To Be Isolated or Not To Be
In the wake of the eight-day Israeli onslaught–“Operation Pillar of Cloud”– in Gaza Strip came the upgradation of Palestine membership at the United Nation to a non-member observer state. In the General Assembly, the resolution for Palestine membership was passed by 138 to 9, with 41 abstentations. As expected, Israel and the United Sates voted against the resolution. Some questions crop up regarding the necessity for Palestine to ask for the statehood; implication for Israel-Palestine peace process; symbolic status of Palestine at the UN; international geopolitics viz-a-viz the elevated membership of Palestine.
According to the Oslo Accord 1993, Israel and Palestinian Liberation organisation (PLO) had recoganised their states mutually. The UN application, presented on the 65th anniversary of the UN, recognized boundaries on pre-1967 boundary lines. The president of Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas accepted the right of Israel to exist—which he never denies–, and asked for Palestine “birth certificate” and its equal right of existence and self-determination. “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: Enough of aggression, settlements and occupation.” Unequivocally, he reiterated two-state solution to resolve the conflict. As a mark of solidarity for the resolution, it was endorsed by all the Islamic militant groups and the Hamas in Gaza Strip.
On the other hand, Israel and its “all-weather-ally” America took umbrage at the upgrade and called it “counterproductive”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuffed it by saying that the reality had changed given half a million Jews had been living in West Bank settlements. Israel has warned the PA to address some pressing issues– East Jerusalem, settlements in West Bank, right to return, demarcating boundaries, revenue and resource sharing– before going to the UN. Even Knesset members from Likud threatened the annulment of the Oslo Accord.
Since 2010, the moribund peace negotiation has not moved an inch. Unfazed by global pressure, Israel has been continuing illegal settlement in West Bank: most recent is the order to build 1000 homes in East Jerusalem. Consequently, the relations have strained further, particularly after the UN show.
What is the focal point or the driving (evil) force which has made Israel nuts? After becoming non-member observer state at the UN, Palestine is expected to seek a seat at the International Criminal Court (ICC): thus dragging Israel to the ICC for its illegal settlement and human rights violations in West Bank and Gaza Strip. On these lines, some European countries, particularly United Kingdom which abstained during voting in the GA , have cautioned Palestine not to seek ICC’s membership. As of now all the options are open for Palestine in the face of relentless settlement built by Israel in West Bank. By and large, it is likely to mar future negotiation of two-state solution.
Moreover, the Likud and the Yisrael Beiteinu (both are coalition partners) are right wing parties which shamefully oppose two-state solution , unlike centrist-liberal parties: Kadima of Ehud Olmert and Hatnuah of Tzipi Livni. It has intensified after the “birth certificate” ceremony of Palestine at the UN. With an eye on upcoming election, Benjamin shelled Gaza Strip, and now he is eyeing on West Bank settlement. This two-state solution may have some hope: if the Likud party comes to power without the help of Yisrael Beiteinu, so that it should not be compelled to work on the whims of its coalition partner.
Another domino-effect of the UN membership was the blocking of economic aid to Palestine by Israel and the US. It was not surprising considering the UNESCO experience. Israel has also withheld tax revenues of the PA—but it is not a big price to pay for the statehood.
This membership cannot be understated as “symbolic”. The international tide has turned in favour of Palestine because in 2011 it applied for full-statehood recognition which was withdrawn in the face of an impending veto by US. In 2011, most of the European countries voted against the resolution, but in November 2012 almost all European countries either voted in favour or abstained. 138 countries pressed “yes” button, which speaks volumes about the mood swing in the international arena.
In this situation, Israel will ill-afford not to follow peace process even when the Fatah and Hamas have not resorted to any violence on a big scale (Though both can’t be treated equally: Hamas is a radical Islamic group in Gaza Strip while Fatah is a moderate party in West Bank). Continuing illegal settlement and human right violation will isolate Israel from the world. Tzipi Livni is fighting election on the same plank that one-state mentality will isolate Israel. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that negotiation at the UN is the better than the acts of terrorism.
Last month, Egypt brokered a peace deal between Israel and Gaza Strip after eight days of war (probably Israel was the only aggressor fighting against the unarmed civilians). It signifies the ever-increasing influence of the Arab states in the peace-process. After the Arab spring most of the nascent democratic countries are ruled by Muslim Brotherhood or Islamic parties which are closer to Palestine. Any wrong step taken by Israel against the Palestinians will be probed vigorously in the international circle. Israel knows well that if it has to sustain, it has look beyond US.
My hunch is that the years of Ariel Sheron and Oslo Accord are nearing to get a permanent solution for the intractable problem of two-state solution despite chauvinism shown by Benjamin. Some factors are key to its realization: Palestine’s disavowal to join the ICC, permanent peace-settlement before going after the UN, elections in Israel.
Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Danin called this resolution a “pyrrhic victory”: but Palestine went to the UN with nothing to lose when illegal settlement had not stopped.
To sum up, I will say that history is a great teacher when the oppressed become oppressor. Still chances are rosy to make headway, but much depends on the hustings in Israel.