In the end there were only nine states voting against Palestine on November 29, 2012: the United States and Israel, the usual suspects; Canada, with its pro-Zionism prime minister Stephen Harper; the US satellite state of a post-Noriega Panama; the Czech Republic, holding up the Europeans’ flag; and four mini states from islands scattered over the Pacific – Nauru, Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Island – tied to either the U.S. or Australia by political or defense agreements.
The first time Palestine had directly gone to the United Nations was 38 years ago. It was Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (the P.L.O.) who pleaded his people’s cause before the General Assembly in November of 1974. To no avail: the Palestinians and the P.L.O. had the bad reputation of being terrorists, a threat to Israel, but even a bigger menace to the Arab states around them. Forced to leave Palestine, the Palestinians had sought refuge in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, eventually endangering the regimes in power in Amman and Damascus and becoming a triggering factor of the civil war that started to devastate Lebanon in 1975.
Yasser Arafat died on November 11, 2004. He passed away without achieving any of the essential goals he had espoused at various stages of his career: the destruction of Israel, the peace with the Jewish state he backed after 1988, or the creation of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. No other individual so embodied the Palestinians’ plight as Yasser Arafat, Judith Miller wrote in her obituary in the New York Times: their dispersal, their statelessness, their hunger for a return to a homeland lost to Israel.
Yasser Arafat was 75 years old at the time of his death, worn out by a lifelong fight for Palestine. But did he die of natural causes? Or was he murdered, poisoned, as some believe? It was a strange coincidence that Yasser Arafat’s remains were exhumed to finally determine the cause of his death the same week his successor Mahmoud Abbas went to the United Nations again, to ask the General Assembly to elevate Palestine to a “non-member observer state”. Pulled apart by the internal strife between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, the Palestinians are in dire need of a new integrating figure. A post-mortem Arafat, and particularly a martyred, poisoned Arafat, can again be that figure. A weak Abbas, discredited by the United States, suspected of selling out to the enemy, cannot.
Palestine has won at the United Nations, but now what? There was a Palestine in New York but there is no Palestine in Palestine. One day after the UN vote, Israel approved the construction of 3,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, basically saying “fuck you!” to Palestine, the United Nations and to the world. The two-state solution that some had dreamed of realizing after New York is off to a bad start. Anyway: a two-state arrangement will never work. Both projects, the Israeli project of a Jewish state and the Palestinian project of an independent state, are too big to be confined to the borders of 1967. Israel needs strategic depth, needs buffer zones in order to feel secure. For that reason, Israel occupies the West Bank and the Golan, controls Gaza and sheds an all seeing eye on Lebanon, flying over the area in daily breaches of international law.
A Palestine under demographic stress cannot survive in a two-state solution neither, as Stratfor explains, in an excellent analysis from May 2011 entitled “the Geopolitics of Palestine”. Palestine must seek a more radical outcome – the elimination of Israel – to be viable in the long term, politically and economically. Not being able to achieve this goal by itself, Palestine needs other Arab states to take up the task and defeat Israel. This won’t happen. It is not in the interest of Arab states to go decisively after Israel and help create a strong Palestine.
Instead of being en route to a two-state solution, as untenable this might be, we are actually witnessing the attempt of creating a three-state solution. Gaza and the West Bank have become very different places with different realities and it is hard to see them placed under one umbrella state of Palestine. And more so since these two entities are physically separated and would entirely depend on Israel to permit land or air transit between them. A negative example comes to mind, Pakistan from 1947 to 1971, with its eastern wing Bangladesh cut off from the Pakistani heartland by hostile India. This situation ultimately ended in a bloody war and the split of these territories into two states. It would take the persuasion of an Arafat to hold Gaza and the West Bank together.
A two-state solution being dead on arrival, a recipe for a disastrous divorce and a precursor for a three-state solution; a one-state solution impossible to implement: Palestine is caught in a geopolitical trap. Let me then accept your bets on the following question. What will be first: the emergence of a sustainable Palestine or the disappearance of Nauru, Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Island due to the effects of global warming? Affaires à suivre.