The Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood recognition at the UN this September has elicited a range of responses and opinions. The Arab Spring has opened the way for political change in the region, inspiring Palestinians in their struggle for statehood. However, opinion is divided as to the best path to advance Palestinian rights and national aspirations at this moment in history.
Skeptics argue that formal recognition at the UN will not in fact create a sovereign Palestinian state, nor will it effectively end the Israeli occupation. Israel will continue to control security within the occupied territories and manage the flow of people and resources across borders at an array of checkpoints. In 1988, the declaration of an independent state of Palestine at the UN failed to produce effective statehood, so some are doubtful about prospects for meaningful change following a similar route this September. But the struggle for statehood can be long and complex, and much has happened since 1988.
A key question concerns the PA’s legitimacy to act on behalf of the Palestinian people. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s PA government was not elected and faces accusations of authoritarian rule. According to the Palestinian National Initiative, the PA government lacks a constitutional or democratic basis. PLO and Fatah leaders have also been very critical of Fayyad. The split with Hamas in Gaza also presents a very serious problem for Palestinian unity. Without democratic arrangements in place, the Palestinian people cannot hold the PA accountable. Ultimately, the PLO, and not the PA, remains the legitimate representative of the Palestinians in their relations with other states, peace negotiations with Israel, and as an Observer at the UN.
Because international recognition of the Palestinian state may change little on the ground in the occupied territories, some Palestinians feel that the PA’s symbolic bid at the UN represents a surrender of hard-fought issues at the core of Palestinian political identity. Some critics oppose the UN bid on the grounds that a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders threatens to legitimate the terms of Palestinian dispossession in 1948, waiving Palestinians’ historic claim to refugee right of return.
Palestinians remain fundamentally divided over the eventual goal of a two-state solution. Some Palestinian youth believe that one unified state is the only viable option for equality and universal human rights for all Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh argues that if a negotiated two-state solution is not possible, dissolving the PA and focusing on the one-state solution is preferable to “enclaves of Palestinians living under the hegemony—military and otherwise—of Israel.” Thus, it may be easier for Palestinians to fight for their civil rights, access to adequate social services, and the right of return within a bi-national Israel-Palestinian state.
According to Farid Abdel-Nour, although one Palestinian narrative of the two-state vision sees surrender and accommodation to overwhelming Israeli power, an alternative narrative embodies the verdict of a global moral consensus associated with justice, international law, and Palestinian pride and dignity. Through this alternative narrative, international recognition of a Palestinian state could help imbue the two-state solution with its original meaning for Palestinians, rooted in the first intifada in 1987 when the Palestinian people demanded it for themselves. International recognition may also reinvigorate Palestinians with a new sense of political agency. These events may put pressure on Israel to discontinue settlement activity and end the blockade of Gaza, creating new avenues for direct negotiations. Under Fayyad’s guidance, the PA has helped to keep this second narrative of the two-state solution alive.
Ultimately, international recognition of the state of Palestine is a step in the right direction for peace, security, and protection of human rights in the region. Although UN status does not determine statehood and international recognition at the UN is not a panacea, a Palestinian declaration of independence would situate Palestine on an equal plane with Israel. It would create new avenues for Palestinians to gain access to international justice and accountability for violations of international law (including the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory). International recognition may also spur a new round of peace talks aimed at realizing the two-state solution, ending the impasse and bringing political actors back to the negotiating table. Many hopes have been dashed since the first intifada in 1987, yet the two-state solution remains the best possible option for restoring Palestinian dignity and ending the conflict’s bloodshed.
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