Palestine at the UN: Real Change for Palestinians?

Palestinians fly balloons bearing the colours of the national flag as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas delivers a speech upon his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 2 December 2012. (Photo: AFP - Abbas Momani)

By: Fadi Abu Saada

Published Thursday, December 6, 2012

The recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state has led to confusion among Palestinians who are wondering how this will affect them. Will they receive passports? What about their lands still under occupation? Is the vote real progress, or does it simply legitimize the status quo?

Ramallah – Last week, Palestine achieved non-member observer status at the UN, a diplomatic victory for Palestinians on the world stage, with just nine countries voting against the measure. The implications of this move, which has raised concerns over the preservation of historic Palestine’s territorial integrity, have yet to play out.

Being trapped in legal limbo is nothing new for the Palestinians. Consider, for example, the Palestinian passport issued by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

There are two inscriptions on the front cover: ‘Passport,’ a term used for the document carried by nationals of a state, and ‘Travel Document,’ a term usually reserved for documents carried by refugees.

The exact status of Palestinians is now more uncertain than ever. Even PA President Mahmoud Abbas asked in his speech at the UN General Assembly, “Are we a surplus people in the region?”

In reality, the Palestinians know very well who they are, and are aware that they are living in their own land, being its native people and rightful owners. But they still must deal with the reality on the ground, which includes international recognition.

When it comes to the latest developments at the UN, are most Palestinians in favor of Palestine’s recognition as a non-member state? Or do they grieve the loss of historic Palestine and of the right of return for refugees in the diaspora? Do they rejoice in winning statehood, a dream they have had for so long?

The confusion of the Palestinian public vis-à-vis the PA’s UN bid was evident. Some had sarcastic comments about the so-called “new Palestinian situation,” while others had questions about the significance of the next phase, even if on the ground nothing had changed.

Indeed, the Palestinians did not awake the following day to find the settlements gone, the military checkpoints removed, or the occupation ended.

“To date, the world sees us as a stateless people who do not enjoy protection from any particular state,” Antoun, a Palestinian living in Ramallah, told Al-Akhbar. “So the real question is this: Can a state without a member status grant us Palestinian nationality? Will this mean that our passports will change soon?”

“We will get 22 percent of our land. Is this a step forward, or is it the end of the Palestinian dream? How do I draw the map of Palestine now?” he asked.

Jamil Awad had a different concern.

“Is Oslo now over or has it taken root?” he asked. “Someone tell us.”

To Aghlab, a Palestinian physician, 15 November 1988 is a much more important date than 29 November 2012 because “the state was declared in 1988 under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Organization.”

“Today, the state is under the banner of the PA, and my worst fear is that we may soon feel nostalgia for the Oslo days,” he said.

Ali Daraghmeh said, “We don’t know what to sing for anymore. Should we sing for the revolution, or for the state? The Palestinian archive must be full of contradictions!”

This state of confusion was apparent in both the sincere concerns and the sarcastic mockery of Palestinians.

“The settlers have now become refugees in the State of Palestine,” joked one.

Raed Andoni, a director, addressed the Palestinian leadership sarcastically on his Facebook page, writing: “Congratulations. Don’t forget on your way back to bring a user guide, and a warranty covering spare parts.”

Concerning Mahmoud Abbas’ UN speech and the applause it received, the director wrote, “This is nothing more than a remedy for the guilt felt by those who are the root cause of the problem to begin with. They will applaud and they will feel themselves redeemed, while we reap the consequences of their delusional path once again.”

The most common question in the Palestinian street right now, in the wake of the Palestinian coup of international diplomacy, is this: If we could have done this at any time, why did we waste 20 years negotiating without making this move?

Many feel this would have spared Palestinians many bleak years negotiating fruitlessly, and would have helped move their cause forward.

A few Palestinians believe that what happened at the UN will be the foundation stone of something bigger, the first step towards the beginning of the end of the Israeli occupation. Nevertheless, many fear that Israel and the US will extract a high price for this step.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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