The UN Assembly vote on a Palestinian state is an important issue, but statehood can only be a first step in the struggle for the Palestinians’ rights, argue Joseph Daher and Hesham Zakai.

Eearlier this year the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that it will seek recognition of a Palestinian state, according to 1967 borders, at the United Nations. When the UN Security Council discusses this issue, the US is expected to exercise its veto against the proposal.

The president of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas (whose mandate finished in January 2009) has called for “popular resistance” and for Palestinians to organise huge demonstrations in support of the call for a Palestinian state in September. It should be recalled, however, that popular demonstrations in support of Gaza – during the Israeli aggression in 2008-2009 and for the 15th March movement this year (calling for unity and democratic Palestinian National Council elections that guarantee equal representation for all Palestinians around the world) – were repressed by PA security forces and police in the West Bank.

Past and Present

It is worth bearing in mind that this is not the first time that Palestinian representatives have sought statehood. In 1948 the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem made a hollow call for Palestinian statehood which went unanswered, and a more well-received declaration was made by the Palestine National Council in Algeria some 40 years later. Even though the 1988 declaration was recognised by around 100 states, neither of these declarations amounted to Palestinian statehood.

The number of supportive states has steadily risen over the past decade, and its most recent boost from Latin America puts it at around 120. This is indicative of the rapidly changing global climate which has seen support for the Palestinians rise unprecedentedly, encouraged by an increasingly aggressive Israeli government with the massacres in Gaza in 08/09 and aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010, and nurtured as well by international popular campaigns such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

The BDS campaign has pressured Israel to comply with international law and human rights, accumulating successes since its inception in 2005 by Palestinian civil society and popular organisations.

The Palestinians go into this initiative with more momentum and international backing than they have done hitherto. But the real question among Palestinians and their supporters is not whether or not to support the vote in UN Assembly for a Palestinian State in September, but: what’s next? What’s the objective?

What are the benefits?

Many supporters and analysts have spoken of the many supposed benefits of the recognition of a Palestinian state, for example Viktor Kattan’s analysis, which argues that if the PLO and PA start to act and behave as though they are a state, their case will be stronger. The admission of a Palestinian state to the UN as a full member ‘would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one’, as the PA president Abbas wrote in his Op-Ed for The New York Times.

It would, claims Abbas, allow Palestinians to take Israel to the highest judicial body in the world, the International Court of Justice, as well as bring charges against it at the UN.

If Palestine is declared a state, it will be able to ratify international treaties such as the Rome Statue, which defines the crime of apartheid. Moreover, the International Criminal Court would listen to all crimes committed since its founding in 2002. Retrospective retribution for Israel’s crimes could be sought and delivered.

Nevertheless these approaches, although correct in terms of international law, fail to understand that it is not the lack of statehood that has prevented the PA to achieve some successes and protect Palestinian rights these past few years. A lack of will and strategy are more significant.
Consider the missed opportunities of the 2009 Goldstone Report and the 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion. Failure to further the cause of Palestinian self-determination reflects a strategic choice on the part of current Palestinian leadership.

The PA did not use the Goldstone Report to hold Israel to account for its war crimes during Operation Cast Lead against the people of Gaza. Instead, it delayed its review by the Human Rights Council for the sake of attaining the US offer of a better negotiating position.

The 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion regarded the route of Israel’s separation barrier illegal – for being built inside the occupied West Bank as opposed to on the 1949 Armistice Line – and affirmed the illegality of Israel’s settlements. Yet the PA failed to apply any kind of pressure against Israel to respect and implement international law. The PA had an opportunity to campaign for the signatories of the Geneva Conventions to either impose sanctions on Israel for its on-going constructions, cease the sale of any materials intended for the development of the wall, or to refuse to purchase Israeli goods produced in the illegal settlements.

Nothing was done by the Palestinian leadership. Yet the international civil society campaign to sue Israeli war criminals in European courts under universal jurisdiction shows campaigning and pressure can work.  These efforts have deterred Israelis from travelling to Europe.

In the same vein, the BDS campaign has galvanised support from unions, academics and artists across the world, and forced companies to divest from Israel. The Israeli parliament has voted through a new law prohibiting Israeli individuals and organisations from boycotting settlement products and Israeli enterprises.

A recognised Palestinian state in September would also not change the state of dependency of the PA on international and regional financial assistance, despite the report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April concluding that the PA in the West Bank is now “able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state.” 
The Palestinian Authority is not even able to pay July’s salaries to half of its staff because of declining foreign aid essential to its financial survival. The Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has appealed to donors to invite them to meet their financial promises.


The vote for a Palestinian state in the UN General Assembly in September is an important issue, but not the key one. Statehood will afford the PA some meaningful tools to challenge Israel’s occupation and apartheid. However, the lack of such status was never the central obstacle for Palestinians.
The PA still fails to resist Israeli occupation and US prerogatives. It needs a strategy of resistance to achieve all the rights of the Palestinians inside and outside historic Palestine, rather than a failed so called “state building” program on less than 22% of it.

The Palestinian state vote should be thought of as a first step for a resistance programme, not as end in itself. Otherwise Palestinians might be in for a new Oslo agreement, which accepted Israel’s perpetual control over the occupied West Bank and Gaza (and led to increasing the number of settlers to half a million today).

The PA/PLO should follow as a fantastic example of resistance and courage its own Palestinian grassroots leaders, organisers, and activists, who have played an important role in fighting for meaningful self-determination.