Is the Arab Spring Coming to Palestine?

Marwan Barghouti, a jailed Palestinian leader who was important to the “Second Intifada” or Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, has called for “million-person marches” in support of the Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations this September. Barghouti supported the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, but turned to violence against Israeli security forces when the Israelis reneged on their promises. He is serving 5 life terms for killings during the uprising. He now supports a two-state solution and a return to peaceful means. He is often thought likely eventually to be released by the Israelis and may become President of the Palestinian state; some compare him in this regard to Nelson Mandela. (Those who dismiss him would surely have to do the same to former Israeli PM Menachem Begin, by the way).

The protest movements sweeping the Arab world have so far little touched the Palestinians, though Palestinian refugee demonstrations near fences (erected by Israelis to ensure that those expelled in 1948 can never return to their ancestral homes) have taken place in Lebanon and Syria. Controversially, Israeli troops have fired across the border into Lebanon and Syria, killing and wounding protesters still on Lebanese and Syrian soil.

There have been some small Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank against the corruption of the Fateh-dominated Palestine Authority, but these were quickly broken up.

But Barghouti’s idea of combining the diplomatic push at the UN with public demonstrations could well catch fire. Israeli officials of the far right-wing Likud government discouraged the idea, just as they oppose the push for UN membership on the part of the Palestinians, saying it risks causing violence. This response is sheer propaganda, since it is peaceful protests that are being called for and the deaths at the protest in Lebanon, e.g., came at the hands of trigger-happy Israeli soldiers.

Having Palestine recognized as a state in which Palestinians have citizenship is important, and is probably a prerequisite of any real peace process. Most Palestinians outside Jordan at the moment are stateless. They lack citizenship in any state that can protect their rights. This condition of lacking so much as a passport, or the right surely to own property (what they have can be taken from them at will at any time by Israeli settlers) robs them of any real legal standing. Imagine if you did not belong to a state, had no citizenship. What if you wanted to travel? Other countries don’t have agreements with your country and might not let you in (they might be afraid you’ll illegally immigrate since you lack citizenship). What if someone commits a legal tort against you. Which court will you go to? A foreign court, to press a charge against that country’s national? Without citizenship, you’d be permanently screwed. Which is what the Palestinians are.

The Israelis have treaty obligations to the Palestinians as a result of the Oslo process, but have reneged on virtually all of them and have not only not returned control of the West Bank to the Palestinians but have settled hundreds of thousands of Israelis on Palestinian land since 1993. The Likud government continues aggressively to steal Palestinian territory, which has led even the most compliant Palestinian leaders, such as Mahmoud Abbas, to refuse to bestow a fig leaf of a “peace process” on this sham and massive theft of resources from one people by another. (Israel has never been awarded the West Bank by the UNSC or any other recognized international body, and is only the occupying power there. Israel is a signatory to the UN charter, which forbids member states from usurping territory from neighbors by force. The Israelis therefore do not now and have never had any legal claim on the West Bank in the terms of contemporary international law. They continue to occupy 4 million stateless Palestinians, some of them refugees whose families were chased out of what is now Israel and who have never received a dime in compensation.)

By being recognized as a member of the UN by most UNGA members, Palestine will gain some needed legal standing to oppose settlers’ theft. They may even gain standing in some countries to sue settler companies with accounts abroad. They will be in a better position to pursue international sanctions and boycotts on Israeli squatters.

It seems a little unlikely at this point that a two state solution is any longer plausible, and the benefits of a majority UNGA vote for Palestine won’t include a real state. In my view it is more about giving the Palestinians standing, as they wend their way to some dignified, humane status other than their current degradation at the hands of strangers in their own land.

It now seems certain that the vast majority of UN General Assembly members will vote to give Palestine membership in the United Nations. (Some observers confuse this move with seeking statehood; the Palestine Authority is already technically an embryonic state (though lacking in the abilities of a state); what is at stake is whether it is a UN member, implying that other UN members should accord it full diplomatic status.)

The Palestinians have doggedly and cannily worked the diplomatic circuit in Latin America, Africa and Asia, as well as the more hospitable countries in Europe. The Israeli Right, by launching the Lebanon and Gaza Wars and by assiduously settling the West Bank, made that country look like a bully to most of the world, and so did yeoman service to the Palestinian cause. The Netanyahu government now hopes that, of 30 countries it considers advanced democracies, it can convince a majority of them, at least, to decline to vote for Palestine’s admission to the UN.

