The Palestinians' Moment of Truth

The Palestinians' Moment of Truth

The time has come for radical action. How Palestinians hope their bid for statehood will change the rules of the game for good.

Palestinians are ready for statehood, freedom and the end of occupation. That is why we are bidding for UN membership. The quest to have our state recognized, according to 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, is supported by the governments of 85 percent of the world’s population and the majority of public opinion (according to a recent BBC poll). Statehood is viewed as part of a win-win peace formula for all parties involved, especially Palestinians and Israelis. Our bid is backed by scores of UN resolutions, inalienable rights and an important historic compromise for peace made in 1988 when the Palestinian leadership agreed to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, composed of just 22 percent of historic Palestine.

Unfortunately, 22 years of negotiations have proved futile, mainly due to a balance of power highly skewed in Israel's favor. This encouraged the doubling of Israeli settlement expansion with 500,000 settlers now living on Palestinian land. Settlements like Ariel and Ma'alei Adumim cut through the West Bank, dividing it into three parts and isolating East Jerusalem. Both in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Palestinians are left with 13 percent of the land in their own cities, areas already heavily populated and with no room for future human development. On the other hand, settlements expand on the remaining land with luxury housing, green areas and sophisticated social and economic facilities.

The picture is further aggravated by the construction of the wall that practically annexed to Israel about 12 percent of the most fertile land, including important water aquifers. It closed off the fertile Jordan Valley, making up about 30 percent of the West Bank, to Palestinian life and use. Furthermore, Israel constructed a generous and modern segregated road system that serves only the settler populations, making the West Bank look like a smashed windshield.

In addition, Palestinians’ daily life has been made intolerable. The economy has been strangled, the private sector weakened, and poverty and unemployment have increased dramatically. The occupation denies Palestinians basic freedoms of mobility, of goods and people, of worship in and access to East Jerusalem, of basic human security, and of access to most of our land and water. These developments are part of a complicated set of geopolitical measures that reduces the prospects for peace and creates new realities on the ground that will very soon render the two-state solution impossible.

It is under these difficult conditions that the Palestinian Authority, led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, labored against all odds and succeeded in preparing Palestinian institutions for statehood, ensuring financial transparency, an effective security system and the rule of law. The economy even grew almost 10 percent in 2010, though we well know this growth is not sustainable under continued occupation.

And while recognizing the right of the Palestinian people to seek their freedom, our leadership has been adamant in its commitment to nonviolence. I remember how they discouraged demonstrations of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem against the Israeli aggression in Gaza in 2009-2010, even while demonstrations were breaking out across the world. The Palestinian leadership is willing to take the heat of criticism in order to avoid the risk of a return to violence.

The World Bank, the IMF, the United Nations, other international organizations and world governments highly commended the achievements of the Palestinian Authority and declared it ready for statehood. A viable, democratic and successful Palestinian state is the best security guarantee for Israel.

However, it became obvious that only a game-changing move could save the peace. Peace is achievable—once the Palestinians have a better negotiating position as a state. The Palestinian UN bid provides a paradigm shift to circumvent the eruption of violence that will most likely fill the existing political impasse and vacuum, it provides clear terms of reference to future fruitful negotiations, gives the international governance system a part to play and strengthens the agenda of moderates on all sides. Statehood will mean an improved status that provides a legal deterrent to Israel and encourages it to act within the confines of the international rule of law.

Clearly, the Palestinians are not attempting to undertake unilateral action by approaching the world’s governance system with this bid. And even though Israeli discourse insists that Palestinians only wish to isolate and delegitimize Israel, which is practically impossible to do, all Palestinians seek is to legitimize our freedom in an independent state.

It is therefore difficult to understand why the U.S. Congress and government seem intent on opposing and fighting this bid. Washington has not offered a viable alternative. Up until now, a futile Middle East peace process has not shown it can deliver freedom for Palestinians. It has not resulted in a sovereign state. It has not brought an end to prolonged daily suffering, the stresses on the very social and economic fabric of Palestinians, or the regular violation of basic Palestinian rights. Palestinians simply want our longing for a normal life to be addressed.

Since President Reagan, American leaders, both Republican and Democrat, have considered Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, to be illegal and an obstacle to peace. Yet the obstacle still stands and grows.

President Bush called for the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state back in April 2002, only to shelve his own decision two months thereafter. President Obama renewed hopes when he stressed the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state, freezing settlement expansion and proceeding to fruitful negotiations in his Cairo speech, statements he confirmed on other occasions. He was also clear in stating that this issue is central to the U.S. strategic and security interests. Soon after, General Petraeus said that Israeli settlement expansion in the Palestinian Occupied Territory threatens the safety of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As we proceed to obtain UN membership, Palestinians know too well that there are risks involved. We know that a successful UN bid will not immediately change the harsh reality on the ground and cease the occupation. We also fear more oppressive measures. Israel could hold on to our tax revenues, confiscate more land in favor of Israeli settlements, provoke violence, reverse the gains made at the institutional and economic levels, or reactivate a larger closure regime and infrastructure that could completely suffocate the Palestinian economy and social life overnight. And we worry of increased settler violence, which is already escalating to an alarming level.

Yet, about 70 percent of Palestinians support the leadership in this quest and wish to maintain our friendly relations with all peoples, more so with the American people and government. As the moment of truth approaches at the UN, we hope the United States will support the Palestinian bid for statehood and save the two-state solution inspired and led by its great values. As a leading world power, the United States is expected to maintain the moral high ground, away from narrow partisan politics, and act as a guarantor of freedom for all peoples, without exception.