By Veluppillai Thangavelu
Palestinian people took a small but a historic step on their journey to freedom when the UNO General Assembly overwhelmingly voted last week to recognize their statehood. The vote to recognize Palestinian Authority as a Non-member observer state status was carried by 138 of 193 General Assembly members. Nine member states, including Canada and USA, voted against while 41 states abstained. The voting is a bold defiance of the US, Canada and Israel. Especially, as a diplomatic fiasco for USA. Many countries have lost patience with Israel for thumping its nose against various resolutions calling it to halt illegal settlements, abandon siege of Gaza, which was devastated by the latest Israeli attack, and stop routine arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank cities and villages and the occupation practices in the city of Jerusalem where Judaization projects are consistently under way.
The Palestinian Authority is now on par with the Vatican, the only other entity with non-member observer state status. In their current effort to achieve an upgrade to their U.N. status, Palestinians have lobbied for support from European countries.
Jubilant Palestinians erupted in wild cheers Thursday (November 29, 2012) hugging each other, setting off fireworks and chanting “Allahu Akbar” after the United Nations granted them, at least formally, what they have long yearned for — a state of their own. Many Palestinians savoured the massive global recognition — 138 of 193 General Assembly members voted “yes” — following decades of setbacks in the quest for Palestinian independence in lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. “It’s a great feeling to have a state, even if in name only,” said civil servant Mohammed Srour, 28, standing in a flag-waving a crowd of more than 2,000 packed into a square in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“The most beautiful dream of any man is to have an independent state, particularly for us Palestinians who have lived under occupation for a long time.” In September 2011, Abbas sought full member-state status at the UN, but the bid was stalled for two months after Security Council members said they had been unable to “make an unanimous recommendation.”
The Security Council must approve new members, and the United States made clear it would veto any Palestinian attempt to secure membership. So the doomed full membership bid was never brought forward for a full council vote.
In contrast, Palestinians in the coastal strip celebrated the historical vote on a subdued scale compared to the massive eruption of joy in the streets after last week’s cease-fire deal with Israel. Izzat Rishaq, a senior Hamas figure in exile, said he welcomed the U.N. vote an achievement, but that Hamas counts on “heroic resistance” to create a Palestinian state — underlining the group’s deep ideological rift with Abbas who opposes violence.
The historic General Assembly decision to accept “Palestine” as a non-member observer state won’t immediately bring any change, since much of the territory of that state — the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — remains under Israeli occupation. Nonetheless, the conferring of statehood on Palestinian Authority will enhance its international standing.
Abbas aides say that by this recognition, the U.N. is rebuffing Israeli attempts to portray these territories as “disputed,” or up for grabs, rather than occupied. Abbas aide Nabil Shaath said it will no longer be up to Israel to decide whether the Palestinians can have a state. “The notion that Israel should approve the Palestinians’ inalienable right to self-determination is simply illogical, immoral, and totally unacceptable,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the Israeli daily Haaretz.
In practice, the Palestinians gain few new powers. For instance Palestine will not be able to introduce any resolution in the UNO. Like the Vatican they have to ask a friendly country to propose the resolution on its behalf. Some pro-Israeli elements have described the UN resolution on non-voting membership as an exercise in futility.
However, officials believe that even as a non-member state, the Palestinians could join influential international bodies such as the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Bank and the International Criminal Court. In general, the Palestinians would be able to successfully lobby for membership in any body or agency that mirrors the General Assembly in membership.
The International Court of Justice, often called the “World Court,” accepts only disputes between fully recognized member-states of the U.N. In the past, countries that were not yet U.N. members — Switzerland and Nauru — accepted the jurisdiction of the court. However, parties to any dispute must be willing to accept the court’s judgment, and it is hard to imagine any case in which both Israel and the Palestinians would agree to be bound by the court’s decision.
The International Criminal Court at the Hague can review war crimes and Israel has objected to the possibility of the Palestinians bringing cases to the ICC. But to do so, the Palestinians would have to file papers of “accession” under the Rome Treaty that set up the ICC. That membership option is open to “all states.”
In practice, the application to become a “state” member of the ICC system would go to the office of the U.N. Secretary-General, which is the official repository for signatures. The U.N. chief’s office would, in that case, have to turn to the U.N. legal department for an opinion on whether the Palestinians constitute a “state.” Thursday’s General Assembly vote would weigh in the Palestinians’ favour, but other factors such as control of territory would also be weighed.
The Palestinian Authority tried to have alleged Israeli crimes in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict investigated, but prosecutors in April refused to open an investigation, saying it was not clear if the Palestinians qualified as a state and that only states can recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the U.N. vote as meaningless and accused Abbas of delivering a “defamatory and venomous” U.N. speech “full of mendacious propaganda” against Israel.
Netanyahu argued that the U.N. move violated past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and that Israel would act accordingly, without elaborating what steps it might take. But, on the following day the Israeli government announced it would build 3,000 new housing units on the very Palestinian land recognized by the U.N. as the seat of the Palestinian state. Israel also said it will withhold Palestinian tax revenues amounting to $100 million dollars.
This is addition to the various other forms of ongoing aggression, such as the occupation; the siege of Gaza, which was devastated by the latest Israeli attack; the routine arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank cities and villages and the occupation practices in the city of Jerusalem where Judaization projects are consistently under way.
The building 3,000 housing units in East Jerusalem will divide West Bank into two and thus pose a threat to the creation of a viable state of Palestine with contiguous territory and secure borders.
