“Non-Member Observer Status” a Hollow Victory for Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

When the State of Palestine was declared a non-member state at the UN General Assembly last week, it was hailed by the Palestinian leadership as key victory for the Palestinians in their struggle to establish their state. The vote at the UNGA where 138 countries voted in favor of Palestine with only nine states against it was an important moral and symbolic victory for the Palestinians, and perhaps, unfortunately, nothing more.

For President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority ( PA), this vote was not a necessary part of a national strategy to achieve real statehood for the Palestinians — in the absence of any peace process with Israel — rather a last-minute attempt to boost his increasingly diminished relevancy and to cover for the Palestinian leadership historic failures. This political victory is also significant in terms of its political and historic ironies.

By the time the Jewish settlers in Palestine, the “Yishuv,” declared their state of Israel in 1948, they had by then an established and experienced army numbered over 60,000 men and immediately after that an air force. For the Palestinians on the other hand, by the time the UN declared their statehood, last week, they have abandoned all of the military capabilities they had in the past and ended up making themselves helpless and defenseless.

In reality, moreover, the new status of Palestine as state is meant to compensate for the failure of the “peace process” with Israel that was supposed to lead to the same conclusion. More importantly, however, it exposes the Palestinian national-secular movement failure to address in reality the continuing statelessness of its people, the issue of Palestinian refugees and their right of return, and what will become of the Palestinians who ended up becoming Israeli citizens after the establishing of Israel in 1948 and the fate of the Palestinian diaspora.

It is worth noting ,meanwhile, that the new Palestinian “victory” and the new status at the UN came only after President Abbas failed last year to submit an application for Palestinian statehood to the UN Security Council under pressure from the US. Abbas could have submitted the application for the UNSC, last year, which would have been denied anyway, but he could have turned to the General Assembly to force it to act in place of the Security Council, and to hold a vote for full membership to the UN in which case he would have won .

But president Abbas did not use that strategy for fear of full confrontation with the US and Israel. This explains why he opted to submit an application for a non-member observer status, a watered-down status from a full-member state.

To sell this “victory” to Palestinians, PA officials have argued publicly that with this new status, Palestine can join the International Criminal Court ( ICC) and other UN agencies, thus threatening to punish Israel over its war crimes and violations of international law. Although this is all true, to activate the ICC investigation, the Palestinian leadership is required to make a declaration to accept the ICC jurisdiction as it did in 2009 and also can join the ICC on an ad-hoc basis.

But this is easier said than done. If and when the Palestinian leadership decides to take Israel to the ICC for its war-crimes violations against Palestinian civilians as per the findings of the Goldstone Report, Israel can at the same time lodge a complaint against Hamas officials accusing them of committing war crimes against its citizens. In this albeit unlikely scenario, the Palestinians will risk having Hamas leaders being prosecuted by the ICC alongside Israeli leaders.

Palestinians ended up in this political limbo ever since the late Yasser Arafat started this “peace process” with Israel over 20 years ago. In order to stay relevant in the regional politics, the Palestinian secular nationalist movement, represented by the PLO, abandoned all of its military means in the hope that negotiating peace with Israel would alone deliver them the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders.

This strategy has proven itself to be self-destructive for the secular nationalists as evident by this hollow victory. At the end of the day this new status changes nothing for Palestinians, while Palestine as envisioned by the UNGA resolution and president Abbas, is increasingly disappearing from the map due to constant illegal Israeli settlement building.

As for Hamas, while labeled as a terrorist organization by most of the world major powers, all that it has to do is to present itself as a credible alternative to the secular nationalist model, especially in light of its recent victory in Gaza, while waiting for the PLO to eventually self-destruct.

Hamas’s victory last month against Israeli attempts to destroy its military capabilities in Gaza shows that Hamas political thinking stands a better chance of establishing a Palestinian state if it shows political flexibility and moderation. Needless to say, Hamas cannot win an outright war with Israel, but maintaining a military capability that in itself can create both deterrence and a leverage against Israel, can be a winning formula to achieve a real statehood for the Palestinians. With those elements in mind, it would not be far-fetched to imagine a deal between Hamas and Israel whereby Palestinians can establish their real state under better conditions.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.