Western countries that abstained or voted for the United Nations General Assembly resolution on Thursday upgrading the Palestinian representation in the UN to that of a non-member state have depicted their decision as a vote in favour of a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians and a two-state solution. However, Palestinian officials have been telling their own people that the vote was a substantive step towards forced Israeli capitulation, not compromise.
Significantly, Palestinian officials say they intend to argue that their increased recognition of statehood automatically entitles them to massive political dividends, including a presumption of final borders.
The disparity in language between the internal Palestinian narrative on the vote and the way the vote was treated in Europe and elsewhere is indicative of the Palestinian diplomatic success in framing the vote to foreign governments as merely “symbolic” and as an impetus to jump-start the peace process, while elsewhere revealing that they intend to use the recognition to gain an advantage against Israel.
European countries that voted for the resolution – the keystone of Palestinian efforts to cloak the resolution with an air of legitimacy – made it plain this week that their vote was meant to show support for negotiations, not pre-empt them.
As the European Jewish Press reported regarding Spain:
Spain believes the Palestinian bid to upgrade its status from a UN General Assembly observer entity to that of a non-member observer state was “the best way to move towards peace,” he said.
“We would have preferred as a government if we had not been obliged to arrive at a vote because that would have meant that peace negotiations had advanced,” he said.
Yet a broadcast on the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation’s radio station on Thursday morning telegraphed anything but peace, reconciliation or moderation, instead depicting the vote as a major step towards claiming land inside of Israel such as Haifa and Afula – essentially advocating Israel’s destruction.
As was translated by the Israel Resource Review:
“Today the whole world recognises the criminality of the occupation, the existence of a Palestinian State. Everyone except the United States, which has prevented Palestinian aspirations in the past, and Micronesia, a country of only 30 kilometres.
Today is a proud day to be a Palestinian, and we must be united. Today we take the first step towards ending the occupation, and reclaiming our homeland, from Gaza, to Nablus, Jerusalem, Haifa, Afula, all of Palestine. We will use our new found recognition to hold the occupation accountable for its crimes against humanity in the past two weeks.
We are all one Palestine, and now more than ever we must be united because this is the beginning of the end of the occupation.
Our brothers in Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gaza, we now all speak with one voice”.
In a post on Thursday on the Palestinian Media Watch website, Itamar Marcus and Nan Jaques Zilberdik identified two far from moderate political gains that top Palestinian Authority officials have claimed they will gain from the passage of the resolution. The first gain would be to change the status of land under Israeli administration since 1967 from disputed territory to unequivocal “occupied territory” thus allowing no further dispute about borders – all the territory would be unequiovcally “Palestinian.” The second gain would be to change the status of Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists who targeted civilians, to prisoners of war or even illegally-held “hostages. Not only that but, Palestinian sources argue, it would mean Palestinian violence against Israel was unequivocally legal.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, quoted in the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, said that the vote would make negotiations over the borders of the Palestinian state superfluous. All of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem would be considered Palestinian.
[After the vote], we want to establish that the Palestinian territories that were [taken] in 1967 including Jerusalem [are occupied], since Israel has a different approach. It says that the territories occupied in 1967 are disputed territories. In other words, up for negotiations’
PMW found a similar quote from PA Foreign Minister Riad Al-Maliki from July.
In addition, Marcus and Zilberdik quoted PA Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs, Issa Karak twice saying that he expected the UN vote would change the fundamentally status of Palestinian prisoners and legitimise past violence.
“[PA Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs, Issa] Karake… explained that the international recognition of the Palestinian State changes all the imprisoned Palestinians into prisoners of a state, prisoners of war held hostage in another state… He noted that the recognition of the state means recognition of the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle that the Palestinian nation fought, in the search for freedom and independence. In addition, it [recognition of a state] indicates that the struggles (Arabic- Nidalat) of the prisoners are legitimized and legal according to UN Resolutions, international laws and the third and fourth Geneva Conventions.”
Elsewhere, Anne Baefsky, editor of Eye on the UN, has identified two further ways Abbas has tried to use the UN upgrade process to move the Palestinians’ political football further towards the goalposts.
In the first example, Abbas conjured the existence of a pre-condition for Israel’s admission the UN in 1949 which never was.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, U.N. “Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” event; (statement delivered by Foreign Minister Riad Malki, New York, Thursday morning: “Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1949 was accompanied by two conditions: Israel’s commitment to . . . the return of Palestine refugees to their homes…”
Abbas also used his speech before the General Assembly vote on Thursday to accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and institutionalised racism.
“The Palestinian people . . . miraculously recovered from the ashes of Al-Nakba of 1948 which was intended to extinguish their being. . . . Israeli occupation is . . . an apartheid system . . . which institutionalises the plague of racism.”
The upshot of the statements by Abbad and other top PA officials is that the legal and diplomatic implications of the UN vote extend well beyond the main issue most analysts have focussed upon – that the Palestinians are clearly hoping to use “Lawfare” to prosecute alleged Israeli human rights violations at the International Criminal Court. The evidence would suggest that they also intend to argue that since they are a “state”, all Israeli self-defence, including arresting terrorists, is illegal since the occupation is itself illegal by virtue of occupying the territory of the “state” of Palestine. According to this logic, therefore Palestinian terrorism is legal and justified – while all Israel responses are war crimes or other violations of international law.
Of course, while the risk of countries accepting the Palestinian argument exists, the problem for the Palestinians is that most of the countries abstaining on the resolution made it abundantly clear that they did not intend for the vote to represent more than a symbolic show of support for eventual actual Palestinian statehood through negotiations with Israel. They certainly did not intend for the resolution to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations on core issues such as Jerusalem, borders and refugees – nor did they intend them to be a vote in support of Palestinian terrorism and other violence against Israel.
In addition, try as they may, the Palestinians themselves cannot ignore the fact that the language their resolution itself includes passages reaffirming the principle of conflict resolution through negotiation with Israel.
For this reason, Palestinian leaders face a tough sell in their attempt to milk more political dividends from a simple General Assembly resolution than it deserves.
Despite the large number of abstentions in the vote – and even in the cases of the European countries that voted yes -Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Cyprus and Malta – it can in no way be said that the vote represented a wholesale acquiescence by those countries to the Palestinian position, No amount of hype over the symbolic significance of the vote is likely to change that.
Nonetheless, it is certainly at the very least extremely unhelpful for future peace prospects if widespread Palestinian beliefs develop that the resolution means that the borders of a future Palestinian state are now settled, that Israel is essentially commanded to unilaterally retreat behind those borders, that all terrorism against Israel has now been declared legal and justified, that all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are now illegally held “hostages” whatever their crimes, and that all Israeli measures of self-defence are now war crimes. It will therefore be incumbent on those in the international community who abstained or voted for this resolution as a symbolic statement of support for a two-state solution to be very loud and public in informing the Palestinians – both the leadership and the general population – that none of these interpretations apply.