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Preparations for the statehood bid ignoring Palestinians

Ramallah–Despite its power and reach, the Palestinian Authority (PA) have made little effort to explain their controversial statehood bid in the United Nations to the rank and file living in the occupied West Bank. The plethora of opinion pieces, news articles and speeches by the Palestinian leadership on the statehood attempt have mostly ignored Palestinians and many have not even appeared in Arabic. Conversations in Ramallah cafes over the past months have invariably drifted to the statehood discussion and the vacuum of factual information surrounding it. The PA’s lack of transparency has compounded an already mistrusted institution after Al Jazeera revealed, in the Palestine Papers, that the PA was negotiating away core rights, including as the right of return, in secret negotiations with Israel from 2007 to 2009.

Addressing a packed amphitheatre just steps away from Ramallah’s Manara Square on a quiet Wednesday evening two week ago, former Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiator  Hanan Ashrawi spoke about the statehood attempt in an open lecture attended by mostly young Palestinian intellectuals.

The audience listened attentively to Ashrawi as she explained the statehood bid with every bit of casuistry and emollience at her disposal. Ashrawi claimed that the Oslo accords had failed due to Israeli intransigence and the statehood bid would be a ‘corrective measure.’ She noted in passing that the Palestinian leadership was at fault for allowing Israel to create ‘facts on the ground’ which have rendered the gap between negotiations and the reality of Israel’s control over the West Bank far too profound to reconcile without dramatic moves like the statehood bid.

Ultimately, Ashrawi eloquently claimed, it was the sacrosanct right of the Palestinian people to declare a state. In the pursuit of this right, the Palestinians would not harm the security of Israeli borders and the move could have a ‘psychological’ benefit for the Palestinian people.

Ashrawi’s lecture began just hours after the Bethlehem based Ma’an news agency leaked a document by British professor Guy Goodwin, which questioned the legitimacy of the PA seeking a state in which it was the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Goodwin, who is best known for his part in having the International Criminal Court of Justice declare Israel’s separation barrier illegal, noted that the rights of Palestinians living in refugee camps would be limited if the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah was able to achieve statehood and become the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

Ashrawi’s noble language and brilliant oration was not enough to assuage the anger visible among the audience members. Naturally, many of the audience questions focused on Goodwin’s piece regarding the rights of Palestinians everywhere in the world. However, most of the questions dealt with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as well as the popular resistance. Given that the crowd was largely made up of March 15th activists, a grassroots activist movement which began after the Egyptian revolution in cities in Gaza and the West Bank, Ashrawi noted that the Palestinian political establishment was listening to the demands of young Palestinians, giving the example of the Hamas/Fatah reconciliation agreement. The audience could not help but laugh at this comment because of the current status of those reconciliation talks.

Many in the audience displayed regret after the discussion due to Ashrawi’s relative dismissal of the BDS movement. Ashrawi noted that BDS is “an important peoples movement which does not enter the realm of politics.” She argued that the political realm was crucial to the liberation of Palestine and BDS as well as the popular resistance were about people connecting with people and little more. During the lecture, one activist noted that the government of Israel is getting involved in damage control related to BDS with campaigns such as ‘Brand Israel.’ She asked, “if Israel is involved, why can’t you [the PA] be involved instead of focusing on a state which no one knows anything about?”

A Palestinian political activist in attendance, who wished to remain anonymous, noted after the lecture that her concern was not about the statehood bid but about what comes after. “What concerns me is what comes next,” she told me, “Do we have concrete strategies? Are our leaders even thinking about strategies?”

Her skepticism was fluid inside the amphitheatre as most of the those in attendance had the simple desire to see drafts of the perspective state and not been even fed small crumbs of information about how the PA was attempting to change the landscape with Israel. Ramzi Jaber, director of TedXRamallah, noted “I have immense respect for Dr. Ashrawi’s abilities yet I was disappointed that she had no answers for what was going to happen in September.” He paused and noted something about Ashrawi which could easily be applied to the greater feeling regarding the PA among many in the West Bank, “she seemed increasingly out of touch with the Palestinians.”

Recently, senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath rejected claims that the PA had no direction in case the statehood bid was rejected or blocked in the United Nations. Shaath noted that even if the Palestinians are rejected a state at the UN, they will seek an upgrade to their status from observer to non-member state like the Vatican. If this initiative passes, a number of possibilities will open for Palestinians especially regarding the prosecution of Israeli war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The tension during Ashrawi’s speech highlighted a crucial weakness in the Palestinian plan for statehood. While ostensibly working in the interests of the Palestinian people, inside the occupied territories and beyond, they have struggled to gather support among their actual constituents. The PA is, according to the sentiments expressed by many Palestinians, not interested in the support of the people living in the West Bank. Rather, many feel that they are interested in maintaining their own political power and the constant flow of international aid money from the United States and Europe which, along with close cooperation with the Israeli government, allows their regime to maintain itself.

With the United Nations vote set to take place at the end of the month and PA president Mahmoud Abbas set to deliver a clear speech on statehood this week, the time for transparency about the nature of the statehood bid is upon the Palestinian leadership. Due to the lack of transparency of the PA statehood bid, further divisions are bound to take place inside the Palestinian body politic. In their quest to maintain power in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian leadership will likely keep Palestinians, in the West Bank and in refugee camps throughout the region, away from the details of their statehood bid despite the fact that these people will directly deal with its ramifications.

