Rashid Khalidi evaluates the PLO's September "UN bid"

PLO and Fatah strategist Nabil Shaath told journalists in Bethlehem just before Christmas that the Palestinians are observing a “hudna” or truce in pursuing the “UN bid” they filed at UNHQ in NY on 23 September for full UN membership for the Palestinian State declared in 1988 — after the failure of negotiations brokered by the United States and backed by the Quartet [USA, EU, Russia + UN.

Shaath said that this “hudna” would last until January 26, the end of the three-month period that the Quartet gave the two parties [Israel + the PLO] to meet and agree on intitial steps to resume negotiations.

After that, Shaath indicated — and unless Israel stops settlement building by then — the PLO will resume its international efforts, including the suspended “UN bid”.

The admission of the State of Palestine to full membership in UNESCO in Paris on 31 October was something of an unplanned surprise, Shaath suggested: “It’s been on the agenda every year since 1989”, he suggested, but this year, it just happened: “we won”, he said. After that, Shaath told journalists, Abu Mazen [Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas] declared a moratorium on any further moves [well, a lot of donor funding, including USAID money, as well as the immediately-important Israeli transfer of the PA VAT + Customs duties it collects, which goes to pay PA salaries, was at stake].

Shaath also said that separate efforts to join distinct UN agencies and international bodies was just a lot of wasted effort, because if accomplished through the “UN bid” — or, otherwise, by taking the easier and more immediately productive route of going to the UN General Assembly to ask for an upgrade in status from observer organization to observer but non-member state.

Meanwhile, Palestinian-American professor Rashid Khalidi has talked to Victor Kattan — the transcript is published here — analyzing the PLO strategy for its “UN bid” filed on 23 September for full UN membership for the Palestinian state:

Rashid Khalidi [RK]: “…If your objective is a narrow diplomatic one to obtain maximum benefits at minimum costs, which is a perfectly rational approach, it might have been advisable to have avoided the Security Council and to have gone directly to the General Assembly. If, however, this was part of what I would call a declaration of independence from the United States, and the idea was to illustrate the fact that the United States is an obstacle to a just resolution of the conflict, then I don’t see why a defeat in the Security Council, by a U.S. veto or a lack of necessary votes, doesn’t serve that purpose and then that could be followed by going to the General Assembly and achieving the same objective. Obviously you don’t want to suffer a defeat if you don’t have to and another argument would be why should the Palestinians accentuate their differences with the U.S..

VK: What did you think of Abu Mazen’s speech before the UN General Assembly?

RK: I thought that it was an unexpectedly good speech. I think that a not fully appreciated result of the whole initiative was the re-opening of questions that have been ignored – especially in the U.S. It generated an enormous amount of interest in the Palestine question, and I don’t think the PA/PLO capitalized on it at all, as much as they should have, and might have, and ought to have. But, nonetheless the media frenzy around the UN effort opened up issues having to do with the role of the U.S., having to do with the moribund so-called peace process, having to do with going back to the UN and international resolutions as a basis of a resolution, having to do with the anomaly between Israel getting sanctioned as a state in 1947 by UN General Assembly resolution [GA 181, the November 29, UN partition plan] and the Palestinian state being disallowed. All these things have been opened up and I think the whole discussion has moved on a little bit. Now obviously it requires capitalizing on that. One of my constant regrets is that there has never been a serious Palestinian official effort to effectively make the case…

VK: What did you think about the position adopted by some Palestinians and Palestinian organizations, including many in the U.S., who opposed the Palestinian strategy to go to the UN because of the question of refugee rights among other issues?

RK: I think those were unwarranted fears. I cannot see how the continuation of a strategy at the UN, in which the PLO has been engaged for a very long time, would necessarily jeopardize the status of the refugees. I think you can argue that the two-state solution is problematic among other things because it does not fully take into account the refugee issue. But that is a problem some people have been talking about since 1974 when it was first floated by the PLO. That is a fundamental problem of the two-state solution. How is that made compatible with a just resolution of the Palestine refugee issue along the lines of GA resolution 194? I don’t think that is something raised by going to the UN in September 2011, that’s raised by a strategy that has been adopted since 1974. And that’s a legitimate concern…

VK: What did you make of President Barack Obama’s address to the UN?

RK: In my memory it is one of the worst, if not the worst, speech an American President has ever given to the UN on the Palestine issue … It was a repudiation of long-held American positions and an adoption of the Israeli position that the U.S. has in the past been unwilling to adopt. In the past there have been campaign speeches and statements by Presidents running for re-election or candidates for the Presidency, or pandering to AIPAC or to other similar lobbying organizations by Presidential candidates, or speeches by Presidents that I can remember that have been pretty awful, including some by this President. But I cannot recall a speech to the UN General Assembly by an American President that quite plumbed these depths … [A]nyone who understands the making of American foreign policy and its interaction with the domestic scene will understand that really you had two Obama Presidencies. You had the one before November 2010 when the Democrats lost control of the House and the one after November 2010—and we are still in that period. Actually in the first couple of years the Administration had the illusion that it had all the time in the world to do whatever it pleased and it launched a number of initiatives: the Istanbul speech, the Cairo speech, the demand for a settlement freeze and so on and so forth, essentially wasting an enormous amount of time in a situation where it thought it was politically invulnerable. What happened in November 2010 is that the Administration discovered that they were extremely politically vulnerable—and the Republicans wasted no time in beating them about the head with the Palestine-Israel issue. The Administration has never recovered. They are still cowering in the corner on this issue. Frankly, Netanyahu has more support in Washington than the President does. He knows it, and they know it”…

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