Will Palestinians shift strategy to include UN?

The Palestinians appear to have started a serious rethink of their national strategy, but it is crucial that they understand both the potential and the limitations that going the United Nations route will provide.

al-monitor United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres shakes hands with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Aug. 29, 2017.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman.

Sep 3, 2017

As the Palestinian leadership is set to call for a meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO's highest body, to review its strategy, the question of the United Nations looms larger than ever.

The Fatah Central Committee advised the PLO’s Executive Committee to hold a full session of the PNC as soon as possible. President Mahmoud Abbas, who would like to hold the session in Ramallah, hopes to forge a new strategy for Palestinian liberation.

The new strategy would depend less on the negotiations track and more on the internationalization track. This means that the PLO leadership will be working a lot more with the UN and the various international agencies to follow up on the UN General Assembly’s resounding 138-9 decision in November 2012 to recognize the State of Palestine as a nonmember observer state.

The State of Palestine is eligible to join tens of international agencies. Until now the Palestinian leadership has abstained from that in order not to anger Israel or the United States, especially during the Barack Obama administration. However, as Abbas said Aug. 20, that after more than 20 meetings with the negotiating team sent by President Donald Trump, the new US administration has yet to explain their position on the key issues. The United States has refused to utter the words “two-state solution.”

As a nonmember state in the United Nations, the Palestinians can join 63 international agencies and accords.

But while the PLO might join some important international agencies and demand war crime investigations of Israeli leaders, this will not do much to push Palestinian liberation forward. When former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was appointed as senior UN envoy to Libya in February, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley vetoed the move. She later said that no Palestinian will be given any senior position while Palestine is not a recognized state. To have that recognition, the UN Security Council would need to approve it, but the United States has a veto as a permanent member of the council.

Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, told Al-Monitor that it is important to understand that the UN does have a role to play despite its limitation. “UNRWA, for example, has had a crucial role to educate and unify Palestinian consciousness in the camps and the occupied territories.” 

Bennis said that while UN positions are always subject to US opposition, a number of UN agencies do operate outside the direct control of the United States. “The Human Rights Council and the reports of the special rapporteur are important tools for civil society both in Palestine and globally.”

Bennis, who was twice short listed for the position of UN rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, noted that this role should not be underestimated. “Maybe the recommendations are not implemented and in the US this is not looked at closely, but in the rest of the world people do take what the UN says seriously,” she said.

Bennis, the author of “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer,” added that if Palestinians want to look to the UN they should put much more effort at the possibilities of the International Criminal Court. “The most substantive and important component that the court can do is bringing charges against Israeli occupation as a clear violation of the Rome Statute. It is no wonder that this is what the US and Israel worry about the most,” she explained. 

Bennis, who has been following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a long time, said that while Palestinians correctly believe that only the United States can deliver Israel, it is now clear that the United States “will not deliver Israel."

While Palestinians appear to have started a serious rethink of their national strategy, it is crucial that they understand both the potential and the limitations that going the UN route will provide. With the pro-Israel and at times pro-settlement Trump administration not willing to do anything to upset the Israelis, it is high time for Palestinian leaders to diversify themselves and not to keep all their eggs in the US basket. The UN route can provide some relief, but it will not by itself quickly produce the kind of results Palestinians strive for.

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