Statehood Stalled: Next Steps for the Palestinian People

Al-Shabaka Commentary

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman and president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas could have gone to the United Nations General Assembly for observer state membership, which only needs a simple majority vote that the PLO has already guaranteed. However, he chose to go to the Security Council with an application for full UN membership for Palestine, even though that application may languish in committee for weeks or months.

Some reports speak of a backroom deal to do just that. Whether or not this was the case, Abbas has bought time for the PA without losing face or U.S. aid, and was able to give a much-applauded speech at the UN. The United States has also bought some time and does not immediately have to use its veto.

The decision to go to the Security Council has also bought time for a third party – the Palestinian people – that could have unintended consequences for both the U.S. and the PLO/PA as well as for Israel.

Unintended Consequences

What are those unintended consequences? The PLO/PA statehood bid galvanized several segments of the Palestinian people into making public their disagreement with and disapproval of PLO/PA mismanagement, over more than two decades, of the Palestinian quest for self-determination and human rights.

Public positions were set out by the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), which has extensive and growing international support, the Stop the Wall Campaign, Palestinian writers and intellectuals in the occupied Palestinian territories and beyond, the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), and the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN).

These statements forcefully reaffirmed the basic tenets of the Palestinian struggle, including the status of the PLO as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the Palestinians’ inalienable rights. In effect, they challenged the present leadership’s claim to represent the Palestinian people. Moreover, the BNC, PYM, and USPCN statements were crafted through democratic processes that put into practice the very principles the Palestinians want to see established in the PLO.

The legal opinion issued by Oxford University Senior Research Fellow Guy Goodwin-Gill regarding the dangers of the statehood bid for the Palestinian refugees’ right of return was in fact commissioned by a former PLO official – his colleague at Oxford University, Dr. Karma Nabulsi. It opened up the debate and brought the question of representation to the fore, galvanizing Palestinian grassroots networks that were until then unaware of the technical legal issues.

Indeed, the PLO/PA statehood bid has also added strength and urgency to the Palestinian voices demanding accountability and democratic representation since the Arab uprisings. There are moves underway in Palestinian communities in Europe, America, and the Arab region to demand elections to and reconvening of the Palestinian National Council (the Palestinian parliament in exile, which elects the PLO’s Executive Committee.)

A third consequence is the shift away from the cozy trilateral negotiations that marked the peace process since the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993. Washington’s management of the process enabled Israel to continue its colonization unchecked, while the Palestinians were bullied, through diplomatic and financial pressure, to stay at the table.

The internationalization of the conflict could prove the statehood bid’s most significant result. As Mouin Rabbani, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies and an Al-Shabaka policy advisor told Al Jazeera, "It is an essential first step towards irrevocably removing the question of Palestine from the Oslo framework and putting it back with the international community."

He underscored that this should be part of a “strategic transformation” grounded in a Palestinian national consensus rather than a tactical maneuver. In fact, a multilateral approach to the conflict would be no better than a U.S. stranglehold unless the sources of power of the Palestinian national movement are reinforced, including civil resistance, BDS, and reframing the discourse around Palestinian rights.