On September 30 the Palestinian flag will be hoisted outside the United Nations complex in New York. Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas has, we are told, ‘campaigned tirelessly’ for this gesture of recognition following the granting of non-member observer status to Palestine at the end of 2012.
Non-member observer status and the right to fly the Palestinian flag were implemented as a result of UN General Assembly resolutions being passed. What a shame that the 200 or more other UN resolutions concerning Israel and Palestine — which have been passed with overwhelming majorities over a period of more than 60 years — have not been implemented. For those other resolutions — and I quote verbatim — insist, among other things, on ‘the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people’; the ‘permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’. Those other resolutions stressed ‘that the wall and colonies being constructed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory... are contrary to international law’ and ‘the right of the Palestinian people to claim restitution’.
Many of these resolutions are represented to the UN General Assembly and readopted by it every single year in a Groundhog Day scenario that makes a mockery of this great institution because they are never enforced.
The UN was established in the aftermath of the Second World War to ‘maintain international peace and security... in conformity with justice and international law’. The first principle in its Charter is ‘the sovereign equality of all its members’... it seems that some of its members are more equal than others. The US, as one of only five permanent members of the Security Council, consistently protects its ally, Israel, from any serious repercussions by exercising its right to veto and ignoring the recommendations contained in General Assembly resolutions. In this way Israel is, literally, allowed to get away with murder. The US even abstained on the 2009 Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza after more than 2,000 Palestinians had been killed against nine Israelis. Yet in pursuit of its own foreign policy agenda the US routinely refers to breaches of UN resolutions as justification for war — against Saddam Hussain in 2004, for example — and backs Security Council resolutions sanctioning military intervention such as resolution 1973 which authorised ‘all necessary measures’ to protect Libyan citizens from President Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Illegal colonies have tripled
Not only has the UN failed to protect the Palestinians from illegal occupation and persecution by Israel since 1948, but things have become progressively worse. The UN frequently reiterates its view that colonies in the Occupied Territories are in violation of the fourth Geneva Convention, yet since the 1993 Oslo Accords the number of illegal colonies has more than tripled.
The Oslo Accords were based on two UN Security Council resolutions — 242 and 338 — which stipulated that Israel should withdraw to pre-1967 boundaries and that Palestinian refugees should have the right to return. Neither condition has been met and any accommodation based on the two-state solution is impossible now; even geographically; the land that was intended for the Palestinian State is fragmented by illegal Israeli colonies.
A survey conducted by The Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) last week found that 51 per cent of Palestinians now reject the two-state solution. Far from brokering peace, the failure of the UN to rein in Israel has seen an escalation in Palestinian support for an armed intifada; the PCPSR found that 57 per cent supported an uprising. Why, then, are we Palestinians expected to celebrate being allowed to fly our flag outside the UN? Incidentally, even this tiny concession was opposed by the US and Israel.
Abbas has made much of this flag and an empty pole awaits it on the corner of 1st Avenue and 42nd Street (a discreet gap separates it from the flags of the member nations, the New York Times informed its readers). But it will be an empty symbol decorating the side of a road that is leading nowhere. Just like the Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) — which was heralded as such an important step in January this year — all of this is meaningless when Abbas is unwilling to vigorously confront the Israelis for fear of losing funding from a major PNA donor, the US.
The compliance of the PNA assures its 100,000 employees, its well-heeled elite and its president of generous salaries and endless perks. The majority of Palestinians have lost confidence in Abbas in any case; in August he was unable to convene an emergency meeting of the Palestinian National Council, of which I am a member and, according to the PCPSR survey, two-thirds of the Palestinian people want him to resign. Remarkably, his electoral mandate expired in 2009 but he has performed a thousand sleights of hand to prolong his tenure.
Abbas’s entourage have been leaking stories about the speech he will deliver to the UN this week. They have suggested he will use the opportunity to drop a bombshell — an end to security co-operation with Israel, perhaps, or even offer his own resignation. But the only bomb he is likely to drop is one that will fall apart in a puff of smoke. Abbas is an illusionist with nothing left up his sleeve — except the Palestinian flag.
Abdel Bari Atwan is the editor-in-chief of digital newspaper Rai alYoum. He is the author of The Secret History of Al Qaeda; A Country of Words, his memoirs; and Al Qaeda: The Next Generation