little to the thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Syria and elsewhere who hope to return to an independent Palestine. That is why many activists in Palestine and solidarity groups abroad are critical of the UN bid.

As Michelle Chen writes for Colorlines, the lack of a right-of-return provision for Palestinian refugees in the UN application has caused many organizations, including the U.S. Palestinian Community Network and Hamas, to reject the bid. She also cites reports from Palestine that show "deep ambivalence toward the issue, steeped in fear that the plans for statehood status would marginalize many ordinary Palestinians’ aspirations for true independence and sovereignty."

And Frank Barat, writing at Electronic Intifada, claims that: 

What will make the road shorter for the Palestinians—who have already struggled and endured for so long—is to mobilize as much international solidarity as possible, to shift the balance in favor of the people faster.

He points to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign along with "other initiatives such as the International Solidarity Movement, the Free Gaza Movement, the flotillas and "flytilla,” the Viva Palestina convoys, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and many other creative and spontaneous actions" as holding true potential for Palestinians to realize peace and independence.

The outcomes of the current bid for statehood at the UN will be seen in the coming months. But regardless of the vote tallies, it is clear that a Palestinian Spring is currently underway.

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University's Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is the Community Editor at In These Times. miles@inthesetimes.com @MilesKLassin

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