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Is The Declaration of Statehood Such a Good Thing for All The Palestinians?

September 7, 2011

By Fiorenzo Conte

As the UN vote on Palestine statehood draws near, the conventional wisdom is that the UN recognition of  a Palestine State (a nation state as defined by the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories  borders) would be a major step forward for the Palestinian people. However, there are reasons  – which are often omitted – which question and undermine such claim.

Firstly, the request of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), currently chaired by Mahmod Abbas, to replace itself by the State of Palestine as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people has the potential to undermine  political and legal status of come some palestinian. More precisely it could jeopardize the right to return and self determination of those Palestinian who are not currently living within the borders of the new Palestinian state. Professor Abdel Razzaq Takrity spells out why this would happen:

Most damaging is that this initiative (as currently formulated) changes our ability as a people to represent the totality of our inalienable rights. Through the PLO and its seat at the UN, the majority of Palestinians, who actually live outside the West Bank and Gaza, now have representation (undemocratic though it is) as equal members of the Palestinian body politic under a single political structure, and which was achieved by a previous generation in 1974 after enormous sacrifices. This principle of the political equality of Palestinians inside Palestine with the Palestinian refugees outside of it will be completely lost if the PLO is substituted by the State of Palestine.

Unlike the State of Palestine, the PLO does not derive its sovereign status from a territorial claim, but from the claim to popular sovereignty and as sole representative of an entire people. As such, its competencies are not limited by borders, and can encompass the Palestinian shatat in its entirety. This cannot be said for the State of Palestine, whose sovereign claim is severely limited and bound by the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), the vast majority of which it does not even control. What the Goodwin-Gill Memorandum confirms is that unless the UN seat continues to be held by the PLO, more than half of the Palestinian people will face the threat of disenfranchisement.

Secondly, the statehood declaration does not stir much enthusiasm among Palestinian in the West Bank. Reasons being that they do not associate any identifiable and direct benefits from the declaration. Adam Shatz on the London Review of Book explains the reasons of such disillusionment:

One reason is that it’s a toothless strategy: ‘Who cares if we get recognised as a state if the Israelis can still block the roads?’ Another is that the declaration sticks to the modest, 1967 parameters at the very moment the Netanyahu government is building a Greater Israel. If Israel continues to act as if 1948 never ended, and shows no sign of wanting to reach a compromise on the 1967 borders, many Palestinians say, why shouldn’t we call for more too?

And there’s yet another reason for the lack of interest in the declaration: as the prospect of a genuine – a sovereign and independent – Palestinian state has receded, another discourse has returned, one with much deeper roots in the Palestinian political imagination than talk of statehood, and much closer to the ideas that inspired the Arab uprisings. It’s often forgotten that until the mid-1970s, Palestinians were looking not to establish a state but to achieve ‘national liberation’, to restore their rights in the land from which they had been driven – beginning with the right of return. Palestinians rarely talk about statehood, but they often talk about their rights; statehood is viewed, at best, as a means to achieve them. 

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