Perhaps there is more than symbolism to the Palestinian UN bid to be recognized as a non-member state. The Palestinian UN bid was shrouded by fancy narratives and dramatic behind the scenes diplomatic struggles. The Palestinian state ‘finally’ declared… Will Germany abstain or vote against? Will Italy vote for or abstain? What will Israel do in retaliation? Who wins and who loses? However, at the end of the day the big picture view is that a Palestinian leadership has declared a state and it has been recognized as such by much of the international community. The Palestinian leadership did all this in spite of the opposition of Israel and the United States and despite controlling a very limited amount of the land the new state claims. Thanks to this move the state of Palestine is alive and it has the wide diplomatic recognition that is the primary mark of a real state. So, now that both Israel and Palestine are states the conflict has morphed into a relatively minor border dispute over a few hundred square kilometers with some extra emotional baggage. So, I would like to be the first (well, probably not) to welcome the reader to the two state solution but without the desired end-of-conflict that Israel wants and the Palestinians price too highly.
The next time you hear or read about the dangers of what some call the ‘one state solution’ or ‘one state situation’ you can inform them that there are now two states between the Jordan and the sea and this reality is recognized by 139 countries, and the UNGA. The Palestinians are no longer stateless and their country is now welcome to offer its passports to anyone that it wishes, thus solving the problem with the stateless descendants of Arab refugees that Arab countries have refused to absorb. It certainly seems like the basic issues of the conflict have been more or less resolved. The only thing that is left is that the state of Palestine has claims to some disputed territory. Palestine claims Jerusalem, even though Jerusalem has already been effectively annexed by another state and Palestine in any case already has a functional capital in Ramallah. Palestine also claims large swathes of land, of which much has already been settled by people that have no desire to be a part of Palestine. In the future such a state might even claim much of the territory of Israel, but it doesn’t change the picture much. Removing all the obfuscations thrown up by various analysts, what we are looking at is a very basic territorial dispute not fundamentally different from the one between Japan and Russia over Sakhalin Island, Pakistan and India over Kashmir, or Spain and Great Britain over Gibraltar.
Several funny things about states. They come in all shapes and sizes and the UNGA has absolutely no authority to determine what shape or size a state should be. Even a state admitted into the UN doesn’t have to come with settled borders. Israel, for example still has no established border with the West Bank and didn’t have confirmed borders with Egypt, Jordan or Syria when it was accepted to the UN. India and Pakistan have a dispute over where their border lies. Sudan and South Sudan too are still negotiating and occasionally fighting over where their border should be in the future. Actually, the list of territorial disputes at Wikipedia is quite long and I didn’t bother to count, but a quick glance would suggest that the majority of the world’s countries are involved in one or another territorial dispute with each other with no particular impact on their state status. Another thing about states is that they are very sticky. Once created they might disband into constituent states but it is really hard to imagine a state disbanding itself leaving its citizens stateless. The previously floated threat by Abbas to ‘disband’ the Palestinian Authority is now even more laughable that Abbas has launched the celebrations of the birth of a Palestinian state. Then there is the pesky detail that becoming a state comes along with quite a few obligations and responsibilities, like, for example, say, not shooting rockets at your neighbors civilians and being held responsible for hosting terrorist organizations that bomb your neighbors buses and restaurants. In fact, were you to do such awful things your neighbor might be tempted to declare war on your shiny new state.
Being recognized widely as a state almost seems like more of a liability than an asset for a national liberation movement claiming to fight on behalf of a stateless people. This is perhaps the reason why the Palestinians have in the past resisted accepting offers to be recognized as a state in return for interim agreements (Bush floated the proposal in 2002, Israel floated it in 2010,2011). Such a move was generally seen as favoring Israel by removing the ‘statelessness’ factor from the equation leaving only a border dispute between two terribly mismatched claimants. It is then really interesting that the Palestinians have chosen to take this step with absolutely no compensation from Israel or the United States and then celebrate it as a victory.
When one looks at the issue this way it looks like Abbas did Israel a giant favor in pursuing the upgraded UN status. From this angle the celebrations in Ramallah are somewhere between hilarious and pathetic and the entire process seems like a well-choreographed play. Sure, what happened at the UNGA is going to prove problematic for those who thought it would ever be realistic to annex the entirety of the West Bank. For everyone else, now, thanks to Abbas Israel will get a chance to establish whatever future borders it wants without particular fear of being forced into any variation of a ‘one state solution’, because as 139 countries have already said – there are now two states between the Jordan and the sea. Three cheers for Palestine!