09/19/2011versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

On September 20th the UN Assembly will debate independence for the Palestinians

Although it’s making a great show of coldness (at best) and irritation, Israel too will be there on that date. It will be represented, as on all major occasions, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When the UN General Assembly opens in New York, President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen (Mahmud Abbas) will formally request both official recognition as a sovereign state and membership of the UN.

The symbol of this Palestinian campaign, which is supported by NGOs and activists across the globe, is a seat. A seat at the UN. Something that’s more than a piece of furniture. It is a symbol not of the existence of an identity but the right to live that identity freely. The Palestinians have been waiting for this moment since Israeli independence was declared in 1948. Since then, they’ve been mired in war after war: in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1972. They’ve also endured two intifadas, an occupation, a million refugees, hundreds of thousands dead, a stone wall. No one could really believe that one small chair would be enough for an entire nation to rest on, to dry its tears and forget all of that pain. 

And yet, the healing has to start somewhere. It would, of course, have been better if Palestine were being represented by a president elected in free and transparent elections like the ones held in 2006. Certainly, Hamas might counter that its – genuinely democratic – victory was rewarded here in the West by boycotting, the Gaza embargo, two violent military operations and starving of the Gaza Strip. It would have been better too had Hamas and Fatah carried on down the same road after the rapprochement by creating a national unity government. But many – too many – Hamas representatives continue to rot in Israel’s prisons without having committed any crime.  

For the very first time, however, the UN Security Council may have to rule on an Assembly resolution. Not a huge achievement in itself, the cynics – many of them Palestinian - might say. Decades of occupation in the face of hundreds of UN resolutions would wear anyone down. But in the US – because that who is this is all about – they will be forced to tell the world that the Assembly (even given all the moral power with which it is invested) is not being heeded. And asks only for what international law has sanctioned since 1948. That won’t look good.

But then Israel never looks good when it comes to Palestine. Repeating his opposition to the Palestinian initiative, Netanyahu has said he’s convinced that “peace can only come through direct negotiation not through unilateral action. The General Assembly is not a place where Israel receives a fair hearing, but I’ve decided to go not for applause but to tell the truth.” The truth about an illegal occupation to which, in the last few days, we can add military training of settlers illegally occupying the West Bank.

But what negotiations is Netanyahu referring to exactly? ''If the Palestinians are going to the UN to ask to be admitted to this forum as a state, that, for Israel, will mean the end of all agreements made with the Palestinians,” declared Israel’s vice Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. This admonishment came after head of Israeli diplomacy, Avigdor Lieberman, declared that the Palestinian move would have ''serious and severe consequences”. So the Palestinians can’t claim they have never gotten anything of diplomacy. But what about the Oslo Agreements? Then-leader Arafat made huge concessions and came home with an aborted state, hostage to a wall and Israeli checkpoints

One seat is not enough to make people forget so much pain. But the Assembly can send out a strong signal and give a wake-up call to the fake negotiations being driven forward by so many peddlers of promises. There’s a long list of those, the latest of whom is US President Barack Obama. The Israelis greatly feared his election. But they were wrong. The latest tenant in the White House is not different to any of the others. But everyone should at least know that.


Christian Elia
translated by Mary Hegarty