Palestinian Statehood: Fear and Loathing in Ramallah and the Diaspora

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As Mahmoud Abbas pushes forward with his statehood gambit in the UN, there’s a growing unease among Palestinians that the effort will ultimately be a big setback.

Commentaries by Khaled Abu Toameh and Mehdi Hasan reflect the anxiety that is prompting Abbas to deliver a speech in the coming days explaining his political strategy. Toameh is particularly harsh:

Abbas is so desperate that he is prepared to go to the UN even if such a move could turn out to be counterproductive for his people. At all costs, he wants to enjoy the glory of being the “first president of Palestine”

The LA Times traces the fear and loathing to a month-old legal opinion written by an Oxford wonk with serious credentials. among the Palestinians. Guy Goodwin-Gill was a member of the legal team that argued against the legality of Israel’s security fence in the International Criminal Court. (The ICJ ruled against Israel in 2004.)

Guy Goodwin-Gill

Goodwin-Gill’s opinion raises issues with Palestinian statehood, and the status of the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people:

9. Until such a time as a final settlement is agreed, the putative State of Palestine will have no territory over which it exercises effective sovereignty, its borders will be indeterminate or disputed, its population, actual and potential, undetermined and many of them continuing to live under occupation or in States of refuge. While it may be an observer State in the United Nations, it will fall short of meeting the internationally agreed criteria of statehood, with serious implications for Palestinians at large, particularly as concerns the popular representation of those not currently present in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

19.In my opinion, current moves to secure recognition of statehood do not appear to reflect fully the role of the Palestinian people as a principal party in the resolution of the situation in the Middle East.

20.The interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation, unless steps are taken to ensure and maintain their representation through the Palestinian Liberation Organization, until such time as there is in place a State competent and fully able to assume these responsibilities towards the people at large.

Or, as Hasan bluntly explains it:

According to Goodwin-Gill, the PLO’s UN status would be transferred to the new state of Palestine after the vote on 20 September: a state confined to mere segments of the West Bank and perhaps Gaza; a state which most Palestinian refugees would have little or no connection to; a state which, lest we forget, does not actually exist. To have a PA-led fantasy state representing only West Bank and Gaza residents replace the PLO – representing all Palestinians – as Israel’s chief interlocutor would be a disaster.

If Abbas doesn’t back down, all indications are that the US will veto the effort in the Security Council, while the General Assembly will express wide, but meaningless support.

And then the fallout begins . . .

UPDATE Sept. 8: Goodwin-Gill issued a 12 page clarification (pdf) of his legal opinion, reiterating certain points in The Guardian.

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