Palestinians living in Australia hold significant reservations about the Palestinian Authority’s attempt at gaining international recognition of a Palestinian state currently before the UN, labelling the strategy “hollow” and lacking in strategic nous.
As Mahmoud Abbas returns to a raptuous welcome in Ramallah and onlookers predict the debate at the UN could drag on for months, local Palestinian advocates, while in principle supporting any diplomatic activity aimed at breaking the deadlock, have questioned the tangible gains it will bring to Palestinians with and without of the West Bank and Gaza.
Samah Sabawi, the Education Officer at Australians for Palestine, who was born in Gaza, says that the bid is “not a good idea in its current form,” as “it leaves too many questions.”
“When Mahmoud Abbas comes back from New York, he will still require an Israeli entrance permit to get into the West Bank,” she said, citing that reality as an example of the move’s futility in changing the ‘facts on the ground’ in the Israeli-occupied territories.
The bid for full statehood, aimed at the creation of a recognised nation without the determination of borders or key sticking points with Israel, is doomed to failure at the Security Council, where the United States will utilise its veto power.
However there is a bigger chance of success in the General Assembly, where the likely outcome is the upgrading of the status of Palestine to non-member observer status, giving it access to several UN bodies, critically the International Court of Justice.
Ms Sabawi perceives that outcome as aimed mostly at improving the PA’s position in peace agreement negotiations with Israel, in her opinion showing “a lack of innovation” on behalf of the Palestinian leadership.
“When looking at the bigger picture, the move seems to be quite hollow.”
“It won’t change the facts on the ground, Israel will continue to build the settlements, at the moment Palestinians are just cheap labour for Israel, and captive consumers. Negotiations only work when the two parties have the same level of power. We currently have negoations where one party has complete power and the other is completely powerless.”
Bassam Dalli, an Executive Member of the Australian Friends of Palestine Organisation, speaking from Canberra, agreed, saying that an outcome whereby the PA entered into negotiations with an only slightly improved position would be a disappointment.
“After years of supposed negotiations, [the international community] have recognised Israel but not Palestine. Palestinians are human beings too. Palestinians have rights just like everyone else, they don’t have 80%, 70% of rights.”
Ms Sabawi was particularly critical of perceived sidelining of refugees and Palestinian civil society by the PA in its focus on UN membership.
She said “the Palestinian Liberation Organisation needs to regain its legitimacy, through the involvement of Palestinians in the civil process, including Palestinian refugees, who have so far been left out of the state.”
In addition to supporting refugees, Ms Sabawi believes the PLO needs to move to openly support for non-violent protests and the controversial Boycott, Divestement and Sanctions campaign which has been widely lampooned in Australia.
While expressing his anxiety over the likely outcome of the current UN wrangling, Mr Dalli, a Palestinian born in northern Israel, savaged suggestions that the exercise will be wholly fruitless.
“The alternative is to pretend there are real negotiations. The alternative is to return to the status quo, with Palestinians living in the world’s biggest prison, with Israel making their lives miserable.”
In 1993 the U.S.-brokered Oslo Accords, themselves the product of direct negotiations, established the PA and direct Palestinian control of swathes of built-up residential areas in the occupied territories. Israel sees the circumventing of negotiations by the the Palestinians as a way of avoiding having to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and give up the dream of a Palestine "from the river to the sea".
Firebrand Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann has been reportedly suggested tearing up the peace accords in response to the reinvigorated Palestinian diplomatic drive. Israel also holds millions of dollars in tax money which it collects on behalf of the PA, and the U.S. Congress recently moved to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
Mr Dalli was adamant that Palestinians are so tired of the lack of improvement in their position that they are prepared to cop major economic hits in order to achieve more serious international recognition.
“If it means they will starve, they will starve.”