The Palestinians have been standing in line for decades, waiting to join the global family of nations, waiting for international recognition, waiting most of all for the superpower seal of approval.
There is a historic irony in South Sudan skipping the line and becoming the 193rd country today, but Palestine may have its chance yet in September at the United Nations.
The UN General Assembly consists of 193 states now (including South Sudan soon) and needs a 2/3 majority of 128 states to approve the UN Security Council recommendation for Palestinian statehood. However, if the United States vetoes the motion at the UNSC — as it is expected to do — then the recommendation obviously will not go on to the next stage.
What can the Palestinians do? They could push to circumvent the Security Council by appealing to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and claim that the near-certain US veto was issued for inappropriate reasons, but this is a non-starter since it would take a long time and Israel does not seem to respect ICJ decisions anyhow. Anyone remember the ‘Separation' Wall?
Then there is the option to circumvent the US veto by invoking a "Uniting for Peace" resolution that was used in 1950 to bypass USSR vetoes during the Korean War. The UN General Assembly could take collective action here to say that a Security Council veto "fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security."
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Israel obviously doesn't want Palestine to join the international family of nations. Imagine one UN member state (Israel) occupying another UN member state (Palestine) — how absurd?
But the situation is beyond absurdity: Israel hardly respects the UN as an international institution and could care less about Palestinian statehood, peace with the Palestinians or other kinds of recognitions.
And the Palestinian people and politicians realise that the UN bid is probably not going to lead to full UN membership, Palestinian statehood and sovereignty, or an end to the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the lifting of the siege of Gaza, and the acquiescence of a Palestinian capital — as symbolic as it may be — somewhere in whatever remains of the occupied east Jerusalem enclave.
But this is a tremendous diplomatic step for the Palestinians — the latest of many attempts to enter mainstream international politics as a recognised sovereign state. Arafat may have been corrupted and unable to control the different Palestinian factions, thanks in large part to Israel's divide-and-rule policy, but it was Arafat who put Palestine on the political map.
At first it was with armed resistance that Arafat and his men fought against the expanding and bellicose Zionist entity that had suddenly conquered all Palestinian territory, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula: in 1967 Israel routed the Arab armies; pan-Arabism was dead or at least Nasserism was; and the Palestinians decided to take their destiny into their own hands.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was then expelled from Jordan during ‘Black September' 1970, moved to Lebanon and started launching cross-border attacks against Israel.
The tit-for-tat mini-war of attrition endured through the 1970s. The PLO set up a state-within-a-state in Beirut and became embroiled in the long Lebanese civil war. After Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1978, Israel turned its attention immediately to eradicating the cross-border raids and invaded southern Lebanon.
Four years later, Arafat and the PLO were deported to Tunisia where they withered until the eruption of the Palestinian intifada in 1987 sustained largely by the nascent Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in Gaza.
This confluence of geographic distance, betrayal by Arab leaders, Israel's complicity with Washington and the emergence of an internal (Islamist) competitor that pushed Arafat to give up armed resistance and turn to diplomatic overtures of co-existence with Israel. The 1988 Algiers declaration of independence followed shortly thereafter and with it the two-state solution.
As David Hirst describes in his excellent book Beware of Small States (2010), what Arafat wanted most was international recognition — above all from the US. Diplomacy paid off and his PLO was recognised as the ‘sole, legitimate representative' of the Palestinian people, but the US did not go so far as endorse Palestinian statehood.
Other countries did. Some 115 states have already recognised Palestine as a state, even though Palestine as such does not exist — another one of those absurdities so inherent to the Palestinian predicament.
In any case, the UN does not recognise states; recognition is achieved through bilateral ties, which in the Palestinian case need to be solidified and enhanced with trade. Over 20 years after Arafat pulled the Palestinians into the long process towards peace at Madrid 1990 and the unaccomplished Oslo Accords there have been very few fruits from Palestinian diplomacy.
Stuart Reigeluth is Managing Editor of Revolve Magazine and works at the Council for European Palestinian Relations in Brussels.