Eight questions about Palestine

Palestine now exists, or so says the overwhelming majority of the member states of the United Nations. The UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state has attracted huge attention, with many (not just Israeli official spokespeople) pointing out that the reality on the ground will change little as a result.

{jcomments on} It is true that Palestine has been born under occupation, born under blockade, born without freedom.

It poses many questions: 

1)         Why is there such a fuss? If, as Israeli spokespeople such as Mark Regev state, it makes no real difference on the ground why is there such a fuss from Israeli politicians about opposing it? Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called the Palestinian UN move “a strategic terrorist attack” whilst the current post holder, the settler Avigdor Lieberman, called the President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas a “political terrorist”. He stated that “The diplomatic terror that Abu Mazen is leading is more dangerous for us then the armed terror.” If a Palestinian leader made such comments it would be called incitement.

2)         Which UN agencies will Palestine join? Will they make any difference? Last year Palestine successfully applied to be a member of UNESCO. The US reaction was to cut funding, endangering a whole host of valuable projects worldwide. The issue which many focus on will be the International Criminal Court (ICC). Why should Palestine not have access to the ICC like any other country? If we believe in international justice then why should Palestinians be excluded from seeking it? Israel has the right to sign up but decided not to.

3)         How will UN Agencies refer to Palestine? UN agencies have referred to the occupied Palestinian territory when dealing with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This emphasises two important points – that the two areas are considered one single territorial unit as affirmed under the Oslo Accords, and that both are still under occupation. Typically the UN should just refer to Palestine, but there are no confirmed borders and then it does not point out that it remains under occupation with zero sovereign authority.

4)         Will states recognize Palestine as well as the UN? Many states have already recognised Palestine as a state years ago. However, many who voted in favour on 29 November have not. Logic would dictate that France, Italy, Spain, Ireland amongst others should now accord full sovereign diplomatic status to Palestine through bilateral recognition. Britain has not ruled out doing this but probably only would if the Palestinians adhere to its conditions outlined on 27 November by the Foreign Secretary.

5)         What will be the Israeli reaction? As with the application in 2011 for full member status, Israel has threatened to punish the Palestinians for having the temerity to seek backing for their right to self-determination at the UN. The United Kingdom declared that it preferred Palestine not to push forward with this measure as it wished to see issues resolved through negotiation. It imposed conditions on Palestine if it wished the UK to vote in favour of statehood. No conditions have been made of Israel. The Israeli reaction in 2011 was to withhold Palestinian tax revenues, which is an illegal act, not equivalent to Palestine legitimately seeking rights at the United Nations.

6)         Will the UK and others impose conditions on Israel for any future enhanced status with the EU? When Israel applies to the EU for upgraded status, the United Kingdom has refused to impose conditions on Israel such as a complete freeze on settlement building. Unlike in the case of the conditions for Palestine, these conditions would be to see Israel stop illegal activities and grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Settlement construction is a far more serious obstacle to peace that this latest UN vote, yet Britain has not taken one concrete action to demonstrate it is serious about its rhetorical position.

7)         Will Palestine ratify core human rights treaties? The state of Palestine has the opportunity to sign up to human rights conventions. Palestinian officials have indicated that they are examining these. Human Rights Watch make some telling points about this.

8)         Will the media refer to the state of Palestine? The global media accepts that the Vatican is an independent state, so will it refer to the state of Palestine. There is not clear because although there is a state in law accepted by the United Nations, on the ground, there is no sovereign state.

Chris Doyle is Director of Caabu/Advancing Arab-British Relations

1 Gough Square, London, EC4A 3DE

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