Mouin Rabbani
The National (Opinion)
December 3, 2012 - 1:00am


The significance of the United Nations General Assembly vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state has been exaggerated by opponents and proponents alike. It has no consequences for the status of the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, nor does it undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees living in exile, the occupied territories or indeed Israel itself as codified in international law and particularly UN Resolution 194 of 1948.

By the same token, and as demonstrated by Israel's subsequent decision to build several thousand new settlement units, it does not make the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip any less occupied or colonised, nor does it confer any additional powers upon either the PLO or Palestinian Authority that can be exercised on Palestinian territory.


Although it essentially changes nothing, it nevertheless has the capacity to contribute to a strategic transformation in Palestinian fortunes. This will depend primarily on how it is utilised by Palestinians - all Palestinians - but also the actions of other actors.


To take the most obvious aspect, the United Nations initiative was strenuously opposed by Israel and the United States. For good reason, because it forms a flagrant violation of the Oslo framework pursuant to which they alone are empowered to answer the question of Palestine, without heed to either the international community or the corpus of international resolutions and laws with respect to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The question for Palestinians is therefore whether the initiative is a first step towards referring the question of Palestine back to the United Nations - which after all created it and remains responsible for its resolution - or merely a tactical manoeuvre to resume bilateral negotiations with Israel under US supervision.


To point out that PA President Mahmoud Abbas went to New York in an attempt to shore up his domestic standing and that he has every intention of rushing back to the negotiating table is almost irrelevant. Mr Abbas similarly wanted to host the Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz in the centre of Ramallah several months ago. Yet popular revulsion at the prospect of a war criminal being feted at the scene of his crime put paid to the planned rendezvous.


Similarly, after Israel's latest assault on the Gaza Strip, Palestinians across the political and geographic spectrums are with renewed vigour demanding a meaningful national strategy and its implementation by a genuinely representative national movement.


Ensuring that the UN initiative serves the internationalisation of the struggle for Palestinian self-determination, rather than being a prelude to more negotiations that are but a fig leaf for deepening colonisation, can hardly be considered an impossible task. It will require serious effort, and it won't succeed overnight, but it can be done. To dismiss and miss this opportunity strikes me as a dereliction of duty.


The first step in this direction must be to end the Palestinian schism on the basis of a rejuvenated PLO, particularly since the political programmes of Fatah and Hamas are today all but indistinguishable and they are primarily engaged in a power struggle that is more about factional interest than ideology. Accusing either or both of these parties of having sold out their people is all well and good, but detractors need to get used to the fact that there can be no national movement without both of them, and that the most effective restraint on the excesses of either leadership is not Hamas but rather a rejuvenated Fatah.



It may be too late for the latter, but the left and Islamic Jihad presently lack the capacity to play this role, and it will be years before a credible and sufficiently powerful alternative emerges from today's otherwise inspirational youth movements. Civil society, particularly that swathe of it dependent on foreign funding, cannot substitute for a national liberation movement.


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