On Friday, September 23, Mahmoud Abbas submitted a UN bid for Palestinian statehood in his function as President of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO. Already two days before, in his speech at the UN General Assembly, Barack Obama made clear that the United States would veto this bid at the Security Council. The latter is meeting tomorrow to discuss the bid, which most likely will not meet the nine-vote majority requirement, thus making the veto unnecessary.
A compromise solution which the Palestinians are likely to pursue thereafter is to seek UN non-member observer-state status. This would be an upgrade from the current observer status enjoyed by the PLO as a political entity since it entails a tacit recognition of statehood. According to Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, such an upgrade could be ‘symbolic victory’ for Palestinians besides improving their chances to pursue indictments against Israel under the legal mechanisms provided by the UN, such as the International Criminal Court. One should add: the opposite is also possible in this case.
The general feeling regarding Palestinian statehood and the latest UN bid is that Palestinians ‘deserve’ to attain statehood. Tellingly, Obama used the term twice with reference to Palestinians and twice with reference to Israel: ‘the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own’ and ‘Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state’; but also, ‘Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors’.
This one little word ‘deserve’ highlights how so much of this is about symbolic representations. The issue at hand is less whether Palestine is capable to assume statehood—something that entails fulfillment of a range of criteria over and above those required by international law as set out in the Montevideo Convention of 1933. It is rather about recognizing, yet again, the right of Palestine to statehood.
There are perhaps no two other nation-states in the world which are more recognized with regard to their plights and aspirations than Israel and Palestine; and many a times the world has been called to witness the negotiations between the two as a competition over who gets more recognition. Therein lies also the problem with over-reliance on symbolic forms of acknowledgment.
By itself, recognition is neither the solution nor the way forward; especially then not when the two opposing sides use it as a good that can be neither shared nor divided. It takes additionally courage to bring about painful change. Reaching compromises is about exchange: you lose something, you win something.
A UN non-member observer-state status for Palestine might not be that bad. Better the two countries begin to fight their grievances in court than on the battlefield.