|President Mahmoud Abbas.|
|Celebrations of 23 September, 2011.|
Palestine on the World Map
By Dr. Nabil Shaath
On 13 November 1974, I accompanied our late leader, Yasser Arafat, to the first Palestinian address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. It was an historic moment, which saw a hall full of politicians and diplomats stand in praise of the Palestinian cause. Yasser Arafat addressed the world on behalf of the Palestinian people, setting in motion an irreversible process of international recognition and support for Palestinian freedom. With the passion and determination of a revolutionary leader, he put the “Question of Palestine,” as it is now known at the UN, centre-stage in international politics. I had the honour of partaking in this proud moment of our history.
Thirty-seven years later, I was once again at the UN General Assembly, witnessing and participating in another historic event. As President Mahmoud Abbas walked up to the podium, he was greeted by a long and enthusiastic standing ovation. Once again, the international community was recognising the justness of our cause. In those moments, my mind turned to our people: to the sacrifices of our martyrs, the selflessness of our prisoners, the perseverance of our refugees, and to the daily struggles of all Palestinians, under occupation and in exile. I realised, having been witness to these historic developments, that we are now closer than ever to realising our national goals. Whereas 1974 saw our late leader Yasser Arafat secure international recognition of the Palestinian people’s national identity and legitimate rights, placing the “Question of Palestine” at the heart of international politics, in 2011 President Mahmoud Abbas etched our place on the geopolitical map by securing international endorsement of our inalienable right to self-determination and statehood.
Around the world, Palestinians from all walks of life shed tears that day, aware that President Abbas stood tall at the UN on their behalf, eloquently presenting their journey of perseverance. He stated, in no uncertain terms, that the moment of truth had come; after sixty-three years of dispossession and suffering, the international community now has the opportunity to stand on the right side of history.
Palestinians, who have long had a vibrant and rather colourful political scene, were united in national pride and with them, the majority of peoples around the world who have supported the cause of Palestine’s freedom for over half a century.
The President reminded the world that, for twenty years, Palestinians engaged in good-faith negotiations, seeking every opportunity to reach a just and comprehensive peace. In return, however, Palestinians were met with Israeli unilateralism and violence. Israel continued to expand its illegal colonial regime, doubling the number of settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and de facto annexing almost 50 per cent of the West Bank for the benefit of this illegal enterprise of walls, settlements, and Israeli-only roads.
After twenty years of international and regional efforts to bring about a just and comprehensive peace, Israel continues to invest in occupation rather than in peace. The current Israeli Government has proven, time and again, that it is unable and unwilling to break free from the mentality and behaviour of an occupier. It rejects the international consensus around the two-state solution and hopes instead to manage the conflict for years to come. But Israel’s actions threaten to render the two-state solution untenable. It was in this context, and with the support of the majority of world nations, that we sought to consecrate our right to statehood by seeking UN membership.
Ours continues to be a long journey. For almost a century, we have struggled to preserve our national rights and ward off powerful and often brutal attempts to sweep Palestine-its history, identity, and people-from the international political map. Yet, we are still here. The perseverance and sacrifices of our people have given us the strength to continue this ongoing walk to freedom.
Palestine is now on the world map, literally, politically, and diplomatically. One hundred twenty-eight countries, and growing, recognise Palestine as a sovereign state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Combined, these countries represent over 75 per cent of the world population. Even the minority of states that oppose our bid for full UN membership concede that the establishment of a viable and independent Palestine is a requirement for world peace. Opposing the creation of a viable and independent Palestinian state is now a position that is outside the consensus in international politics. After decades of denial that we as a people even existed or had legitimate national rights, international recognition of Palestine is now a reality.
On 23 September 2011, President Mahmoud Abbas submitted Palestine’s application for full UN membership. Even the quiet, ceremonial nature of the application’s delivery to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon could not take away from the awesome significance of that moment.
It is no secret that the Palestinian leadership was subjected to enormous political pressure and was threatened publicly and privately with punitive diplomatic and economic measures. We have already begun to see the fallout of these threats, as the US Congress has decided to suspend certain portions of its aid to Palestine. But our cause is not about donor aid and building roads; our cause is about freedom, dignity, and rights.
This persistence should not be mistaken for reckless defiance of unbeatable powers. For had the Palestinian people surrendered to the might of opposition and the seemingly untenable victory, our national struggle for freedom and independence would not have survived and persevered all these years. Revolutions and national movement like ours have a choice to make; either surrender to the international political map of power plays, or engrave, through patient perseverance, their own map. Decades ago, Palestinians chose to craft their own reality, despite the odds and difficulties we faced.
Incremental Victory, a Certain Path
Is Palestine’s application for UN membership the end of the road? Will it deliver immediate freedom and justice for our people on its own? Obviously, the answer is no. But what it does is deny the Occupation a monopoly over the achievement of our national rights. Taking action at the United Nations provides the international community with a chance to exercise its responsibilities and to protect the credibility of the international system from the culture of immunity that Israel has enjoyed for too long. This step empowers our people with the tools and mechanisms available to other nations to protect their rights and resolve conflicts in a peaceful and civilized manner, in accordance with international law.
Regrettably, the United States is doing its utmost to avoid the historically shameful event of casting a veto against this basic Palestinian right and its own purported policy in this regard. A veto at the Security Council against Palestine’s application would be a significant setback, just as much as a lack of a supportive majority would be. However, we believe the responsibility for this injustice will be borne by those who have dedicated their political might to achieving this end.
Despite the obstacles and probable setbacks, the Palestinian diplomatic initiative has ensured that Palestine’s UN membership and, indeed, sovereignty are now both irreversible and inevitable.
There is international consensus that the establishment of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state is both the right of Palestinians and a prerequisite to international peace and security. Additionally, the international community has recognised that Palestine is institutionally ready to function as an established state. The world community also agrees that the only remaining obstacle to Palestinian independence and prosperity is the on-going Israeli occupation and its colonial project. Most importantly, international law is crystal clear: protecting the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and ensuring that this right is exercised is an international responsibility.
The PLO is determined to continue its efforts to widen the scope and nature of international recognition. Just recently, our application for UNESCO membership won majority support from the organisation’s executive board, and our membership at the organisation is now a matter of time. UNESCO membership will further empower us to protect our cultural, historical, and religious sites from Israel’s continuous illegal exploitation and attack. Palestine will also seek membership in various other international organisations.
But we politicians cannot do this on our own. United Palestinian action and international solidarity is essential in our struggle and reflects the universality of the Palestinian message. Throughout our decades-long struggle, the support of human rights defenders around the world strengthened Palestine’s struggle for freedom and justice and kept it at the forefront on the international agenda. Over the past months, international and Palestinian civil action in support of Palestine’s diplomatic campaign was invaluable for it conveyed the full picture; this is the campaign of a people for their inalienable rights, not just the work of politicians. That is why I call on all Palestinians, at home and in exile, as well as our friends worldwide, to continue their efforts in rallying international support. Your solidarity and support is writing a new page in our people’s history.
The right of peoples to self-determination is at the forefront of universal human rights. Palestinians are simply demanding that the world restate what it has committed to, which is to respect and endorse these rights. These rights are not selective. We Palestinians will not be the exception. We shall continue our struggle until we achieve freedom, justice, and return.
Dr. Nabil Shaath is the Commissioner General of the Fatah Foreign Relations Commission.