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    1. Are you seeking to stop this effort as well?

      Help them, don’t dismiss them. Put your back into it already.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Well, of course Abbas hasn’t explained all the ramifications of the UN bid to his people.

      If they understood even half of them, there would be rioting in Ramallah tomorrow.

      The people have enough to contend with.

      A bankrupt organisation, corrupt and illegal leaders and their “brothers in Gaza” who hate them only marginally less than they hate the Jews!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Christine Boisvert

      Now we see your real faces. The situation is Hell and it’s the only time in Hitory of a unique history in times.
      Maktoub … (it is written).

      Reply to Comment
    4. Everett (Canada)

      The ongoing peace talk charade is just a pretext for more and more occupation of Palestinian land by Israel.

      Further, if both Israel and the U.S. are up in arms against Palestinian statehood, then clearly, it must be good for the Palestinian people.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ahmad Zaidan

      This is not all for nothing, being recognized in the UN as a state is never the same as just being a UN observer, I wonder how you or your sources think otherwise.
      It’s possible the PA is not running it well and what scares me is that they do not get full recognition and get a cut down version of statehood which will not yeild the rights to pursue Israel on par in the UN.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Mairav Zonszein

      It is ironic that Palestinians feel Ashrawi is out of touch with reality, because during the first intifada in the 1980’s, and in the run up to the Oslo Accords, it was she and Faisal Husseini who were the locals, the ‘authentics,’ the ones on the ground dealing with everything and facing the Israeli army head-on, while Arafat and the proclaimed leadership of the PLO were far away, in Tunis, considered out of touch. Just goes to show how much things change and how much of a generational thing it is

      Reply to Comment
      • Oslo, the process of crushing the Intifada and the creation of the PA has changed everything on the ground.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Which intifada are you talking about?

      Before the first, I spent time with Bedouins and Palestinians and Jewish Israeli folksingers, singing together (not Zionist songs) in Beersheva and Arad cafes (I was visiting folksinging cousins).

      In both intifadas Israel asked, “what do the Palestinian leaders demand? What is proposed?”

      So, after the first intifada, Israeli leadership didn’t communicate with the Palestinian street, but sought single authorities, single representatives. The only one with any prospect of consent, was the PLO, which entered negotiation for a two-state solution, Oslo.

      After the first intifada, all of the cross-cultural relationships that were cultural rather than political, broke down, separated, and the Israeli liberal parties committed to assist in the independent Palestinian infrastructure for example (rather than the reliable and integrated infrastructure), and even likud went along with it.

      What is desired? What is proposed? The articulation of “we want to not be oppressed”, is barely a starting point.

      The second intifada did not articulate “we propose”. It only stated “we oppose”.

      Both the single state and the two-state approaches have been written off as oppressive in imposing a threatening fantasy of amicable governance (including both to Palestinians and to Zionist Israel).

      In the single state, if prohibitions from ethnic screening of land ownership is removed, then the West Bank will be a combination of Judaicized and commercialized, gentrified. Palestinians that value traditional culture, will wonder if their villages will be turned under by commercial development.

      So, in response, some Palestinian solidarity describe that some national reserves will have to be maintained, and that that somehow is substantively different than a Bantustan or two-state.

      There are contradictions with EVERY proposal.

      Rage is feared. Jews have seen rage play out into genocide, not consistently into emotional cathartic release and innovative collaborative brainstorming of mutually refreshing solution.

      They rationally fear anger. They cannot simply respond to political anger as a natural expression.

      “suppression of the intifada”, when the intifada (I assume you mean the second), mostly represents 800 incidents of intimate terror on Israeli civilian streets.

      You’ll get a few ears with that theme, but only a few. You won’t get enough ears to make social change.

      Both the Israeli right and the Palestinian solidarity right-left, regard Oslo as “the curse of Oslo”.

      I heard that invoked a dozen times by conservative Zionists in very liberal Amherst, MA on Sunday at Bernard Avishai’s presentation (only a couple times overtly, many times by inference.)


      Reply to Comment
    8. Mohammad Jasser

      What do you expect of unelected corrupt israel approved self proclaimed leadership? The UN already recognized a Palestine state in 47 on half the land only for the jackasses of PA now seeking a new recognition on half the half on to get half of the half’s half if they were lucky.The entire peace process is wrong based on whims and ill intentions.The peace will never be attained.You can’t have peace with someone already sleeping in your bedroom and pretend that you are in love.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Is there any statistical data to back this claim up? Any poll which shows that the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza oppose a state?

      Reply to Comment
    10. The issue of this post dear Yossi is not what the official polls, most of which find that a slight majority supports the statehood bid (between 52 and 60% depending where you look), say but rather what the sentiment on the ground is. This lecture by Ashrawi was a perfect example of the gulf between Palestinian leadership officialdom and the sentiments shared by rank-and-file Palestinians in Ramallah.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Deïr Yassin

      Who trusts polls made in Palestine anyway ? Though I’ve noticed Dahlia and others are very fond of Khalil Shikaki and his Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, financed by the NED (National Endowment for Democracy).
      On the NED, co-founder Alan Weinstein says: “A lot of what we [NED] do was done 25 years ago by the CIA”.
      The only polls valuable in Palestine are free elections.

      Reply to Comment