Friday, November 30, 2012

In U.N. Vote, Palestine Gains Nearly the Last Remaining Markers of Sovereign Statehood

Some countries that win their independence get it all at once.  Others achieve it in painful, incremental steps over decades.  The State of Palestine is in the second category.  Yesterday, November 29, 2012, the State of Palestine was admitted as an “observer state”—not member state—in the United Nations General Assembly.  This is the same status that Switzerland had before 2002 and which Vatican City still has—both of them long recognized by the entire world as true, sovereign states in every sense of the word.

What is—or rather, perhaps, will eventually be seen to be as—the date of Palestine’s independence?  1948?  1974?  1988?  1993?  2011?  2012?

Palestinians were offered an independent state after the Second World War, as part of the same U.N. plan that created the State of Israel, but Palestinians did not want their homeland divided and half given away to new arrivals, so they rejected the plan, and Israel filled the entire vacuum created by the United Kingdom’s relinquishment of its Palestinian mandate, and Israel forced aside as many Palestinians as it felt it needed to in order to build a nation in its enlarged allocation.  The seeds of decades of grievance were planted.

Born in two disconnected shards of territory—the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—relinquished by Jordan and Egypt in the 1970s after their defeat by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, the idea of a newly sovereign Palestine arose gradually, with the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.).  The P.L.O. was granted “observer” status in the U.N. General Assembly in 1974 as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people,” but it was not a member state.  The P.L.O.’s government-in-exile declared independence in 1988, and one by one nations around the world, starting with its Arab allies, recognized it.  Not just the Muslim states that never—and in some cases still don’t—recognize Israel, but eventually most of the world.  Perhaps the moment when states recognizing Palestine tipped above 50%, whenever that was (some time in the 1990s?) could be thought of as its independence day.

In 1993, the concrete trappings of statehood—the administration of actual territory—came with the Oslo Accords.  These agreements created the Palestinian National Authority, which now governs Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank.  In exchange, the P.L.O. and Fatah (which governs the West Bank) officially pursue a two-state solution and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

In 2011, Palestine applied for full member-state status in the U.N.—a symbolic gesture, since it was a foregone conclusion that the United States—Israel’s only true ally—would use its veto power as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to block the move, despite the fact that the motion had an overwhelming majority of member states supporting it.

This time around, with a revised goal of observer-state status, vetoes are not possible; it is a clear vote by the General Assembly.  The vote yesterday was 138-9 in favor of admission, with 41 abstentions and 5 absences.

The “yes” votes included the Security Council members Russia, China, and France; and major nations such as India, PakistanJapan, Brazil, Argentina, MexicoNigeria, South Africa, New Zealand, Indonesia, Spain, Italy, Austria, all of Scandinavia, nearly all of Latin America, the entire Muslim world, nearly all of Africa, etc. etc.

The 41 abstentions included NATO and other U.S. allies such as Australia, the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, and South Korea, as well as NATO and other western-leaning countries in eastern Europe which are known for their slavish adherence to U.S. foreign policy: Poland, the Baltic States, Slovakia, and so on.  But even these countries would not go along fully with the U.S. denial of the arc of history.

The eight “no” votes were the U.S., Israel, Canada, the Czech Republic (see “slavish adherence,” previous paragraph), four former U.S. colonies (Panama, plus the quasi-independent Marshall IslandsFederated States of Micronesia, and Palau), and Nauru, an eight-square-mile speck in the Pacific which is the third-smallest country in the world.  If there were ever any doubt that the U.S. was on the wrong side of history on this question, this pathetic list drives the point home once and for all.

How U.N. member states voted on Palestinian statehood this week.  “Yes” votes are in green, “no” votes in red, abstentions in yellow, and absences in blue.
So what does this mean in practical terms?  Not much right off the bat.  Palestine already enjoys diplomatic relations of a sort with much of the world and deals, to all practical purposes, as a sovereign state with nearly every country—even those that do not recognize it diplomatically, including Israel.  But now all of the things Israel does to Palestine—bombing its cities, blockading its ports, building illegal armed settlements in its territory, assassinating its leaders—are acts of aggression by one state against another.  So, of course—and very justly so—are Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.  No longer can Hamas hide behind the legalistic ambiguities enjoyed by “non-state actors.”  In the long term, this is the best thing for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people both; their fates are intertwined, and they both deserve equal amounts of dignity and recognition—and responsibility for being peaceful global citizens.

Meanwhile, not only the terrorists of Hamas but also Israel’s bloodthirsty generals, its unaccountable and amoral intelligence agencies, and its ultra-right-wing fanatical West Bank settlers—who do not represent the Israeli people as a whole, it should be said—all of them are stomping mad about what happened yesterday.  That’s perhaps the surest sign that this was the right thing to do.

Happy birthday, Palestine.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it in spring 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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