Palestine gets ready for historic UN vote

Ramallah is buzzing as Palestinian leaders launch push for statehood at the United Nations.

Palestinian diplomacy has been frenetic ahead of the statehood bid [EPA]

If anyone outside occupied Palestine had doubts that the Palestinian Authority was hesitant about going to the UN to request the recognition of Palestine as a full member, a trip to Ramallah would quickly put an end to this scepticism.

Ramallah’s hotels are full of members of the Palestine Central Council – the second-highest representative body in Palestinian politics after the Palestine National Council. PNC Speaker Salim Zannoun has held meetings in Amman, Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah in preparation for a crucial central council meeting in Ramallah this week. The leading independent daily published in Ramallah, Al Ayyam, boasts a colourful map of the world with 122 flags representing world countries that have indicated that they will vote for Palestine to become a full member.

Robert H Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, has been quoted in the local press as saying in New York that the Palestinians are ready to take responsibility for their state.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was dispatched to Cairo to convince an emergency meeting of the Arab League that they must step up and fulfil commitments to the Palestinian Authority. Ever since Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mashaal signed the reconciliation deal, Israel has illegally withheld taxes and customs it collects on behalf of the PA – which usually cover 70 per cent of the authority’s running expenses. Salaries were paid at 50 per cent last month and are in doubt this month.

Keeping options open

Furthermore, threats from the US congress to cut off aid to the PA are taken seriously here, and therefore Palestinian leaders are making sure that they can get alternative sources of income. Palestinians want to make sure that Israel and the US are not going to financially blackmail them into taking positions that are contrary to Palestinian aspirations.

The readiness of the Palestinian leadership to go to New York, however, doesn’t reflect unanimity amongst Palestinians. It is true that Hamas has publicly said that they are not opposed to the idea. Aziz Dweik, the Hamas-supported speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who politely declined the invitation to attend the PCC sessions in Ramallah, wrote to Zannoun that, while full participation would need to wait until the reform of the PLO as agreed on in the reconciliation agreement, he gave his blessing to the UN trip. And while Fayyad is trying to raise money for PA salaries, he has made it clear that he is not totally in favour of the UN bid. A close reading of Fayyad’s plan for independence focuses on the idea of creating a de facto state at the present rather than go for a vote at the UN.

There are also other small cracks in an almost wall-to-wall support for the UN move from different directions. Talking to Palestinians in the street, one gets the feeling that there is concern that this move might not produce any concrete change, but may potentially cause a lot of damage. A middle-class Hebron white-collar worker noted that in the past few years a huge number of Palestinian civil servants borrowed from local banks to buy homes and cars based on their PA salaries, and are now scrambling to pay their debts without a consistent monthly salary.

Hani Masri, an independent writer who was active with the independent forum set up by businessman Munib Masri, argued in an Al Ayyam op-ed against the idea that Palestinians should go back to negotiations after the UN vote. The UN vote is not a one-off idea; it must be the beginning of a process that will also be parallelled with serious hard work on the ground. Going back to negotiations after the UN vote will not improve our negotiating position, he said.

Even PLO spokesman Yasser Abed Rabbo sounded a tiny bit hesitant. Speaking after a meeting of the PLO executive committee, he said that, while there was “no precedent that pushes us to go to the UN at any certain time, that doesn’t mean that we are hesitant about going to New York”.

It is also not clear what the Palestinian diplomatic tactic will be in New York. Will the Palestinians risk a US veto by going to the UN Security Council and asking for full membership, or will they skip the council and go directly to the General Assembly requesting recognition as a state with merely observer (rather than full) membership?

Whatever some small voices say, the Palestinian political machine is on high alert. All 90 Palestinian ambassadors around the world have been told to cancel all vacations and to work around-the-clock in the coming two months. They met in Istanbul last week with President Mahmoud Abbas and were given the political directions for their mission. As far as Ramallah is concerned, Abbas will ask the PCC to officially approve his recommendation that, due to the failure of the attempts to get Israel to agree on the basis of the talks that include agreeing to a settlement freeze, and the failure of the Quartet to produce a mutually acceptable plan, the Palestinians’ only non-violent option is to go to the highest international body, the UN, and seek their help in ending the 44-year Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on twitter.com/daoudkuttab

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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