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Will the two-state UN bid make a difference on the ground?

Festivities were held in Ramallah throughout the day to celebrate the Palestine Liberation Organization’s bid at the United Nations to receive an upgrade to non-member observer state. It’s a bit ironic that the Palestinian Authority chose Ramallah for these official festivities—isn’t East Jerusalem supposed to be the Palestinian capital according to the two-state solution?

And President Mahmoud Abbas’ move is a two-state move, as some of my students angrily pointed out this week. One girl, who is the 18-year-old granddaughter of Palestinian refugees who fled the massacre in Deir Yassin, said that Abbas is giving up her right of return. Another young woman said Abbas and the PA need to go—as does Hamas. She likened both to dictators.

I also heard this sentiment throughout “Operation Pillar of Defense.” While many of my students were excited to see the Palestinian moqawama (resistance) holding its own as Israel pummeled the Gaza Strip, some also felt that there is a need for something entirely new. Not the PA, not Fateh, not Hamas. This flies in the face of mainstream media reports—written by people who have very limited contact with Palestinians—that “Operation Pillar of Defense” represented a tipping point during which Hamas garnered more support. Support for Hamas was already quite strong at the university I teach in; Fateh had a weak showing during local elections in October.

What I saw change during the Israeli assault on Gaza is that my students were energized—they wanted to do something for Palestine. It was no longer enough to keep Palestine in their hearts; the idea of “existence is resistance” was no longer enough either. But before they got anything off the ground, “Operation Pillar of Defense” was over and the feeling of urgency waned a bit. They’re used to the grind of occupation—the checkpoints, the restrictions on freedom of movement, that they can’t visit their grandparents villages. And then the UN bid was upon us all.

Many of my students support the UN bid. It feels like some sort of victory, even if it’s only on paper. Some feel it might bring some sort of change by raising international awareness of the Palestinians’ plight.

My Arabic teacher who lives in East Jerusalem but is a Palestinian citizen of the state—and who holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies—said that he supported the bid because, even though there is a one-state reality on the ground, Israel will never recognize one state. The UN bid would be a step towards independence, he said. When asked about refugees and lands inside of 1948, he shrugged, “I’ve given up… [A state based on] 1967 borders is all we can hope for.”

Although East Jerusalem would be the capital of that state, the Palestinian side of the city was quiet today. Life went on—suggesting that for those who don’t live in Area A, little will change. For those who do live in Area A, little is likely to change, also.

But, the bid could bring more attention to Palestine. It might make people around the world scratch their heads and ask themselves, “Wait, what is a foreign army, the Israeli army, doing in a sovereign state? Why are they transferring their civilian population to a neighboring country?”

The international community needs to wake up and, if the UN bid helps facilitate an awakening, that’s a good thing. But I’m worried about the implications of the move and, as I believe that one state is the only just solution to the conflict, I’m not sure where I stand on the bid. I’m concerned that it might preclude my students from going home.

But part of me senses that UN recognition won’t stop the next generation from reaching their ancestors’ lands. The young woman whose grandparents came from Deir Yassin is quiet, shy, and a good student. I was shocked when she told me, casually, that she once snuck into Israel without a permit and spent a day in Jerusalem. She is nothing if not determined and a piece of paper, or lack of one, won’t stop her.

As for the childish, impudent Israeli reaction to the UN bid, it just proves that this government–like those before it–will not tolerate the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. 65 years ago to the day, Israel was created by a UN vote. The Arabs did not agree to the move. There were no negotiations. It was unilateral. Ironically, by rejecting the PA’s attempt to do exactly what was done to establish Israel, Israel is now delegitimizing its very foundation.

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    1. Nationalism, as a tool of social life, needs micro benefits to those employing it; not benefits in “resistence,” but network help in times of distress or lesser need, as well as in building horizons of future life. “Two States,” “right of return” are ideological labels which become impotent over time. A young woman sneaking into Jerusalem is a separate engine for creating links, or might be.

      I would hope ultimately at least the right to travel to one’s familial past, if not reside. Social networks have to deal with real possibility, not fantasy. Foregin aid and Israeli tax transfers have created a temporary value to some ideological labels, as the above, but there seem to be signs this aid has not stabalized the local economy. Without a freer economy, there will be a gap between those on the Authority payrolls, with their families, and those not. Those on the underbelly of that polarization will want a new ideology, likely nationalist, but not dole based. The young want to have a life. I wonder why.

      Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      Its taken 65 years for the Arab/Muslim world to recognise the UN vote of 1948 .
      As this article shows,the Palestinians/Arabs and their colloborators,like the author,have only accepted it conditionally.
      This article gives the impression that the final goal is still the elimination of Israel .
      There was a population transfer of Jews with Arabs after 1948.
      The Jews were expelled/fled the Arab/Muslim lands due to a wave of Antisemitism that swept he area before and after 1948 .
      The Arabs/Muslims were expelled/fled
      parts of Mandate Palestine due to a the war of 1948 .
      There will not be any agreement before these issues are sorted out .

      Reply to Comment
    3. Yaron

      Reading between the lines, I see that there is little trust in the PA, if not any. Not among Palestinians, not in Israel, both by the government and the citizens. My guess is that all of them regard the PA as ‘just another Arab regime:’ corrupt, undemocratic, destroying wealth and happiness, dividing people. Deep in their hearts these young Palestinians, which look beyond borders, long for a place where they can be happy, healthy and free, be it Palestine or Israel. They want to shed the negativity surrounding the everlasting ethnic tensions in neighboring states or the harsh strictness of Muslim rule.
      Personally, I hope that one day Israel will open up, because it is the only alternative to the PA and it has proven to be the best of the Middle East states (which does not mean the best in the world). The Arabs in Israel are still the happiest in the Middle East, despite discrimination.
      Regarding the fugitives, there are several sides to the case: first of all, it should be acknowledged that the neighboring states have done nothing to alleviate the situation of the fugitives, i.e. by making them part of their society. And it should be regarded that Israel received a great number of Jewish fugitives from Arab countries, losing all of their belongings. But Israel, being the major cause, should be open to concessions and create possibilities for people to return and rebuild villages and towns. Any hope of the Arab countries surrounding Israel in helping out on the problem of the fugitives was given up.
      But despite these open thoughts, there is still a circle of hate and violence that needs to be overcome.

      Reply to Comment
      • Palestinian

        Its either you are still living in your bubble of you’ve lost touch with reality.

        Reply to Comment