“The Status Quo is Unmaintainable!”

14 Sep

A passionate plea for the reevaluation of Palestine’s political status quo, including a possibility of a UN recognition of statehood, was delivered this week at the United Nation’s Church Center. A panel with Professor Rashid Kahlidi of Columbia University and Professor of Law Karima Bennoune of Rutgers University reflected on the Palestinian leadership’s decision to take their case of statehood to the UN General Assembly on 23rd of September. The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Global Policy Forum and the NGO Working Group on Israel-Palestine.

Dr. Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, and Director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. His academic work has been focused on national identities in the Middle East and the impact of external powers on development.

His remarks on Monday not only demonstrated the urge to readdress the Israel-Palestine conflict, but to also transfer it back to an international platform, namely the United Nations, and therefore seek a multilateral channel to bring peace to the region. Dr. Khalidi criticized the imbalanced role the United States, as a super power, was playing since the Madrid Conference in 1991 and the consequential Oslo Accords.

The Madrid Conference convened on October 30, 1991 and lasted for three days. The international community attempted early on to initiate a peace process through negotiations involving Israel and the Palestinians and other Arab nations, such as Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The conference was hosted by the government of Spain, as well as the USA and the USSR. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was not invited.

At the time, US President George H.W. Bush formulated the framework of objectives and extended a letter of invitation in cooperation with the Soviet Union. The Madrid Conference was followed by secret negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel that led to the Oslo Accords in September of 1993, which conveyed a set of mutually agreed-upon general principles that guaranteed a five year interim period of Palestinian self-rule. A number of so-called “permanent status-issues”, such as Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors,  were deferred to later negotiations.

The Accords ensured the creation of a Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which was to administer the territory under its control. The Accords also obliged the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to partially withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The agreements came under fire for not taking into consideration the impact of outside factors caused by the ongoing hostile relations between Palestinians and Israelis. The Cave of the Patriarchs massacre and the ongoing Israeli settlements have fundamentally shaken trust on both sides. The incident took place in February 1994 and is a terrorist attack executed by Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler and supporter of the far-right Israeli Kach movement, who shot unarmed Palestinian Muslims praying inside the Mosque of Abraham at the Cave of the Patriarchs site in Hebron.


“Rather than international resolutions being the basis for the proposed settlements, the US clearly imposed their rules,” Khalidi explained during the panel. Hence the implemented policies after 1991 were, from Khalidis viewpoint, “debates for the continuation of the Palestinian occupation, not the peaceful solution to the conflict.”

The ongoing, global discussion leading up to the 66th General Assembly, and the very likely claim by President Mahmoud Abbas for Palestinian statehood, has been out of proportion in the eyes of many. “Much too much has been made out of this issue”, Khalidi explains, “This will not lead to the liberation of Palestine.”

Khalidi also referred to the planned cut in US Congressional funds for the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a troublesome side effect of the request for Palestinian statehood. Although Mahmoud Abbas seems to take the realist road: “Of course it’s a problem!” he was recently quoted by Time magazine, adding: “PA coffers are already empty as Middle Eastern states preoccupied with the Arab Spring lag on promised contributions.” Coming up short is, according to Abbas, nothing new for the Palestinian people.

If anything, Khalidi gave the impression that he values Abbas’ plan as a sincerely brave move as a sort of contemporary uproar in the spirit of David against Goliath taking into account the dramatic shift in power that is impacting world policy due to the slow but steady “economic regression” of the US and the rise of countries such as Brazil, India, South Africa or Turkey. “The US is facing much more mobilized public opinion in the Arab world today. Countries like Egypt and Turkey and the weight of their political decisions cannot be ignored any longer”, Kahlidi finished his statement.

Following Khalidi’s remarks, Professor Karima Bennoune of Rutgers Law School delivered the legal parameters of the Palestinian Authority according to the Montevideo Convention of 1933. As outlined in the Convention, the determining factors to claim statehood are:

A permanent population

A defined territory


The capacity to enter into relations with other states

Bennoune appealed to the recent work of John Quigley, The Statehood of Palestine: International Law in the Middle East Conflict. Quigley himself wrote a chapter on “Montevideo meets Reality” and reassesses the effective implementation of the framework by explaining, ”The Montevideo criteria are said to provide those standards, but even if they are relevant to Palestine under occupation, they have not, in fact, been applied rigorously by the international community in making determinations about statehood. (…) Entities that lack substantial control over their own affairs have been accepted as states. Ukraine and Belorussia during the Soviet period are two often-noted examples.” Supporting Quigley’s argument, Bennoune stated that the “danger of getting lost in the formalities of International Law” could significantly hinder progress to achieving peace in the region.

Bennoune deemed the expected US veto in the Security Council regarding Palestinian statehood “distressing because the status quo is unmaintainable.” She also warned of unpredictable, political consequences in the Palestinian areas and reminded the audience of the tragic consequences the Israeli West Bank barrier constitutes for the Palestinian people. “The Wall is easy to underestimate in terms of the impact it has on human rights.”

Considering the ongoing political and diplomatic heat the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created globally, and the incomprehensible suffering it has caused on both sides, a longing for settlement is understandable. Obviously it has to be a settlement that is just and creates equal peace and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis.

The urge to receive attention on the international stage for the Palestinian cause is understandable, as much as the fear that unilateral action on behalf of the PA may lead to new conflict. Maybe now is not the point in time to lose sight of bilateral negotiations with Israel, but rather to follow a step by step solution and by doing so achieve an even higher level of international credibility as a state.

Instead of provoking a very possible escalation at the Security Council, because the veto by the US-government regarding Palestinian statehood seems inevitable, why not upgrade from an observer entity to a non-member state, such as the Holy See? No Security Council hearing is needed and it would open the door for the PA to level charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC) – as it would give Israel the chance to counter sue the Palestinians in the ICC over missiles fired from Gaza. The last word would be in any case with the ICC, because the court itself has very strict rules of procedure governing the admissibility of cases.

“Referrals must be of situations, not specific cases. This means that although one party to a situation may make the referral, it will give the Court jurisdiction over all parties involved. A Palestinian referral will give the Court jurisdiction over alleged crimes by members of the PA as well as by Israelis”, John Washburn from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court states.

A group of U.S. diplomats are visiting the region this week to try and negotiate resuming peace talks and the prevention of the U.N. plea for statehood. In order for that to happen Israel would probably have to agree to a stop of settlement building, another alternative would be an agreement to use the 1967 borders as a parameter for negotiations.

Both concessions seem unrealistic for now.

Lia Petridis Maiello




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