Come September – Start worrying now!

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Come September – Start worrying now!

Why I think even our friends have got it wrong about the Palestinian UN drive

9 June 2011

Unless something completely unforeseen happens the Palestinians will be awarded a state in September.  There doesn’t seem to much concern from Israel advocates about this.  Consensus seems to be that we’ve seen this all before – don’t worry.

Respectfully, I disagree. The time to start worrying is now. This article looks at the arguments for not taking this very seriously and why they should be discounted.

Argument 1: We’ve seen this all before

It’s true that in 1988 the Palestine Liberation Organization made a unilateral declaration of independence and Israel is still here. That doesn’t mean it was inconsequential and that the next time will be just posturing without consequences.

Firstly, in 1988 the wording of the declaration together with Yasser Arafat’s statements in Geneva a month later were accepted by the United States as sufficient to remove the ambiguities it saw in the declaration and to fulfill the longheld conditions for open dialogue with the United States. The first step on the slippery slope.

Secondly in 1988 seventy-five countries had recognised Palestine. By 1989 ninety-three had recognised Palestine. While I don’t have the amended list but my understanding is that all of South America has now recognised Palestine or promised to. Abbas claims that 140 of the 192 United Nations members  have promised to vote in favour.  Well over the two thirds required if the Security Council agrees to membership. Is there any reason to doubt it?

All that is required for a complete rout is the vote of Western European states and that looks likely. Will Norway be the first as it has already upgraded Palestine’s status to diplomatic? What about the United Kingdom already making threats of recognition? Is there any reason to count on France, Spain, Portugal or Germany? I don’t even feel that secure about America under Obama, no matter what declarations he has made. Do you? When the dominoes begin to fall it will be a brave state to even abstain.

Argument 2: Not legal

The basis of this argument is that only UN Security Council resolutions are law. UN General Assembly resolutions can be accepted or rejected as each country sees fit. I argue that this is neither wholly true nor wholly relevant.

By adopting A/RES/377 A, also known as Uniting for Peace, on 3 November 1950, over two-thirds of UN Member states made clear that, according to the UN Charter, the P5 (France, Russia, China, United Kingdom and United States) cannot and should not prevent the UN General Assembly from taking any and all action necessary to restore international peace and security, in cases where the UNSC has failed to exercise its ‘primary responsibility’ for maintaining peace. As Israel has been declared over and over again to be the root cause of everything that ails the Middle East and saved from censure by continuing veto by one country, America, the conditions have been clearly set.

The resolution has teeth. In 1956 the General Assembly formed a fighting force (UNEF 1), called for a ceasefire and an arms embargo. In 1981 the UNGA declared the South African occupation of Namibia illegal. Perhaps most importantly the legal justification for the Korean War was such a Uniting for Peace resolution. Should that be ‘uniting for war’?

We don’t know yet how the resolution will be worded but if it includes military force and economic sanctions a military attack on Israel can be justified by UN resolution and that much manipulated catch phrase International Law. Perhaps more dangerous because I can’t see any of the real European military powers risking men and treasure, it could lead to a blockade on resupplying the IDF with arms.

Another legal argument is that Palestine doesn’t fill the requirements of a sovereign state. You’ll probably hear much about the Montevideo Convention in that context.That usually means a defined territory, a stable population, and a political authority. Palestine has disputed borders with Israel; means to expel the Jewish residents and political authority, even with the current Hamas/Fatah ‘reconciliation’ exists only in theory. I’m taking bets now that once the UN resolution is passed even the appearance of agreement will break down within two months. BTW Palestine, certainly the Eastern part, as they keep telling us, is under hostile Israeli occupation.  Hardly state material.

Why irrelevant? We might like to fantasize of the General Assembly as a world parliament where the members vote on the basis of rational argument and their understanding of International Law. We might like to believe in a Supreme Court/ House of Lords should they overstep either the bounds of International Law or Natural Justice. Guess again.

It doesn’t matter that Palestine doesn’t fit the Montevideo definition of state; that it is on land legally belonging to the Jews; or that the General Assembly may or may not legally make such a declaration. The members of the General Assembly vote their perceived interests. No more and no less. Like Mafia Dons, the law they make is what they say it is and every country interprets it as they want. Maybe a UNSC declaration compels states to a course of action,  at least in theory, while a UNGA United for Peace declaration only implies permission to take the same action. However the result will be the same.

Argument 3: Nothing will change on the ground

Frankly, if I didn’t have a dog in this fight, I would say that if more than two-thirds of the United Nations want a state to be a member it is a member. Does anyone think the Palestinians think any differently?

With that resolution, no doubt reinforced by a serious of ridiculous announcements from Durban III also to be held in September comes expectations. Not the least that some of the 140 or more nations voting for Palestinian statehood, no matter how ambiguously and with how many disclaimers, will come to the Palestinians aid should they decide to make war. What an encouragement for them to do something stupid.

I truly wish I had a brilliant tactical response to the events I predict for September. I truly wish I’ll be proved wrong and have to eat my words. But most truly I wish Israel and Israel advocates won’t be caught unprepared by this worse case scenario as they have so often in the past.

Don’t say no one warned you.


About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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