Editor’s Note: Yousef Munayyer is a policy analyst at the Arab Center of Washington and executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is slated to address the U.N. on Wednesday
Yousef Munayyer: The focus of Palestinian strategy should not be statehood but on human rights
When he speaks at the U.N. General Assembly this week, there is a chance Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will announce that some or all of the Oslo Accords, the foundational document of the U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” aimed at a two-state solution, are null and void.
Yet Palestinians were never really motivated by a desire for their own state, as such. That might sound odd to many, especially given all of the discussion of Palestinian statehood over the past two decades. But it is the truth. What Palestinians want, and deserve, are freedom and equal rights.
For the past 25 years, world – and even Palestinian – leaders have backed the idea of a Palestinian state. But the Palestinian public was not interested in a state simply to have a chair at the United Nations, to have embassies in foreign capitals or to have postage stamps or a different face on their currency. Nor are they interested in the empty bit of symbolism this week of raising the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. Who cares?
It doesn’t feed or educate a besieged child in Gaza or grant a West Bank Palestinian child the same rights as a Jewish child living in an illegal settlement.
If Palestinians wanted a state at all, it was as a means to an end, a vehicle toward realizing their rights. But instead of moving toward the sovereignty of statehood that would undergird the rights of Palestinian citizens, Palestinians have seen the quest for statehood result in occasional pomp and circumstance while the Israeli occupation and its settlement enterprise deepens.
Indeed, even in the rosiest of scenarios discussed in negotiations, the Palestinian “state” would not be equal in sovereignty to the Israeli state, meaning the peace process was, at best, moving toward glorified occupation in a rump state or bantustan.
This ruse became ever clearer to Palestinians. And now, a day before Abbas is set to speak at the U.N. General Assembly, new polling data of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza highlight the contradiction in terms that is the “two-state solution.”
For the first time in recent memory, a majority of Palestinian respondents, 51%, oppose a two-state solution, with 48% supporting it. This is because, as the same poll notes, 65% believe that the two-state solution is no longer practical because of Israeli settlement expansion.
No one has a better understanding of what Israeli settlements mean for the prospects of Palestinian statehood than the very Palestinians living next to them. Yet what is most needed today is sorely lacking, namely a reframing of Palestinian strategy.
Somewhere along the way, statehood went from being a means to an end to being an end in itself. Now, with a right-wing Israeli government firmly in power and no serious engagement from the international community to rein in Israel’s expansionist ambitions, Palestinians understand that the statehood project is at best a failure, and at worst a cover for continued Israeli colonialism in Palestinian territory.
With this reality in mind, the focus of Palestinian national strategy should not be statehood but rather on reclaiming rights. This means officially declaring the two-state solution dead, with the cause of death being asphyxiation because of settlement expansion. As part of a new direction, Palestinian leaders should support coexistence over nationalism, integration over exclusion and equality over separatism.
To some, the notion of focusing on rights might seem abstract. But who around the world cannot identify with the desire to be free, to move freely, to live on one’s ancestral land and to be legally equal with their neighbors, regardless of faith or background?
If Palestinians shifted from separatist struggle to a rights-based struggle, they would quickly garner sympathy and support from around the world and would force the Israel-Palestinian issue back into the forefront from where it has long since gone missing.
A Palestinian leader should stand before the United Nations and say: “We have tried the two-state path, and it has failed. We cannot and will not be asked to put our freedom and dignity off any longer and we demand equality and the right to vote for the government that rules us.” How many world leaders would be able to publicly oppose that and for how long?
The international community should be prepared to embrace such a significant change. As the United States has shown with its recent shift in relations with Iran and Cuba, it’s never too late to reassess failed policies and take a new approach to resolve longstanding and seemingly intractable problems.
If we fail to do this, we will see more of the same, with Palestinians enduring abuses of human rights that have for decades characterized Israel’s oppression. It is perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that a particular strategy has failed, but it is unforgivable to maintain that strategy despite knowing it will continue to fail.
This week at the U.N. General Assembly, there is a chance to change course, one that embraces Palestinian freedom rather than endless deliberations over a truncated Palestinian state. Let’s hope someone has the courage to seize this opportunity.