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October 4, 2011

Palestine: A seat at UN is too much to ask?

Prince el Hassan bin Talal

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On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that Palestine, which was under a British Mandate since 1922, be divided into two new independent states - one Arab and one Jewish.

Arguments over the division of the land continued. It was against this context that the Jewish Agency, perhaps understandably but also pre-emptively and unilaterally, declared the State of Israel. That declaration was immediately recognized by Harry Truman, and accepted by the UN a year later. It also marked the beginning of the Arab-Israeli wars, as five Arab armies crossed the borders of what had formerly been British Mandate Palestine.

The decisions made 64 years ago continue to haunt us. For two decades, peace negotiations have failed. In 1993, when the Oslo accords set up a framework for a negotiated settlement for a two-state solution, there were little more than 100,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. Today, that number stands at more than 300,000. More than half a million Israelis now live “beyond the Green Line” in what is designated a future Palestinian state.

At the same time, an extensive “security barrier” winds its way around these settlements, segmenting the West Bank into four unconnected areas and, in theory, making the creation of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state impossible. Democracy is not admirable if it is hidden behind a wall.

As Palestine launches an official request for full UN membership and recognition as a state, four key lessons can be drawn.

The first is simple: At the current rate of annexation, facts on the ground will render a two-state solution impossible. Continued settlement increases the leverage of one party, at the same time as the other party is being dispossessed.

Second, it is becoming harder and harder to believe that the United States is capable of negotiating a peace between the parties. Earlier this year, the Obama administration vetoed an unbinding resolution condemning the very same settlements the President himself had condemned as unacceptable. Last year, he asked the General Assembly to devise an agreement whereby we could see “an independent sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel.”

Yet, the U.S. has made it clear it will use its Security Council veto to stop the Palestinians from joining the UN as a full voting member. It has also refused to join in a more symbolic General Assembly vote that could change the Palestinians’ status from a “non-voting observer entity” to a “non-voting observer state.” The designation of “observer state” would not make Palestine a fully fledged member of the UN, but it would mark a stepping stone toward this, and allow Palestinians to attend debates at the UN and other international institutions. Why is this so threatening? Direct talks between unequal parties will always fail. The cycle of subordination has to stop.

To anyone on the outside looking in, including those of us who are good friends of America, the disconnect between rhetoric and action can only mean one thing: that the U.S. can’t be relied on to guarantee Palestinian rights as assiduously as it does Israeli rights, and that it lacks the heart and moral conviction to be a sincere and impartial partner for peace.

Which brings us to the third point: Of what value is self-determination if it can only be bestowed and not achieved? Palestinians are to be “given” their independence and freedom. They are not allowed to “win it.” That, we are told, would be “unilateral” – despite the fact that the application is seeking the recognition of the world’s foremost international institution. As a citizen, I am not afforded my freedom by the state. It is my inalienable human right. This applies just as much to the people of Israel as it does to the people of Palestine.

We speak of “statehood” but, in essence, we mean something far deeper: the concept of a homeland built on history, memory and family. This is something the Israeli people should understand. The 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel says: “After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.”

Finally, it should be remembered that, whatever happens at the UN, the occupied territories will still be occupied, settlement building will continue, peace will remain uncertain, and the status of Jerusalem will remain in question. It’s within this context that a seat at the UN table is seen as too much to ask for.

Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother to Jordan’s late King Hussein and uncle to King Abdullah II, is chairman and founder of the Arab Thought Forum and author of Palestinian Self-Determination.

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