A Risky Bid for Statehood?

The long-lasting peace and viable state that Palestinians deserve cannot be achieved through a symbolic victory at the UN.
Farzana Hassan
The Mark, Toronto
Former President, Muslim Canadian Congress; author, "Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest."

Palestinians deserve a state of their own. This is indisputable. But what must be equally clear is the goal for a lasting, sustainable, and viable peace in the ongoing Middle East conflict – one that is forged by Israelis and Palestinians jointly. That scenario is near impossible in the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly vote, which seeks to elevate the Palestinian Authority’s status to non-member observer state. The stakes are high for both Israelis and Palestinians if a Palestinian state emerges today. First, the question of who speaks for Palestinians must arise. Fatah and Hamas remain political adversaries, with Hamas quietly opposing the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid.

But even ordinary Palestinians are wary of today’s vote. They rightly fear Israeli reactions in the form of tighter control over the occupied territories, refusal to negotiate peace, and anger over Israel’s increased isolation in the Middle East. Furthermore, the U.S. has threatened to veto such a bid, and some congressional members are threatening to significantly reduce the financial aid that they provide to the Palestinian Authority should the UN go through with the vote.

And what would the newly created Palestinian state stand to gain from UN recognition? For one thing, Palestinians would demand better living conditions for their citizens. Some Palestinian factions also believe they would be better equipped to complain against Israeli policy, and, in particular, that they would be in a stronger position to bring their grievances against Israel before the world court.

But one must still ask: To what avail, and at what cost? Would the declaration of Palestinian statehood derail the peace process that would have come about as a result of mutual agreement and co-operation? Would this “victory” – which would, in all likelihood, amount to no more than a symbolic victory – be worth losing the chance at a genuine and lasting peace?
Political pundits have surmised that any unilateral declaration of Palestinian sovereignty will backfire in the long run, rendering Palestinians weak and powerless to negotiate a more just and sustainable peace in the future.
Israeli concerns over the potential for a declaration of Palestinian statehood are also valid. The current bid for unilateral declaration makes no mention of Israel’s right to exist in peace with its neighbours. It also ignores Israel’s genuine security concerns.
Moreover, such a move has the real potential to destabilize the region further, resulting in border clashes and skirmishes within Jewish settlements. This is inevitable given Netanyahu’s rejection of Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas’ demand to freeze Jewish settlements.
With a plethora of unresolved issues, it is indeed premature to demand statehood for Palestine. These issues will inevitably surface and cause friction within the changed dynamics of Palestinian sovereignty. They will also further exacerbate – and complicate any chance of resolving – the ongoing Middle East conflict.
It is therefore advisable for Israelis and Palestinians to resume talks on a negotiated peace settlement. While Palestinians must undoubtedly have their state and freedom, it is imperative that they achieve their goals in a prudent manner, free of desperation, encumbrances, and fear of reprisals.
A symbolic victory at the United Nations is hardly worth jeopardizing long-lasting peace and viable statehood.


Send questions or comments to Farzana Hassan