As part of our Middle East delegation 2011 travellog, Young Fabian Treasurer Claire Leigh weighs up Palestine’s bid to become an independent state.
Day three of our trip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory saw us go again into Ramallah. I was struck once more by the journey from Jerusalem to the nearby Palestinian city, which takes you past the looming eight-metre high wall and the checkpoint with aggressive looking soldiers pacing outside. As we have done for the previous two days, we pass with ease, white enough to appear harmless – tourists on a sightseeing tour perhaps. But the experience is quite different for those Palestinians who live the other side of that wall, and who have to pass by these soldiers every day on their way to school, work or to visit family. Palestinians need a specific pass for every crossing, made virtual prisoners in their not-quite-state.
Our morning was spent in meetings with members of Fateh Youth and several of the party’s politicians. They spoke passionately about the issues facing the peace process, the reasons why there has been so little movement in recent years and the upcoming bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN. The latter is a controversial unilateral move on the part of the Palestinian Authorities; controversial because it bypasses the stalled negotiation process and risks raising expectations among the Palestinians that will not be matched by real change on the ground. The move could also make it harder for the Palestinian leadership to bargain for a real resolution in the future. Once the UN statehood is set in stone, its terms become non-negotiable.
But then the fact that Israel is so appalled at the surprise move by their neighbours suggests there is something to be gained strategically by the approach. It also promises at least to shake things up a bit, possibly get them moving again. For decades Palestine has existed in a state of limbo, without territorial sovereignty but with airtight borders. Without the right to hold Israelis to account when they commit crimes within those borders but without the assurance that Israelis will be charged in Israel. Without the right to raise their own taxes but in charge of spending millions to provide (or not) basic healthcare and education for its not-quite-citizens. The situation is untenable and yet has tenaciously persisted for longer than anyone thought possible.
If the Palestinians’ unilateral bid for statehood is unhelpful or unrealistic, it’s at least understandable.
Claire Leigh is Treasurer of the Young Fabians and a delegate on the Young Fabian Middle East Trip 2011.
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