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The Palestinian leadership from negotiations to international legitimacy

By Maged Kayali

Due to its lack of any hope in the peace negotiations with Israel, the Palestinian Authority has said that it may approach the United Nations, either the Security Council or the General Assembly, to get formal recognition of a Palestinian State within the borders of June 1967.

Without minimizing its importance, this option alone is not enough. It is not a substitute for rebuilding the Palestinian national situation, nor can it take its course without restoring the Palestinian Authority to a national liberation movement which struggles for the rights of its people.

Recommendations not action

The Palestinian issue has taken up considerable time at the United Nations, but there is little to show of this in terms of changes on the ground in occupied Palestine. The UN has issued dozens of resolutions through the General Assembly and Security Council but they remain "ink on paper" without any firm action to implement them. Resolutions from the General Assembly are not binding so some of the most substantive aspects of the conflict remain outstanding; the UN has made its recommendations but no matter how morally and legally correct they may be, they have cosmetic value only.

1. Resolution 181 (1947) called for the partition of British Mandate Palestine into two states (Jewish and Arab), taking into account the rights of Jews and Arabs living in both states, and placing the city of Jerusalem under international trusteeship. This resolution also called upon the two states to establish economic union between them. Although Israel has been established over 77% of the land of Palestine, the Palestinians still have no state.

2. Resolution 194 (1948) called for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their homes inside the state of Israel, with compensation for those who do not wish to return as well as for all harm caused to the refugees as a result of their expulsion from their land and their homes.

3. Resolution 273 (1949) includes recognition of Israel, provided Israel recognizes the former two resolutions (181 and 194). It is worth mentioning that Israel is the only country that has been recognized by the UN conditionally but has received international recognition without implementing those conditions. This means that the Palestinians' right to establish their own state, within the framework of international legitimacy, stems not only from resolution 181 but also resolution 273.

4. Resolutions 3236, 3375 and 3376 (1974 and 1975) regarding the invitation to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to participate in the deliberations of the General Assembly as the representative of the Palestinian people; the resolutions call upon the Security Council to enable the people to exercise their legitimate rights of self-determination, independence and sovereignty, and refugees' return, and the formation of special committee.

5. Resolution 3379 (1975) recognises Zionism as a form of racism. This resolution was rescinded as a result of political pressure in the early stages of the peace process in teh 1990s.

6. There are dozens of decisions by the UN made on an exceptional or periodic (annual) basis calling on Israel to implement UN resolutions, not to change the demographic situation in the occupied territories, end settlement activities and to protect civilians in time of war. Israel has also been called upon to stop human rights violations. In addition, decisions such as 2649 in 1970 and 2787 in 1971 recognize the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle to get rid of colonial domination.

Security Council resolutions have not been truly binding

The resolutions of the Security Council have not been implemented because Israel, with US backing, has refused to do so. They are not binding because they have been issued under Chapter VI of the UN Charter; resolutions passed under Chapter VII are mandatory (such as those on Iraq).

Moreover, the Security Council resolutions have not addressed the fundamental aspects of the Palestine question but its manifestations and consequences, such as calling for an end to hostilities, denouncing Israeli actions or considering the Judaization of Jerusalem, settlements and land confiscation as illegal acts. The US has vetoed any resolution which Israel regards as hostile to its aims; the veto has been used on around forty occasions, 50% of all vetoes used by the US in the Security Council.

The most important resolutions of the UN Security Council on the Palestine issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict are represented by the following:

1. Resolution 242 (1967) stating the inadmissibility of the occupation of territory by force, and demanding that Israel withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, and achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.

2. Resolution 338 (1973) calling for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the Arab states and calling on Israel to implement resolution 242.

3. Resolution 1397 (2002), which calls for the establishment of a state for the Palestinians, a decision that is the first of its kind to be issued by the UN Security Council in this area. The importance of this resolution lies in that it serves as an update and a continuation of resolution 242, which overlooked the Palestinian dimension, and considered the conflict with Israel to be limited to Arab countries and to lands that were occupied.

