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"September entitlements" between reality and illusion

January 25, 2014 at 9:36 am

There has been a flourish of diplomatic activity by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in preparation for what has become known as the “September entitlements”, accompanied by statements from his Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, on the completion of state institution building and the readiness of Palestinians to assume responsibility for their own political and economical development in an independent state. There are mixed feelings about this, swinging between hope and worry; between taking an interest and ignoring what’s going on. It’s the same sort of inconsistency we find among the factions, and while Fatah considers the September entitlements as national matters to be prepared for, others, especially Hamas, view this activity with suspicion; the group fears that it might be another way of giving new concessions. This fear comes from their distrust of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, and that the features of the state, including its borders and the issues of refugees and Jerusalem, are still vague. So are there real “entitlements” in September? If so, what are the reference points?

Putting aside the feelings of optimism, pessimism, mistrust and scepticism, which have no place in Palestinian politics (which is so affected by outside influences), it is obvious that the September entitlements and international recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the borders of June 1967, are not based on any precise agreements, commitments or international promises; such recognition is thus far from clear. Rather, it is a negotiating tool for the Palestinians to use.

It is, therefore, an exaggeration to call them “entitlements”, as if the state will arise out of solid agreements. If the Palestinians are entitled to anything in September, it will have to be built on Palestinian efforts more than American and European promises. This does not diminish the importance of going to the UN Security Council to get recognition of an independent Palestinian state. What has been accomplished internationally to-date must be exploited so as not to give Israel the excuse of an absence of political and diplomatic activity in order to hold Palestinians responsible for the lack of any peace deal.

President Abbas has stressed that his faith in September entitlements does not stray from his commitment to peace and international legitimacy. Going directly to the international community at the UN Security Council and General Assembly is a different tactic, not the abandonment of two decades’ worth of negotiations. The lack of any clear reference points is acknowledged; the September entitlements are, therefore, only a selection of references for negotiations and not a substitute for them. The negotiations will resume even if there is international recognition; September will be the beginning of a new stage in the quest for peace, not the end.

Why September specifically? Palestinian officials have said that the September entitlements are based on three things: President Obama’s desire to see a Palestinian state by September 2011; the International Quartet’s announcement after the failure of the last round of negotiations that talks should reopen in September 2010 and end in September 2011; finally, Fayyad’s government programme begun in September 2009 designated September 2011 as the date for the completion of building the institutions of the state. Nevertheless, seeking UN support for an independent state of Palestine by September 2011 is not guaranteed by any US or EU commitment; even if it was, there have been written commitments in the past which have not been adhered to.

America’s commitment to the peace process has weakened over the past year; its role as an honest broker was damaged by the use of its veto in the UN Security Council; the Quartet’s position is much the same as that of the US. In Europe, the recognition of a Palestinian state is being looked into; the latest Franco-German-British statement alludes to this. The French president’s diplomatic efforts suggest increasing recognition of the right of the Palestinians to an independent state, but we should not be under any illusion that the creation of a Palestinian state is imminent. While we can hope for the best, there remains a lot of work to do to achieve such a result.

There is no doubt that obtaining international recognition as a reference point for peace negotiations is important, but it is only correcting an omission of the Oslo Accords. Such recognition is not a panacea, though. Don’t forget that there are dozens of UN resolutions on Palestine dating from 1947 and including the right of return of refugees, and condemnation of the “separation” wall, plus the UN Goldstone Report, and so on, which have made no difference whatsoever on the ground. Resolutions provide Palestinians with friends and allies, but Israel also has friends and allies; they are more powerful and influential internationally so we should not put all of our eggs in the basket of international legitimacy. Other means of struggle must be used alongside diplomatic channels; the most important of these are popular resistance and national reconciliation.

Between international recognition of a state and the establishment of the state there are three major points for clarification:

1. Unity through reconciliation will strengthen the Palestinians internally; approaching the Security Council whilst still would call into question whether or not Palestinians are ready to take responsibility for the state. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the PLO do not control all areas of the proposed state, nor represent all of the people; recognition of a state without reconciliation will prompt fears that a state of Palestine will be built upon division. 

2. The language of the draft resolution to be submitted to the Security Council or General Assembly, and the language of any resultant resolution is crucial. Will it include, for example, reference to the right of return of refugees and Jerusalem as the capital of the state? Or will it refer to a state based on previous understandings concerning the refugees, Jerusalem and the exchange of land?

3. Assuming that recognition is given, how will a state come into being? We don’t believe a statement of recognition will include the right of return of refugees or any recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of the state. Moreover, will the State of Palestine be established directly or will there have to be further negotiations that may take years, giving Israel more time to establish “facts on the ground” and stall the process yet again?

What is feared most, however, is that US pressure will once again be put on the Palestinian Authority to return to negotiations under a “new initiative”. We will know that this is the case if and when we hear that Palestinian proposals to the Security Council are being put on hold pending the results of new negotiations. The process, despite any optimism about “September entitlements”, could still be years away from any acceptable end result.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.