But it is difficult to see the Likud’s logic here. The Palestinians win a moral (and possibly legal) victory if a majority at the UNGA welcome them to the organization (even though the US will veto the final step in this process). If Brazil, India and China assent, then that will account for much of the world. Moreover, some heavy hitters in Europe will certainly vote for. Spain now says it will vote for Palestine’s admission to the UN. Norway is a shoo-in. Even the stance of the UK is not entirely clear. The Irish Times notes, “Ireland is among European countries sympathetic to the application, with others including Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and the UK.”

Using mass rallies of the Arab Spring sort to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the stateless Palestinians just before the UNGA vote could increase this tally.

But Barghouti may not be thinking far ahead enough. A true Arab Spring of the Tunisian and Egyptian sort does not only have implications for the Israeli occupation. It might well overturn the corrupt and authoritarian current Palestinian leadership, whether the fundamentalist Hamas or the secular nationalist Fateh. Palestinians have not been well served by their own leaders, who have been too little interested in democracy and peaceful protest. Million-person marches may be double-edged swords.

The USG Open Source Center paraphrases an article on Fateh stalwart Nabil Shaath’s thoughts on the Palestinian search for UN membership:

Fatah’s Sha’th Speaks About ‘Fierce Battle” on Recognition of Palestinian State
Al-Ayyam (Electronic Edition)
Wednesday, July 20, 2011…
Document Type: OSC Summary…

On 19 July, Ramallah Al-Ayyam in Arabic — privately owned, pro-Fatah daily — publishes a report carrying exclusive statements made by Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Sha’th. Speaking to Al-Ayyam, Sha’th has said: “The Palestinian side is facing a fierce battle with the Israelis and the Americans regarding the issue of the recognition of the Palestinian state.” Sha’th added: “We should not only depend on the achievement we have made. There is a good diplomatic move, but Israel is moving against us.”

According to the newspaper, “Sha’th, who has concluded a tour to Armenia, Ukraine, Russia, Greece, Germany, Britain, and Ireland, added: Israel is taking the battle in all seriousness. To Israel, if it gains the battle, this means the halt of the recognition of the Palestinian state.”

The newspaper adds that Sha’th also pointed out that “Israel’s membership in the United Nations has been based on two conditions which have not been implemented yet.” Sha’th also said: “We can go to the International Court of Justice, demanding that Israel’s membership be invalidated, if Israel does not implement both conditions. These conditions are about the implementation of the partition resolution that gives us 44 percents of the land of Palestine, and the implementation of the 194 resolution regarding the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland. Therefore, the United States may use veto at the UN Security Council.”

According to the newspaper, Sha’th also stressed that the Palestinians will continue its diplomatic move “which should be a popular move on the ground and an international move, on top of which is obtaining the world recognition of an independent Palestinian state, and seeking to achieve full membership at the United Nations.” Sha’th added: “The only worry is that some people abroad, as well as some people inside the Palestinian territories, as it seems, still think that our turning to the United Nations is not sure. They also think that we may retract our move at any time, and the Americans may pressure us.” Sha’th also stressed to the Palestinian people and all Palestinian communities throughout the world that the Palestinian side is “serious” about this diplomatic move, which is “not a tactical” move.

Sha’th also updated Al-Ayyam on his recent tour to the European countries.

Regarding the Quartet meeting held in Washington, Sha’th said: “The paper that the United States presented to the Quartet committee, and which has been foiled by Russia and the EU, says: No return to the 1967 borders. The paper adds that the negotiations should take into account the settlements which have been constructed since 1967 and until-now, and Israel’s defensive needs. The paper also says that the issues of Jerusalem and refugees will be delayed indefinitely, Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state, and we should recognize that the Israeli Army is the only army that can defend Israel’s security. This means that at any time after the establishment of the Palestinian state, the Israelis will have the right to enter our country in order to defend themselves, and when reaching any agreement, withdrawal will only take place gradually based on Israel’s approval of our security preparedness. Moreover, this US paper has not mentioned the settlements or the halt of these settlements given that the settlements are the main problem.”

In short, Sha’th reiterated the Palestinian stance that refuses to recognize the Jewish nature of Israel.

(Description of Source: Ramallah Al-Ayyam (Electornic Edition) in Arabic — Privately owned, pro-Fatah daily; URL:

19 Responses

  1. Interesting – I usually like your articles.

    As to the idea to go to the UN and have Palestine now recognized as a state I have mixed feelings. Your description of the problems Palestinians without citizenship are perfectly true – but imagine they get palstinian passports? Would an actual Palestine be able to protect them? Looking at the PA I doubt it.
    But there is another danger: as long as there is no state of Palestine, refugees stay where they are. If there was a state, a number of countries in which they are living ( I would count Germany as the first in line) might see an opportunity to get rid of them by just dumping them in Palestine – and considering what is actually left after what Israel carved out, I do not see how all could live there.
    Just one thought – sorry for my bad english, its not my motherlanguage.

