Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD) wrote this week that “the Palestinians’ most loyal and powerful ally is civil society. And yet, this most solid base of support remains unappreciated, underutilized and ignored”.
His article was a critique of the failure of the Palestinian leadership to involve its own people in the diaspora, it’s own people in the occupied Palestinian territory, and civil society around the world — particularly in the reported plan to go to the United Nations in September to seek UN membership for a Palestinian State.
From 1974, the PLO waged a battle seeking UN recognition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.
In November 1988, the late PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] leader Yasser Arafat issued a Declaration of Independence for a Palestinian State, at a meeting of the PLO’s legislative assembly, the Palestine National Council [PNC], in Algeriers. This Declaration was repeated before a session of the UN General Assembly, which moved to Geneva for the occasion, in December 1988. Over 100 UN member states recognized that declaration of independent statehood.
After that, the UN “upgraded” the status of the PLO observer delegation, which was henceforth called the Observer Delegation of Palestine.
Now, the effort will be to seek full UN membership for the State of Palestine. If that fails, a fall-back position might be to seek full observer status for the Palestinian State (similar to the Vatican — or, to Switzerland, before it opted to become a full UN member a little less than a decade ago.
Halper wrote: “Inside the UN, Abbas would present Palestine’s compelling case for independence and UN membership, as he did in his New York Times piece of May 16th. He would also re-frame the conflict. It is not security issues that lay at the roots of the conflict, but Israel ’s refusal to respect Palestinian national rights and to end the Occupation. As he also did in the New York Times article, Abbas must also make it clear that recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in no way compromises the right of refugees to return to their homes, a key point of future negotiations with Israel. He should also state up-front that the establishment of a Palestinian state does not end the Palestinian quest, through peaceful means, of an inclusive single-state solution. If international mobilization is pursued vigorously and Abbas exudes a genuine determination to see a Palestinian state established and recognized, more than 130 countries, including many of the leading European ones, will vote to accept Palestine into the UN. Even if this does not overrule the US veto in the Security Council, it is far more than a merely symbolic achievement and certainly cannot be considered a failure. Such a massive expression of support would demonstrate the inevitability of Palestinian statehood. It would signal the beginning rather than the end of an international campaign for Palestinian rights, one now joined by governments as well as civil society”.
Among Halper’s pointed criticisms of the Palestinian leadership’s lack of leadership are these:
(1). “Israel, helped by time and geography, has succeeded in fragmenting the Palestinians. The refugees in the camps are almost completely excluded from political processes, but it is the exclusion of the Diaspora that is especially problematic. Highly educated for the most part, fluent in all the European languages, they could play a major role in promoting the Palestinian cause abroad. Indeed, a few individuals have carved out influential positions despite being excluded, even resisted, by the West Bank leadership. Instead, the Palestinian Authority has fielded, with a couple notable exceptions, a most inept and inarticulate corps of diplomats. Rather than using their greatest asset, their own people abroad as well as the legions of articulate spokespeople at home, including younger people, the Palestinian Authority has tied its own hands diplomatically just when Israel is mounting a major international offensive against it. Just recall one astounding fact: during the entire year that saw the Obama Administration taking office and the invasion of Gaza, there was no official Palestinian representative in Washington!”
(2) A key flaw in the strategic thinking of the Palestinian leadership, Halper wrote, was the expressed fear that “not receiving the required votes for admission to the UN would constitute a ‘failure’. “If Abbas approaches the UN in a docile and half-hearted way, appearing more to be pushed by an Israeli refusal to negotiate than by his people’s own just cause and urgent need for independence, the Palestinian struggle will certainly suffer. Many other countries that would otherwise support the Palestinian initiative will indeed waiver, giving in to US and Israeli pressure because it seems the Palestinian themselves are not serious about it. But if he goes into the UN as the head of a national unity government with the support of the world’s peoples, Mandela-like, he could decisively change the course of events forever. To pull off his September initiative, Abbas must reject the go-it-alone approach that the Palestinian leadership has followed fruitlessly for so long … The issue is not whether the initiative ‘succeeds’; it is clear that the US will cast a veto. The true struggle is to pull out all the stops to show the world just how strong the Palestinian movement is. If mobilized, the collective power of the grassroots who have for years labored on the Palestinian issue will generate a momentum that will be hard to stop. Time is of the essence. Mobilization must begin immediately. The elected representatives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territory, joined for the first time by Palestinians of the refugee camps, inside Israel and the Diaspora, should issue a joint ‘Call for Support’. Immediately following the Palestinian Call, grassroots activists would issue a Civil Society Call to support the Palestinian initiative, which would be signed by tens of thousands of people from all over the world and delivered to the UN in September. If a campaign for public support begins now, if the political leadership works intensively and closely with its own civil society to garner wide-spread support, more than 100,000 people can be gathered at the UN in New York in September in a mass rally for Palestinian independence. (And believe me, Israel will mobilize its own supporters!)”
(3) And, Halper wrote, “We, the people who have pursued Palestinian rights over the decades, Palestinians and non-Palestinian alike, are an integral part of the struggle. We have earned the right, all of us, to have our voices heard in September. Indeed, I would argue that if September comes and goes without any breakthrough due to the acquiescence and weakness of the Authority leadership, civil society support might well dissipate. The people can bring the struggle to a certain point; we cannot negotiate or pursue initiatives at the UN. If the leadership fails us then we truly have nowhere to go. All those Palestinians who have suffered, resisted and died over the past decades cannot be let down at this historic moment by a vacillating political leadership. We call on you to mobilize us”.
This piece is published here.