During a visit to Canberra, Australia, the UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon made headlines here, and probably around the world, by saying that a Palestinian state is “long overdue”.
AFP reported that the UNSG said: “The two state vision where Israel and Palestinians can live… side by side in peace and security — that is a still a valid vision and I fully support it… And I support also the statehood of Palestinians; an independent, sovereign state of Palestine. It has been long overdue …But… the recognition of a state is something to be determined by the member states …It is not by the Secretary General so I leave it to the member states to decide to recognise or not to recognise”. This report is published here.
It was, actually, an uncharacteristically bold and brave thing for him to say, coming just hours after the U.S. confirmed clearly that it held the opposite view — and would use its veto power in the UN Security Council to stop a Palestinian request for full membership in the organization.
A Palestinian State has already been declared, in November 1988. But, though a few legal scholars disagree on the basis of theory, it clearly doesn’t exist yet, “on the ground”.
Within hours of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers on 15 November 1988, the UN’s then-Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, issued this statement through his spokesman in New York saying:
“The Secretary-General has not seen the full text of the statements issued by the Palestine National Council in Algiers. However, on the basis of the press reports that have emerged thus far, he believes that fresh opportunities now exist for progress towards peace. The Secretary-General has consistently maintained that a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict should be based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and take fully into account the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination. The Secretary-General believes that this session of the Palestine National Council has been of the greatest significance. He feels that all concerned should now seize the opportunity to make a determined new effort to achieve a just and lasting solution to the conflict in the Middle East”.
This statement is archived on the UN website here.
That was in November 1988.
The words spoken by BAN Ki-Moon this past week are also reminiscent of remarks made by Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafei, who headed the Palestinian team [which, according to Israel’s insistence, could only participate as a subset of the Jordanian delegation], in his speech on 31 October 1991, at the opening of the Madrid Peace Conference:
“In the Middle East there is no superfluous people outside time and place, but rather a state sorely missed by time and place – the state of Palestine. It must be born on the land of Palestine to redeem the injustice of the destruction of its historical reality and to free the people of Palestine from the shackles of their victimization. Our homeland has never ceased to exist in our minds and hearts, but it has to exist as a state on all the territories occupied by Israel in the war of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, in the context of that city’s special status and its non-exclusive character.”
Those words were spoken before the world at the Madrid Conference in 1991.
Among the places the full text of Dr. Abdel-Shafei’s speech can be found is the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, here.
The lack of progress and real deterioration of the situation on the ground is the explanation given by Palestinian leaders as to why they are insisting on pursuing their declared intention now.
The New York Times has reported here that a group of journalists were told on Thursday afternoon, after a meeting in the Muqata’a in Ramallah between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and two U.S. envoys [Dennis Ross + David Hale], that “Mr. Abbas said that after they arrived at the United Nations on Sept. 19, the Palestinians would hand their application to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for submission to the Security Council, and that a copy would go to the General Assembly chief”.
Abbas also told the journalists that the two U.S. envoys had arrived “too late”, and said negotiations could continue again, if possible, after the Palestinian bid at the UN.
Matthew Lee, journalist at UNHQ/NY who runs Inner City Press, confirmed overnight that “#Palestine is listed as 14th speaker at #UN on Sept23 am, between #Turkmenistan & #Japan”. If each speaker is allotted 15 minutes, then some inevitably go a little over their time, and time is needed to escort their excellencies to and from the speakers’ podium, that means that the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO will be one of the last speakers of the morning session [which ends at 1:00 pm, or one of the first speakers in the afternoon session, which begins at 3:00 pm]…
Lebanon, who will be presiding over the UN Security Council for the month of September [and who may be chairing the Arab Group as well] is reportedly scheduled to speak on the 20th, when the Palestinian bid for membeship was scheduled for formal launch.
A local committee — which clearly has official Palestinian backing — presented a petition at the UN office in Ramallah on Thursday urging support for the Palestinian bid. It was not the official Palestinian move, though it was initially thought to be. This local committee is part of the National Campaign: Palestine 194 [see below].
In response, Israel immediately announced a mobilisation of Army reservists for duty in the West Bank…
Israel opposes the move, and says that any decision should be the result of negotiations — an argument which does not much resonate, due to the dismal history of negotiations here…
While states decide which other states they will recognize, unilaterally or bilaterally, the UN membership gets to decide which states can join the international organization — and the formal request seeking membership apparently passes first through the hands of the UN Secretary-General, who then is a kind of gate-keeper for the UN Security Council, which should then set up a committee to consider the application.
In theory, this gives the UNSG the means to sit on the letter of request, perhaps for a while…
Then, the Security Council can sit on the matter for a good long time, too, before taking any action.
