Political Tsunami

( This article can also be found on Gorkhapatra: The Rising Nepal)

It is almost guaranteed that the UN General Assembly will vote on the question of granting full independence to the Palestinians in September, 2011. There are strong indications that the U.S. is likely to oppose that move along with Israel. President Barack Obama has dubbed this event as a tsunami, which will ostracize its ally Israel more than ever failing to achieve the desired goals of peace in the Middle East.

The second week of May saw a lot of debate on the larger issue of Middle East peace and in particular the Palestinian plan of statehood recognition from the UN General Assembly. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have been advancing arguments for and against the above proposal. Existing ground reality suggests that in September the international community will be granting full independence to the Palestinians. Growing support for the Palestinians’ move of seeking recognition through a resolution of the UN General Assembly despite U. S. and Israeli opposition will result in the emergence of a new state for the Palestinians.

Against this backdrop comes the May 19 speech of U.S. president Obama on U.S. Middle East policy. This speech has given the details of basic parameters for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For each American administration the issue of finding durable solution to this festering dispute has remained as a serious foreign policy challenge. This time the U.S. leadership has pronounced its policy on the Middle East taking cognizance of the Arab democratic transformation. It had faced widespread criticism in the beginning for not displaying enthusiasm for supporting the Arab revolution when it started in Tunisia. In view of this allegation that the U.S. is abandoning its stand on universal principles of freedom and democracy, the Obama administration is now supporting ongoing political transformation in the Middle East a region predominantly inhabited by the Arabs.

Compared to previous position taken by successive American administrations, president Obama’s policy pronouncement on tackling the dispute between Israel and the Arabs is significantly different. The U.S. has for the first time categorically mentioned its inclination to favor the 1967 status quo at least for reviving negotiations between the parties to conflict. President Obama has proposed that border negotiations can make the 1967 lines as the base, however, he has added that it should be backed by an agreement on swapping territories by the Israelis and the Palestinians. The point of mutual swap of territories looks relevant considering the changed realities on the ground. Regretfully, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories has gone abetted which underlines the complexity of the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel has rebutted Obama’s speech objecting to the 1967 lines as the starting base for negotiating borders. Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu has even opposed the formula of two-state solution that envisions a Middle East where both Israel and a viable Palestinian state exist side by side. The opposition from Netanyahu was so strong that it even forced president Obama to provide further explanation on his position regarding 1967 border lines. President Obama later clarified that he did not mean to go back to June 4, 1967 status quo for demarcating the borders between the conflicting parties. Moreover, the Palestinians are also disappointed at Obama’s emphasis that they should not seek unilateral statehood recognition from the UN.

A cloud of mistrust still exists in the Middle East where both the Israeli and the Palestinians have not overcome their suspicions of each other. Their lack of confidence in the evenhandedness of Obama administration in dealing with the peace process in the Middle East has added hurdles. The Palestinians feel that expansion of Israeli settlements is designed to annex their territory to preclude the creation of a Palestinian state. The Israelis are alarmed at recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas groups for forming a government of unity. Their worries are also due to Arab transformation which has already deprived them of reliable partners like Hosni Mubarak in the neighborhood. The ousted Egyptian president Mubarak used to support the Israelis at the cost of the Palestinians’ genuine aspirations.

Under the present circumstances the Palestinians believe that UN recognition of their independence will provide them a leverage to pursue their legitimate struggle peacefully. Although the passage of a resolution by the UN General Assembly will not change Israeli deployment on the ground, the moral pressure on the occupying power will certainly increase. Tody Karon writes that, “Israeli security establishment has always seen mass unarmed civil disobedience as far more threatening than rocket fire or suicide bombers, because military responses to non-military challenges weaken Israel’s diplomatic and political standing”. If the Palestinians engage in consistent peaceful struggle in the wake of UN granting of statehood, it would mark a more definitive break with the past.

President Obama has insisted that the Palestinian statehood would not be attained by a UN resolution but the history of recognition testifies otherwise. The territories of the Palestine were divided between the Jews and the Arabs through the 1947 UN Partition Plan embodied in the resolution of the General Assembly. Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence on May 15, 1948 too affirms that UN can create a state. Some analysts have questioned thus, “Does a Palestinian appeal to the UN imply an improper “unilateralism” that both Israel and the U.S. accuse the Palestinians of?”

The right to self-determination by the majority population in a previously-mandated territory is a preemptory norm in international law, one that overrides and nullifies conflicting treaty obligations. Therefore, Henry Siegman contends that UN’s recognition of Palestinian statehood would not conflict with or preempt negotiations of the permanent status issues, which would have to be resolved between the parties. Blocking the UN move by the U.S. would even be tantamount to its revocation of the declared position of two-nation solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UN history records American endorsement of this two-state formula and hopefully president Obama will deal with upcoming tsunami considering this fact.

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