Britain and the US have warned that Israel’s plans to build new housing settlements in the West Bank would damage the prospect of creating a two-state solution to its conflict with the Palestinians. British foreign secretary, William Hague expressed “extreme concern” at the plan to create 3,000 new homes in the key strategic area of Palestinian territory would seriously undermine the Middle East peace process, and corrode Israel’s international reputation.
“I am extremely concerned by reports that the Israeli cabinet plans to approve the building of 3,000 new housing units in illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” Hague said. “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and undermine trust between the parties. If implemented, these plans would alter the situation on the ground on a scale that makes the two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, increasingly difficult to achieve. As opposed to the hard line position taken by US, France, Germany, Great Britain and others Canada remained mute. Canadian foreign policy appears to be in tatters being the only country extending blind support to Israel.
In fact many European countries have withdrawn their diplomats as a mark of protest, but nothing appears to deter Israel from doing what it likes or dislikes.
The Palestinians reject Israel’s claim that the recognition bid is an attempt to dictate the future borders of Palestine. Instead, they say, it’s a last-ditch attempt to rescue peace efforts threatened by Israeli settlement building on occupied land. Since 1967, half a million Israelis have settled on lands the U.N. says are part of Palestine.
Going back in time, in 1947 the United Nations voted on resolution 181, which called for the partition Palestine into two states, as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian territorial dispute in British-mandated Palestine. Israel to be allocated 55% of the territory and the balance 45% to Palestinians. Arab countries rejected the resolution and fighting broke out between Israel and a military coalition of Arab states and Palestinian Arab forces. This war was the second stage of the 1948 Palestine war, known in Arabic as al-Nakba (“The Catastrophe”) and in Hebrew as the Milkhemet Ha’atzma’ut (“War of Independence”) or Milkhemet Hashikhrur (“War of Liberation”).
The war was preceded by a period of civil war in the territory of the Mandatory Palestine between Jewish Yishuv forces and Palestinian Arab forces in response to the UN Partition Plan. An alliance of Arab states intervened on the Palestinian side, turning the civil war into a war between sovereign states. The fighting took place mostly on the former territory of the British Mandate and for a short time also in the Sinai Peninsula and southern Lebanon.
As a result of the war, the State of Israel annexed nearly all the area that had been recommended by the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 and took control of almost 60% of the area allocated to the proposed Arab state, including the Jaffa, Lydda and Ramle area, Galilee, some parts of the Negev, a wide strip along the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem road and some territories in the West Bank. Transjordan took control of the remainder of the West Bank and East-Jerusalem, putting it under military rule, and the Egyptian military took control of the Gaza Strip. No Arab Palestinian state was created. Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes and to date live as refugees.
In May 1948, the State of Israel was declared. Armistice pacts halted the fighting a year later but there was no formal peace.
Against feverish war preparations by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against Egypt on June 5, 1967 called the Six Day War and captured the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. Despite an Israeli appeal to Jordan to stay out of the conflict, Jordan attacked Israel and lost control of the West Bank and the eastern sector of Jerusalem. Israel went on to capture the Golan Heights from Syria. The war ended on June 10.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded in 1964. In 1988, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared independence for Palestine in Algiers. In 1993 the PLO, led by Arafat, signed with Israel the Oslo accords under U.S. mediation. Under the Oslo accords, Arafat and his forces were allowed to camp in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and Israeli troops withdrew from parts of the West Bank.
In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat met in Camp David but could not reach an agreement. The failure of talks resulted in ‘Al-Aqsa Intifada’, or the second Palestinian uprising.
Islamist group Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006 and headed a unity government, routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in the Gaza Strip in a week-long violent takeover. It has been ruling the coastal enclave since.
Israel is smaller than Ceylon in size. Its area is 20,770 sq, km (Ceylon 65,610 sq.kms) and with a total population of 7,848,800 (Ceylon 20,277,597 – 2012 census) out of which Jews number 5,978,600 (75.4%) and Arabs 1,636,600 (20.6%) according to 2010 estimates.
On the other hand the West Bank area is just 5,860 sq.kms with a total population of 2,568,555 and Gaza strip a mere 360 sq.kms with a population of 1,688,119. The figures are based on 2010 estimates. In comparison, the total land area of Jaffna peninsula, including inland water, is 1,030 sq.kms and the population is around 600,000 at present.
As seen from the above figures, in a single state solution to the Palestinian problem, Jews in Israel may lose their majority status to Arabs in a decade or two.
While Palestinians are on their way to a full fledged de jure state of Palestine grim prospects lay ahead for Thamils. Like the Palestinians the Thamil’s territory is under occupation by the Sinhala armed forces. They count not in hundreds but in thousands very close to 200,000. The total strength is 22 divisions consisting of 500,000 belonging to the army, navy and air-force. Like Palestinians, the government is building cantonments and houses for its armed forces mostly on land owned by the Thamils. And like Palestinians the Thamils are losing territory to Sinhala colonization at an alarming rate. Already Thamils have lost their majority status in the Eastern province after independence. The same fate may overtake the North in about 10-15 years.
Like the Palestinians let us take one step at a time towards our goal instead of talking about total liberation or nothing. Let the TGTE file an application to the UN for non-member observer status. The TGTE being a democratically elected government is in an eminently viable position to take the initiative. It is worth trying and there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. (Tamil