US President Barack Obama told a special symposium on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly sessions which began this week that henceforth, the people of Libya will be able to guide their own destiny as free citizens in a free country and enjoy the fruits of their resources. He was talking of the glorious 'Arab Spring' that is ushering a new era in that troubled part of the world. Three days later, he made it clear that the US would not hesitate to use its veto to jettison moves to have Palestine accepted as a UN member state. Not for those miserable stateless Palestinians the joys the US wished for the Libyans.
It is not that the Palestinians are not aware of the US stance on their efforts to gain UN membership. Their application on Friday for full membership of the world body is now before the 15-member UN Security Council and the US has begun lobbying nations to reject it, despite what is clearly the overwhelming support of the wider UN General Assembly to admit Palestine as a UN member. Some 129 countries of the 193-member body have already said they support the Palestinian request. If the Palestinian application gets the majority vote at the Security Council, it will be the 42nd time the US will be exercising its veto power against them.
Just two months ago, the UN recognised the 193rd fully-fledged nation state - South Sudan, a country created by the bifurcation of oil producing Sudan. The new nation had the backing of the US and Western countries. But not for the Palestinians, a state that had already existed, before the Balfour Declaration replaced it with the state of Israel at a time when more than half the world lived in subjugation and colonial powers wrote the rules and drew the world maps. Those evicted Palestinians have been living as 'stateless' souls in neighbouring Arab countries for more than half a century.
The move for UN recognition has been initiated by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), a former guerrilla group that renounced violence and terrorism to achieve its political goal of regaining statehood for the Palestinians. The move has been heralded as a turning point in the decade-long Israel-Palestine conflict but denounced at the same time by detractors as a political stunt by the PLO. It was nevertheless, a diplomatic coup by the PLO.
UN recognition falls short of actual statehood. It merely means that the UN recognises Palestine as a state, giving it voting rights, the ability to move resolutions and participate in its agency's activities, even though the contours of the actual state are anything but agreed to or defined. The Palestinians want the borders to be what they were on June 4, 1967, the day before the Six-Day War when Israel's military advanced deep into Syria, Jordan and Egypt and carved out new borders.
While that would, no doubt, be a contentious and sticky issue, the vexed question of the recognition of Israel has been settled by the PLO saying it has accepted the 'two state solution' i.e. for the state of Palestine to co-exist with the state of Israel. That is a huge step towards a peaceful settlement of the Israel-Palestine problem that has defied solution for decades. The attempts by the US in particular -- as European nations are taking a more flexible stance -- to stonewall the Palestinian Authority's efforts demonstrate its patent bias in the entire saga of Middle East politics.
The recognition of Palestine as a UN member does not guarantee the Palestinians legal parity with Israel. Yet, what seems to worry Israel, and the US, is that it will give them certain rights, like a UN vote, status to complain to the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court.
The frustrations of the Palestinians have to be understood. The endless talks since the 1993 'Oslo Accord' brokered by Norway and the US have led nowhere. Israel has vigorously pursued a policy of settlements in disputed areas changing the status quo on the ground, and the talks, in fact, are stalled right now as a result. Apart from the occasional reprimand by the US, Israel has gone ahead with the settlement projects in what it sees is a necessity in its national interest and security.
In Sri Lanka's war against terrorism, it were the Palestinian guerrilla groups that initially trained original LTTE members in camps in Lebanon, while it was Israel that played a significant role in providing both the weapons and the training to our Armed Forces to defeat the LTTE. While one must be grateful for this Israeli assistance to Sri Lanka it came with a quid quo pro; the recognition of the Jewish state of Israel. That was how much Israel valued recognition by the world community. It is the same value the Palestinians attach and theirs is unmistakably a historical error that needs to be rectified; a humanitarian tragedy of some magnitude.
Much water has flowed since the 1993 Oslo Accord. An Israeli embassy flies the Israeli flag in Egypt, its bitterest foe in the 1967 and 1973 wars. While the possibility of conventional wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours has been greatly reduced, several Islamic countries have also accepted the stark reality of the existence of the state of Israel. More and more countries are accepting the 'two state solution'. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have gained little in the post 1993 period, except for a self-governing authority, a proper sovereign state eluding them.
Sri Lanka can empathise with their frustrations because had not the Government gone to war with the LTTE but rather relied on negotiations and 'Oslo Accords' brokered by Norway and the US etc., the conflict would still be dragging on with no end in sight for a politically negotiated settlement. For the Palestinians to lose faith in these negotiations and force the pace for recognition is therefore understandable.
The US as an honest-broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been badly exposed, its credibility dented with its conduct on the latest Palestinian move. President Obama may have good intentions, but domestic compulsions and the powerful Israeli lobby in American politics are factors even he cannot withstand, especially with a re-election Presidential campaign looming next year. The Israeli Prime Minister, blamed by even those in the West for his hard-line stance, made a strenuous argument at the UN on Friday on Israel's vulnerability should Palestine be recognized sans durable peace. Yet, as many 42 per cent of Americans polled by the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center feel the US must recognize the Palestine state, most of them Democrats while even Israelis believe that Israel must accept the decision if the UN recognises a Palestine state. Nearly 70 per cent of Israelis said 'yes' in a poll conducted jointly by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestine Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.
This move by the Palestine Authority is not for the recognition of a state of Palestine, which the Palestinians richly deserve, but merely for UN membership. And, the US out-manoeuvred diplomatically on this Palestinian 'ambush' is merely pussyfooting. The European nations, especially France and Britain are divided between their alliance with the US and the justification for Palestine's recognition. What is expected now is for US leverage in the conflict to lessen and a greater European presence to emerge as both Israel and Palestine strive for peace and security.
Resolving the Israel-Palestine issue would not mean peace in West Asia alone but mean a lot for world peace as the on-going clash between the West and the Islamic world, identified as a clash of civilizations has its roots in this very deadlock.