September 21st 2011 is not just the day I turn 25, but also the day that the Palestinians will take their bid for independent statehood to the United Nations. You can see faces of the Palestinians that we talk to light up with a sense of hope and energy at the prospect of the bid succeeding and there is a real sense of excitement in the air in the Palestinian Territories.
Dr Sabri Saydam, technology and science advisor to the Palestinian Prime Minister, beamed into our meeting with Fateh Youth this morning clutching a tiny cube in his hand. Taking his seat, Dr Saydam held the cube up for the delegation to see. Inside was a miniature blue chair with a tiny Palestinian flag. The message on the cube reads ‘Palestine’s Right, A Full Membership to the United Nations’.
The overwhelming sense of optimism and pride radiating from Dr Saydam as he speaks is contagious. It’s hard not to get caught up in the energy surrounding the preparation for the bid and sitting here with the Young Fabians, Fateh Youth and Dr Saydam, it becomes difficult to contemplate a down side to the September bid.
We have been reminded throughout our trip of the potential dangers of such a move by the Palestinians. Mark Regev, Spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, put to us yesterday that the Palestinian bid was unilateral in nature and that granting statehood to the Palestinians in this way would allow them to avoid some of the more tough concessions that would have to be made in order to secure a mutually acceptable bilateral agreement with the Israelis. Peace, Mr Reghev argued, must be secured before Palestinian Statehood and not the other way round
As far as I can see, opposition to the Palestinian bid rests primarily on three main points:
- While raising expectations, the bid will do little to change the reality on the ground for the Palestinians.
- This is an unilateral move by the Palestinians which seeks to undermine Israel’s role in the peace process.
- Any UN agreement for the Palestinians will make negotiations with the Israeli’s far more difficult as the Palestinians will be unwilling to deviate from the UN agreements.
Until yesterday I was intrigued but sceptical of the Palestinian bid for statehood. Today, my doubt turned into support.
Putting our concerns directly to Dr Saydam, Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh and members of Fateh Youth, counter arguments to the bid were refuted in a measured and comprehensive manner.
I was particularly concerned that if the Palestinians were granted statehood via the UN that Israel may be undermined or side-stepped in any future negotiations. Between them, Dr Saydam and Dr Shtayyeh were clear that this bid was in no way a substitute for negotiations with the Israelis, that the reality of any borders would need to be decided face to face with the Israeli authorities, that an independent Palestinian state would be a demilitarised in the interim with an invitation to Nato or the UN to remain within Palestine in order to ensure the security of the Israelis.
The Palestinians believe that the bid this month will ‘transform the nature of the peace talks’ and grant the Palestinian people basic state rights and recognition that will place them in a far stronger and clearer position to negotiate a lasting peace settlement. A clear narrative behind the reasons for the bid began to emerge throughout our various meetings today. The Palestinians claimed that unilateralism hasn’t worked, bilateralism has failed again and again and so the last port of call must be a multinational route.
The quartet, the UN, America and Israel have all backed the concept of an independent and fully functioning Palestinian state. If the Palestinians are committed to ensuring Israel’s security through demilitarisation and the presence of NATO forces as well as clearly stating that this bid is in no way a substitute for tough talks with Israel (as we heard today) I see no reason why the Palestinians should not take this non-violent multinational route to self determination and statehood.
Dr Saydam said today that he would put off his own daughter’s marriage if it fell in the month of September due to the bid. He is right in his measurement of the scale and unique nature of the opportunity in front of us. Today, every concern we have heard about the bid by the Isrealis was answered and answered convincingly by the Paslestinians we spoke to today.
If this is backed up with action, this bid for statehood could very well be a monumental and non-violent victory for the moderates within the Palestinan Authority and breathe new life into the peace process.
Roxanne Mashari is a member of the Young Fabians and a delegate on the Young Fabian Middle East Trip 2011.