    • “Would an actual Palestine be able to protect them? Looking at the PA I doubt it.”

      This is not logical. Do you demand that a state be able to protect its citizens while it is illegally occupied by a foreign power? Do you not see that recognition is the first of many steps required of Palestine to bring it to a position where it can protect its citizens? Do you not think that arguing against recognition, you are arguing for keeping the Palestinians stateless and defenseless?

      “But there is another danger: as long as there is no state of Palestine, refugees stay where they are.”

      This completely illogical. Stateless people can be displaced with fewer obstacles than people living in a weak state.

      “and considering what is actually left after what Israel carved out,”

      Israel goofed by refusing to delineate its borders, preferring instead to adopt a posture of land theft by settler proxy. The real question is, What will be left of Israel after the economic engine of the illegal settlements and the economic boost of dual national residents is removed by the UN?”

      It seems to me you use argument superficially protective of the Palestinian nation to weaken the Palestinian nation.

      • No. But I am afraid that declaring independence now and under this leadership will just create a Bantustan, as Israel would love: dependent, helpless – and collaborating with the Zionists as the PA does since years. I – like a number of others – actually gave up on the 2-State-Solution, because the price to pay would be to heavy.
        Is it superficial to ask what would become of millions of refugees if there would be an independent, but helpless Mini-State of Palestine? People want to go home, and not be deported by the countries they live in to Westbank or Gaza, and live there again as displaced persons. And for those who want to stay where they are, they need a valuable citizenship, so they will be able to stay in the country they were born in knowing that their government is able to protect them and will not have to sell their interest in favor of more charity or for the good pleasure of USA and Israel.
        And for those who live in Gaza and Westbank, they need freedom, the right to come and go, and – so many other things. But too many of them will not be able to be realized if the state would consist of small pieces of land here and there and Israel occupying and controlling all borders and the roads from one piece to the other.
        I want a real Palestine, not a “just-good-for-show” Independence.

        • Again, Step 1 is to obtain recognition. Step 2 is to use newly acquired status to seek judgments against Israel for theft of land, money, water. etc. Step 3 is to wait for Boehner and other US idiots to ruin the dollar, making the US vulnerable to the dictates of its creditors (who are then able to use their own financial resources to purchase crude oil), and finally UN Security Council can vote w/o a US veto protecting Israel.

          But step 1 is to obtain status.

      • The occupation is not illegal, the land and water theft is.

        The first step is becoming a state and figuring out who the citizens are going to be.

        Who decides the qualification for citizenship when there’s no single governmental authority?

        Is every person claiming to be a Palestinian going to be offered citizenship? Is every person living within the territory at the state when the state comes into being going to be offered citizenship?

        How can the Palestinian people defend their citizens when armed members affiliated with the various groups claiming sovereign authority go around fighting each other?

        Declaring a state and offering citizenship doesn’t seem to be as essential as establishing a single authority.

  2. 60 Years of Holocaust for Stateless Palestinians is Too Long a Time. US & Ruling Powers Have Failed. Talking For Decades
    has not yielded Fruits for Palestine. Israel has grown to be
    Super Power of All MidEast, brokers US Political Landscape and has vast Control on Christendoms Foreign Policy.
    A large part of Palestinian Leadership has been Imprisoned
    & Huge number have assassinated. Israel holds over 10,000
    Palestinians prisoners with No Red Cross,Amnesty Access since 1948. Their condition & whereabouts are Unknown!
    So time is Now to build a better World. Bring the Kicking &
    Screaming extremists from BOTH sides to announce a New State of Palestine. Let Diversity,Progress,Prosperity &
    Democracy Begin for ALL Mid East.LUV WINS Then HATE Drains Away.
    Thanks. Nk

    • “power brokers US Political Landscape and has vast Control on Christendoms Foreign Policy” it is important for people in the middle-east to realize some of these ‘power brokers’ have cause pain in the lives of non-arab’s in the U.S., once people — any people — find they have power and can abuse they do.

  3. Settlements that have developed “since 1967 and until-now” and continues to grow, this is an injustice and the cause of conflicts in the Middle East. There are people in America who make money off of the settlements in Israel and have connections in Washington and the core of power within the U.S.