However, once the Security Council is “seized” of a matter, and is dealing with it, the same matter cannot go to the UN General Assembly at the same time.
The U.S. has told the Palestinian leadership that it intends to veto any such application in the UN Security Council.
The Palestinians have said that they are determined to pursue their request at the UN now — but they also want to avoid “embarassing the U.S.”, if possible.
And, they will actually approach this move gingerly, softly, and politely.
Palestinians also note that the next U.S. Presidential campaign will kick off right after whatever happens in September at the UN. Nabil Shaath, head of the Fatah Foreign Relations Department, told the New York Times that maybe U.S. President Barack Obama can do in a second term what he did not do during this first term of office.
That might suggest that the Palestinian leaders would be happy to submit their request, and leave it for lengthy and extended study in the Security Council — until a more opportune moment.
Alternatively, they could go to the UN General Assembly first, seeking to upgrade the status of their observer delegation, now named Palestine, from observer “organization” to observer but still non-member “state”. This has been mentioned for months by senior Palestinian officials… but, unless there was just some linguistic carelessness, Mahmoud Abbas has said they are going to go straight to the UN Security Council…
However, one knowledgeable Palestinian source in Fatah in Ramallah said that whatever decision there will be, will only be made at the very last minute, in New York…
A document, in Q + A format, has just been distributed by a group called the National Campaign, which lays out some of what appears to be the official argumentation for the UN move. It says: “The United Nations General Assembly’s Sixty-sixth session will begin in September. As such, September will mark the beginning of a process for Palestine’s admission as a full member of the UN. However, there is no time limit on the membership application process. In some cases, admission of members took a matter of days. In others, this process lasted much longer”. This factsheet is posted here.
In the case of Israel’s membership in the UN, it took almost six months from the time it submitted its request on 29 November 1948, one year after the adoption of the UN General Assembly decision [in Resolution 181] to Partition the Mandate for Palestine that the League of Nations formally awarded to Britain in 1923, at the formal conclusion of the First World War. At the end of the Second World War, the British government wanted to get out of Palestine — after being unable to find a solution to the strife between Palestinian nationalists and Jewish immigrants whose arrival was specifically encouraged in the Mandate given by the League of Nations — and Britain asked the newly-formed UN, as successor organization to the League of Nations, to decide what to do.
Israel was admitted as a UN member in May 1949, a few months after the conclusion of the Israel-Egyptian armistice agreement brokered by the UN. But Jordan was not admitted until 1955 — its application was blocked by the Soviet Union, which wanted more of its constituent states to have seats in the UN [and, therefore, more votes], but the Soviet Union argued publicly that it had doubts that Jordan was a truly independent state because of the role Britain was playing in the Jordanian government, and especially in its military. This stand-off was arrived at in a grand package by which two Soviet republics (Belarus and Ukraine) were admitted as separate independent UN member states, and Jordan was finally admitted as a UN member state, along with a group of a dozen other states, including Ireland.
So, from the time that Israel was admitted to the UN in May 1949, until the time Jordan was admitted to the UN in 1955, Israeli and Jordanian troops were facing each other all along the armistice line [the “Green Line”] — with only Israel being a UN member state, and Jordan being refused membership…
And, UN military observer commanders complained that they could never get an answer from Jordan, especially about any question involving Jerusalem…
Thes Q+A Factsheet by the National Campaign to support the Palestinian campaign to join the United Nations [Palestine:194], posted here, also says “there is international consensus that Israel’s policies of occupation are illegitimate. Palestinians also believe that Israel’s policies and practices are turning the 44 year-old occupation into annexation, which is also illegal”. [This is probably the same document that was presented to the UN office in Ramallah on Thursday, initially misunderstood in some places as an official request for full UN membership].
While probably true, this may be the most problematic part of the move, for Israel is slowly revealing arguments that justify, in its view, the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank — and this justification, it is said, is in the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which encouraged Jewish immigration into all parts of the Mandated territory.
This, it seems, is how Israel will now argue that the West Bank is “disputed” territory: not on the basis of the academic and convoluted discussion about the lack of a legitimate sovereign prior to the June 1967 war, an argument which was developed to justify refusal to acknowledge the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the West Bank [though Israel says it does apply the provisions on a de facto basis], but because Israel itself is now going to argue its own claim for some of this territory, the parts where Jewish settlements are located.
Israel disputes the territory, and various Israeli officials have threatened, in recent weeks and months, to annex the Jewish settlements in the West Bank if the Palestinian leaders go through with their UN bid.
