UNITED NATIONS — More than 130 countries voted on Thursday to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations, a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a sharp rebuke to the United States and Israel.
But the vote, at least for now, did little to bring either the Palestinians or the Israelis closer to the goal they claim to seek: two states living side by side, or increased Palestinian unity. Israel and the militant group Hamas both responded critically to the day’s events, though for different reasons.
The new status will give the Palestinians more tools to challenge Israel in international legal forums for its occupation activities in the West Bank, including settlement-building, and it helped bolster the Palestinian Authority, weakened after eight days of battle between its rival Hamas and Israel.
But even as a small but determined crowd of 2,000 celebrated in central Ramallah in the West Bank, waving flags and dancing, there was an underlying sense of concerned resignation.
“I hope this is good,” said Munir Shafie, 36, an electrical engineer who was there. “But how are we going to benefit?”
Still, the General Assembly vote — 138 countries in favor, 9 opposed and 41 abstaining — showed impressive backing for the Palestinians at a difficult time. It was taken on the 65th anniversary of the vote to divide the former British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, a vote Israel considers the international seal of approval for its birth.
“The question is, where do we go from here and what does it mean?” Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who was in New York for the vote, said in an interview. “The sooner the tough rhetoric of this can subside and the more this is viewed as a logical consequence of many years of failure to move the process forward, the better.” He said nothing would change without deep American involvement.
Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, was dismissive of the entire exercise. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade,” she said. “And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.”
Rice's contemptuous declaration is of a piece with other similar statements she's made in the past about the Palestinians and similar to what Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, had to say about consequences for the Palestinians seeking status upgrade. "As you know we also have money pending in the Congress for the Palestinian Authority, money that they need to support their regular endeavors and support administration of the territories. So obviously if they take this step it's going to complicate the way Congress looks at the Palestinians".
In other words...Nice little shop you got here Mahmoud.You've got a wife, some kids, a good little business. Now you wouldn't want any accidents to happen, right? So you'll wise up and do the right thing, right? The Don has always thought of you as a friend.
The US, Israel and some other countries tried to prevent the Palestinian Authority from receiving observer state status and having failed to do that then tried to extort assurances from the Palestinian Authority that it would not try to join the International Criminal Court or join other UN agencies or that it would reopen negotiations with the Israelis. The Palestinian Authority turned down all of those "requests". What the US and nations who voted against the resolution failed to realize is that for better or worse the Palestinians need a win. Pride and human dignity demand it. It is simply not possible to keep people under military occupation for 45 years and not have attempts at removing the occupation. Israel has refused to stop settlements in the West Bank or Jerusalem. And at the time of this writing Israel just announced plans for expanded settlements in East Jerusalem. This is of course punishment for the Palestinian Authority's move.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.As we've discussed before you simply can't have a two-state solution and have ongoing settlements. They cancel each other out. I still believe that a one-state solution, which no one will like initially, remains the best way out of a bad situation. If South Africa and Rhodesia could come to accept that the state included more than whites then the Israelis and Palestinians will as well. Eliminationist fantasies on either side will need to be put down. One state, equal rights for all, and special rights for none. What's wrong with that?
A more canny US and Israel would have welcomed a Palestinian "state" on the West Bank since as is obvious such a state would be one in name only. But the need to continually humiliate Abbas and the Palestinian Authority meant that Abbas had nothing to lose by going to the UN. This was especially important in recent times as the Palestinian Authority had nothing to show for "good behavior" except more settlements while Hamas was seen to be fighting back. If you tell people they're going to lose no matter what, often people would rather go down swinging.
So what does this all mean? As new announcements of settlements show, not a whole lot right now. But whether it's through violence or non-violence, the Palestinians intend to resist the narrative that they don't matter or that they should just fade into irrelevance. There will be renewed spotlight on the occupation and increasing diplomatic pressure to create some sort of solution. The US has done itself a disservice by continuing to enable the most right-wing elements of the Israeli body politic. The Palestinian Authority will seek to make the occupation cost Israel more than it has in the past. Will they be successful? The future's a devious thing to predict. But things that can't go on forever don't. And the occupation is one of those things.