    Years ago, I read on recommendation, “The Harafish” by Naguib Mahfouz , as well as writings of Fadwa Touqan, whose writings were also admired by Moshe Dayan. As “Harifish” points out corrupt leaders cause an overwhelming infliction of pain on to their own people, and leadership that has at its heart the interest and welfare of the people is rare.

    The issue of being ‘chosen’ or ‘blessed’ is more often than not the calling card for abuse in all societies and in all cultures.

  4. I think there is nothing that would inflame (in-Plame?? Sorry, inside joke) the “Greater Israel” mindset more than the reality that there exists millions of native Palestinians, because the “Greater Israel” mindset denies the existence of Palestinian people. It denies their humanity, their aspirations, their legitimacy, their existence and their right to exist, which is truly ironic because they demand these non-existent and illegitimate people recognize Israel’s right to exist.

    I think that Palestine should and will proceed to request recognition. To deny their recognition is to deny reality.

    The reality is that Palestine today is the natural consequence of Palestinians living there for millennia, whereas Israel is an artificial nation created to assuage European guilt over their centuries of anti-Semitism.

    If Israel is to be, then it has to be one nation among many, not the special exception it has been all along.

  5. A few points on an otherwise good article.

    1. The border fences are not to stop Palestinians from coming. It’s to stop anyone from coming in. You live in the US and you know that the US border force would also shoot anyone trying to trespass.
    link to

    So that point is moot when you have hundreds of people trying to get through a border fence.

    2. The Israelis did reneg on most dealing in the Oslo Accords, but so did the Palestinians.

    3. Israel did not usurp a territory of a foreign nation. The West Bank had always been considered “Disputed Territories” by the UN, but when Jordan was in control of the West Bank, most people didn’t say anything.

    The West Bank thus does not fall under that article of the Charter of the UN.

    On the good side. I agree that countries should give the Palestinians a Yes vote. I think the Palestinians should unilaterally declare themselves independent after the UN vote, similar to what Israel did.

    If (and this is a big if) the countries of the World really do care for the Palestinian cause (which they probably don’t…) then the West Bank should be able to get easier access to border crossings with Jordan and Gaza’s border with Egypt should open too allowing for access to trade for good and other materials.

    • They have to keep this direction, steadfast. It’s the tensions between Fateh and Hamas that let me nervous.

      And what about the SC’s vote and the resolution 377? They seem to have forget it.
      link to

    • In fact, it is not the responsibility of the US Border Patrol to shoot every Mexican who gets through the fence. Its job is to apprehend them. The fact that America has become so barbaric that we aren’t clear on the legal distinction is why it’s possible for racist militias to prowl around the desert looking for children to shoot. These bastards are leading this country to hell just as the settler movement is doing to Israel.

  6. “You live in the US and you know that the US border force would also shoot anyone trying to trespass.”

    Mr. Ender, you have used one shooting incident–and one in which the facts are in dispute–to make your sweeping, absolutely unsubstantiated and false claim that “the U.S. border force would also shoot anyone trying to trespass.” Millions of illegal immigrants have been apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexican border over the years without being shot. They are taken into custody and most are deported. Your attempt to smear the U.S. Border Patrol by using one incident reveals more about you and your lack of credibility than it does about the U.S. Border Patrol.

  7. Ahhh, I get it now. The Palestinians have no right to their ancestral homeland because they didn’t have the foresight to see that one day outsiders would come and violently kick them off their land and use a foreign version of law to deny them their so called human rights. I guess those Palistinians are really stupid eh?

  8. I had to check whether my country, Canada, is for or against the UN vote.
    Turns out we’re decidely in the Israel lobby camp.
    Not proud to be a Canadian today.
    Are you listening Harper?

    link to

  9. I have often wondered what would happen if Palestinians accepted Greater Israel as ‘facts on the ground’ through Israeli expansion has hopelessly confused borders. Gaza and the West Bank – plus the parts of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and anywhere else Israel wants to annex – all part of Israel.

    In return, every resident in these areas gets the same rights as any other member of this Middle Eastern democracy – an Israeli passport, the freedom to travel or live anywhere in Israel, the rights to return and live as a resident to their family home, the right to reunite their family, the right to vote and decide on the future of Israel.

    How would Israel feel about 4 million new Arab citizens?

  10. Dr Cole, as ever a great blog and well informed extensive knowledge but how do you keep it up?

    I regularly read your thoughts on ME affairs but too much writing, you should get out more, go for a walk, take a stroll around the park get a tan, go fishing. Leave the keyboard behind.

    All work and no play make Juan a dull boy.!

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