There are many other resolutions condemning Israeli practices in the occupied territories and which do not recognize the legitimacy of the annexation of Jerusalem or Jewish settlements.

International complications

International attention to the Palestinian cause and the paradoxes and complexities surrounding it has several explanations, including:

a) Since the beginning, the question of Palestine has been an international issue par excellence. Regardless of the efforts of the Zionist movement in the establishment of the state of Israel, international support enabled the success of its project, and has ensured its development politically, economically, technologically, militarily and in terms of human resources.

Britain (the Mandate authority over Palestine in the first half of the 20th century), for example, facilitated Jewish immigration to Palestine, and made concessions to the Jewish Agency to establish its institutions ready-made as foundations of the nascent state. The United States pushed through the resolution on the partition of Palestine in the UN, and made Israel the focus of its foreign policy in the region; it used Israel to its advantage during the Cold War and has provided all forms of material, military, technological and political support to it. France, meanwhile, has stood behind the development of military industries in Israel and its possession of nuclear weapons; Germany provided the funds and contributed to the development of industries and technology; and the Soviet Union (now Russia) is the seemingly unending reservoir of Jewish immigration to Palestine.

b) The West considers the Zionist state to be an extension of itself in the middle of the Arab world. The early Zionists pushed the claim that their state would be an "outpost" of European "civilisation in a sea of barbarism"; Israel today claims to be an oasis of freedom and democracy in the Middle East as a cover for its apartheid-style colonialism.

Of course, the West accept such claims, which help it to hides its own responsibility for the tragedy suffered by the Palestinian people by the creation of Israel. Europe has still not matured enough to apologize to the Arab states for its colonial past. This explains in part the Western countries' reluctant defence of the human rights of Palestinians, provision of economic support, recognition of their rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and denunciation of the brutality of Israeli practices; moreover, the West is unwilling to support the legitimate resistance to the Israeli occupation, or adopt the right of return for refugees, which requires opening the fundamental issues of the Palestinian cause. This also explains the dependence on the American position.

c) The Palestinian issue derives its universality from the enemy it faces. The "Jewish problem" rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century by virtue of developments in Europe; it became globalised during and after World War II, as a result of the Nazi holocaust, prompting the Western world to respond positively to Zionist demands for the creation of the state of Israel.

The Zionists have employed the holocaust as a bargaining tool across the world and the Jewish diaspora to gain support for Israel. On the other hand, the Palestinian cause experienced and is still experiencing serious difficulties internationally in having the legitimacy of their cause acknowledged. The great influence of the Israel lobby in the US and Europe, coupled with Western guilt for the Nazi holocaust, have prevented the realisation of the Palestinian state.

d) The question of Palestine also derives its universality from its strategic geographic location. The major powers look at control of the land of Palestine as the key to control over the Arab world and its oil reserves.

This is not just about the occupation

Thus, the conflict over Palestine is not just a struggle for legitimacy, rights and justice in the face of Israel; it is also part of the wider conflicts of international politics, economics and military dominance. That was the case in the aftermath of the First World War and the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire by the colonial powers, and post-Second World War during the Cold War between the US and USSR. It still plays a dominant role in America's efforts to dominate world affairs.

It is obvious that this puts the Palestinian people through great difficulties unnecessarily as they pay the price for this international power-play. Although legally and morally the Palestinian issue is clear-cut, it remains a complex and near-impossible issue to resolve. The Palestinians are also the world's last victims of colonialism.

As such, the Palestinian case does not need more international resolutions without a genuine desire and political will to implement them. The Palestinian people must rebuild their national unity, with perseverance and steadfastness, and be aware of the international complexities surrounding their cause. Only then will they be able to develop a political strategy which incorporates resistance to the occupation of their land with achievements in the international arena.

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

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