But, until now, Palestinian negotiators have consistently complained, after various rounds of negotiations, that they don’t know what Israel really wants — other than continued Palestinian subjugation on the grounds of “security”.
This claim, which has not been officially publicly argued to date, may also explain — for other than emotional reasons — why Israel has been insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a, or the, Jewish State [which Netanyahu has alternatively formulated as “as the State of the Jewish People”].
To deal with the pesky matter of what has been commonly understood as the meaning of UNSC Resolution 242 — an “exchange of land for peace”, meaning Israel should evacuate the territory it occupied in June 1967 in exchange for peace — a new argument has been advanced, by Dore Gold’s Jewish Center for Policy Affairs, that Resolution 242 “entitles Israel to new borders”…
Though this has not been officially argued, it is clear that the settlement enterprise which has enjoyed huge infrastructure, financial and military support of the Israeli government, has involved a massive deception of some ofits own people [and the world]. It also appears to be part of a careful but never yet publicly stated plan.
We can probably expect to hear revelations about this plan in coming weeks.
In the meantime, here are more excerpts from the late Dr. Abdul Shafei’s address to the Madrid Peace Conference on 31 October 1991:
“Self-determination, ladies and gentlemen, can neither be granted nor withheld at the whim of the political self-interest of others, for it is enshrined in all international charters and humanitarian law. We claim this right; we firmly assert it here before you and in the eyes of the rest of the world, for it is a sacred and inviolable right which we shall relentlessly pursue and exercise with dedication and self-confidence and pride.”
He told the Madrid Conference:
“We, the people of Palestine, stand before you in the fullness of our pain, our pride, and our anticipation, for we have long harbored a yearning for peace and a dream of justice and freedom. For too long the Palestinian people have gone unheeded, silenced, and denied our identity negated by political expediency, our rightful struggle against injustice maligned, and our present existence subsumed by the past tragedy of another people … We do not stand before you as supplicants, but rather as the torch bearers who know that in our world of today, ignorance can never be an excuse. We seek neither an admission of guilt after the fact, nor vengeance for past iniquities, but rather an act of will that would make a just peace a reality. We speak out, ladies and gentlemen, from the full conviction of the rightness of our cause, the verity of our history, and the depth of our commitment”.
In the same speech, Dr. Abdel Shafei also said:
“The settlements must stop now. Peace cannot be waged while Palestinian land is confiscated in myriad ways and the status of the Occupied Territories is being decided each day by Israeli bulldozers and barbed wire. This is not simply a position; it is an irrefutable reality. Territory for peace is a travesty when territory for illegal settlement is official Israeli policy and practice. The settlements must stop now. In the name of the Palestinian people, we wish to directly address the Israeli people with whom we have had a prolonged exchange of pain: let us share hope instead. We are willing to live side by side on the land and the promise of the future. Sharing, however, requires two partners willing to share as equals. Mutuality and reciprocity must replace domination and hostility for genuine reconciliation and coexistence under international legality. Your security and ours are mutually dependent, as entwined as the fears and nightmares of our children. We have seen some of you at your best and at your worst, for the occupier can hide no secrets from the occupied, and we are witness to the toll that occupation has exacted from you and yours. We have seen you anguish over the transformation of your sons and daughters into instruments of a blind and violent occupation – and we are sure that at no time did you envisage such a role for the children whom you thought would forge your future. We have seen you look back in deepest sorrow at the tragedy of your past and look on in horror at the disfigurement of the victim turned oppressor”.
And, he said:
“We, the Palestinian people, made the imaginative leap in the Palestine National Council of November 1988, during which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) launched its peace initiative based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and declared Palestinian independence based on Resolution 181 of the United Nations, which gave birth to two states in 1948: Israel and Palestine. In December 1988, a historic speech before the United Nations in Geneva led directly to the launching of the Palestinian-American dialogue. Ever since then, our people has responded positively to every serious peace initiative and has done its utmost to ensure the success of this process. Israel, on the other hand, has placed many obstacles and barriers in the path of peace to negate the very validity of the process. Its illegal and frenzied settlement activity is the most glaring evidence of its rejectionism, the latest settlement being erected just two days ago. These historic decisions of the Palestine National Council wrenched the course of history from inevitable confrontation and conflict towards peace and mutual recognition. With our own hands, and in an act of sheer will, we have molded the shape of the future of our people. Our parliament has articulated the message of a people with the courage to say yes to the challenge of history, just as it provided the reference, in its resolutions last month in Algiers and in the Central Council meeting this month in Tunis, to go forward to this historic Conference. We cannot be made to bear the brunt of other people’s ‘no’. We must have reciprocity. We must have peace”.