Adel Safty
Gulf News (Opinion)
November 7, 2011 - 1:00am

Last week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) at a meeting of its General Assembly, admitted Palestine as a full member.

The meeting was emotional. As it began, someone shouted Vive La Palestine (long live Palestine); when the delegates began to vote on the resolution to admit Palestine, the hall rang with loud and sustained cheers, as representatives of Austria, Russia, Brazil, India, China, South Africa and France indicated their country's affirmative vote. The resolution was carried with 107 for, 14 against and 52 abstentions.

Reasonable people would think this is a wonderful triumph for the Palestinian quest for peace, the object of which is, after all, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The two-state solution is supported not only by the Quartet (US, Russia, the EU, and the UN) — the sponsors of the peace process — but also by the parties themselves — Israel and Palestine.

Yet, the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Palestinian membership in UN agencies undermines the peace process. They, therefore, announced punitive retaliatory measures: Washington will punish Unesco by withholding its financial contributions to it. Israel will go further by withholding its financial contribution to Unesco; and by punishing the Palestinians. Netanyahu announced that his government will accelerate the construction of new colonies in occupied East Jerusalem — a policy that has been condemned by the UN, the EU, and even by Washington itself as lacking legitimacy and undermining the peace process.

There is something wrong here. Either the Palestinians, supported by the international community, are misguided and their quest for membership in UN agencies does undermine the peace process. Or the peace process is intellectually corrupt claiming to serve the cause of peace when in fact it is perpetuating conflict.

There have been many instances in which it is possible to say that the Palestinians have pursued misguided policies. In a recent interview on Israeli television Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mentioned two such instances — the Palestinian refusal to accept the 1947 UN Resolution recommending the partition of Palestine and the 2000 second Palestinian intifada. The editors of Wall Street Journal, a leading supporter of the American-Israeli position on the Palestinian quest for UN membership, recently explained that the Palestinian move undermined the peace process because it alienated Israel.

This logic reverses the roles: The occupier is absolved of its obligations under international law, and the victim is burdened with the obligation not to alienate the occupier even in the face of oppression, dispossession and collective punishment. If alienating your interlocutor undermines the quest for peace, then the Palestinians — who experience daily alienation under Israeli occupation — can legitimately argue that the Israelis have destroyed the peace process.

For the Palestinians the peace process must achieve a just and lasting peace and lead to the establishment of an independent and sovereign state. This can only be achieved within the framework of the principles of international law; foremost among these is the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territories by war, clearly stated in the preamble to UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967. The American-Israeli position, on the other hand, is based on the realpolitik principles of the balance of power between the parties — hence the formulation often reiterated that peace can only be achieved through negotiations between the parties.

Balance of power

But the balance of power is grossly tilted in favour of Israel — the dominant military power, and the occupier. Israel can make an offer to the Palestinians regardless of whether it is in conformity with international law or not and say: "Take it or leave it". All the Palestinians can do is precisely that, take it or leave it; and if they do leave it, Israel can carry on dispossessing the Palestinians, building more colonies while blaming the Palestinians as "obstacle to peace"— as the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently described Abbas.

There is one thing that the Palestinian quest for membership in UN agencies has clearly highlighted; and that is the bankruptcy of the dominant concept of the peace process. This became abundantly clear when Obama admitted the failure of his peace process and openly sided with Israel, in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September.

The Palestinian request for admission into other UN agencies is bringing the crisis to a head. A new paradigm for conflict resolution is needed; one that is clearly grounded in justice and international law, reflecting the relevant UN resolutions, providing support and accountability, holding the parties responsible to fulfil obligations arising from their engagements. The infamous peace process should be put to rest. Its obituary should read: "It died a thousand times trying to place might over right."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017