Daily life in the West Bank is, to put it in horrifically understated terms, a bit glum.
Unemployment in the Gaza Strip hovers around 45 per cent, and the average annual income in the occupied territories is less than 10 per cent of that of the average Israeli. On either side of the border, daily life is marked by prejudice and fear of the other, both a result of and catalyst for the roughly 9,000 Palestinian and 1,600 Israeli fatalities in the last 25 years alone.
And this despite 18 years of bilateral negotiations.
Unlike bullets and stones, patience and optimism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not unlimited. As such, it is not surprising that several weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority decided to try a different route to peace, and entered a bid for full UN membership. If successful, it would mark the first official recognition of Palestine as a state, and hold deep symbolic significance.
Now that Palestine’s membership application has been lodged, the waiting game begins. It took the Council just three days to make South Sudan the UN’s 193rd member, while it took five years to recognize Jordan. It is anybody’s guess how long deliberations might drag on this time.
Eight of the Security Council’s 15 members have stated a willingness to back the Palestinian bid. In order for the bid to be successful, nine are required.
However, even if nine votes could be clenched, the United States has vehemently affirmed that it will use its veto power to block the bid, as it wants the recognition of the Palestinian state to come through direct diplomacy and deliberation with Israel. Negotiations broke down last year after Palestinian politicians walked out in protest of an Israeli decision to resume construction in West Bank settlements; fair play I suppose – after all, it’s a bit hard to settle a land claim dispute over the racket and debris kicked up by bulldozers and jackhammers.
Ehud Olmert, then Prime Minister of Israel, proposed a comprehensive and surprisingly concessive peace deal in 2008 (including dividing Jerusalem in half, and establishing Palestine as the official homeland of Palestinian Arabs just as Israel became the recognized homeland of Jews). Though the deal was never formally rejected by the Palestinian Authority, today it has been all but forgotten.
Like any conflict, the only avenue to peace and conciliation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is indeed a negotiated peace deal. But far from derailing that process, recognition of Palestine as a state would help to buttress the legitimacy of further negotiations in the eyes of not only the Palestinian people, but the rest of the Arab world.
Conversely, a failure to admit Palestine would raise serious questions about the impartiality of the UN. This is hardly the behaviour one would expect from an organization whose stated aims are the advancement of international economic development, social progress, human rights and lasting world peace. Without a recognized homeland of their own, any populace will find it remarkably hard to influence the flow of politics or have their voices and pleas heard on the international stage — as many Israeli-Jewish settlers will themselves be able to recall.
It is often said that in the international system, the strong do as they wish and the weak do as they must. And for the time being at least, here is another painful reminder of that reality.
Photo: Nick Corbie/Flickr