Ghassan Khatib
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
September 20, 2011 - 12:00am

With this week's start of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian leadership can rightly say that it has begun to reap fruit from its decision to take the Palestinian cause to the international community. The Palestinian people and leadership have suffered for too long from the inattention of the international community, which insisted on leaving Palestinians and Israelis to their own devices to solve their problems. For the Palestinians, this was equal to leaving their people at the mercy of the brutal Israeli occupation.

This Palestinian diplomacy at the United Nations has been largely misunderstood. Many have dealt with it as a procedural move or a one-shot deal, whereby Palestinians and other members of the world community would go to cast a vote and then come back home to face business as usual. This move is more than that, seeking instead to correct the current peace process or create a new one entirely.

This step is about engaging the international community in the business of trying to end the Israeli occupation in order to allow for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. It should be seen as a commitment to and investment in the peace process, since it shows a deep belief in the notion of two states. We already have one state: Israel. What remains is to implement the rest of the international vision for the region.

In recent months, the Palestinian leadership and diplomatic efforts have failed to create within the international community a feeling of urgency about unilateral Israeli settlement expansion. Despite the international consensus that the growth of the settlements is an obstacle to peace and the peace process, very little has been done to remove this obstacle. The Palestinian appeal to the United Nations has succeeded in injecting this urgency into the discussions of the international community and creating the collective need to do something.

As a result of this Palestinian decision, the dominant members of the world community are now engaged in finding ways to contribute to resuming a meaningful peace process and removing some of its obstacles. This is at the heart of the Palestinian objective.

Further, a fresh and vital public debate is now underway--through the media, from commentators or in the arena of public diplomacy--another desirable outcome that is already bearing fruit. Over the last ten years, Israel has increasingly been able to isolate the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (or lack thereof) from the attention of international officials and the world public. This played right into Israel's hands. Opening this conflict up to public scrutiny and allowing for fresh, transparent diplomatic activity can neutralize Israeli attempts to continue stalling the peace process in favor of creating illegal facts on the ground that threaten the two-state solution.

For all these reasons, we hope that the Palestinian move to the United Nations is the beginning of a process of internationalizing the conflict, with sustained international attention from officials and the public. These external voices need to act as stewards of the international community's vision of two states and international legality, removing obstacles to progress like illegal Israeli settlement expansion.


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