CSB professor of communication Walid Afifi spoke to the Daily Nexus about the implications of the Palestinian bid for statehood as part of a new weekly column that allows professors to share their perspectives on current events.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made history last month when he submitted a formal request for Palestinian statehood to the United Nations.
The petition — the latest in a long history of actions to establish international legitimacy for either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — is the first time the Palestinian National Authority has taken its case to the U.N. and raised questions over the plausibility of a Palestinian state. The U.N. Security Council is reviewing the proposal and requires a majority vote to approve the bid.
According to Afifi, Palestinians would gain certain privileges in the international community if recognized as a sovereign state, but would do little to improve the situation of its people living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“There are some legal rights that the Palestinians would have [if the bid passes]; they are more likely to be able to bring charges against Israel for violations of international law which now they cannot do,” Afifi said. “There is very little improvement on the ground that we would see. The downside is that there would be a belief that this actually means something, because it does not.”
Although Abbas received a hero’s welcome in the West Bank — where his Fatah party rules — upon returning from the U.N, the Gaza Strip’s ruling party Hamas refused to support the petition.
Afifi said the mixed Palestinian reaction highlights the disparity between groups within the community.
“There is a really intense dialogue within the Palestinian community about whether this is a good thing to do or not, but the media have not really addressed that very much,” Afifi said. “The good news is that in the past year or so there has been much more cooperation between the West Bank and Gaza than there has been before. Having said that, the divisions between Hamas and the PLO are certainly a blight on Palestinian history, and it reflects a frustration about the lack of progress on the ground.”
The U.N. Security Council consists of five permanent members — France, Russian Federation, China, United Kingdom and the United States — and 10 non-permanent members elected through the General Assembly. The permanent members are given vetoing power on UNSC decisions that could potentially nullify a majority vote in favor of the Palestinian bid for statehood.
United States President Barack Obama has already publically declared he would invoke the nation’s vetoing powers if the petition received the necessary votes.
Afifi said the president’s decision reflects the nation’s inability to serve as an ‘honest broker’ in the conflict.
“He has been shown to be quite weak when push comes to shove; certainly I think leading up to the election he is going to be doing more things that the Israeli lobby wants to see,” Afifi said. “I would not say that anything he has done during his administration has made the U.S. a more honest broker.”
Although the petition is largely a symbolic gesture for international recognition, Afifi said the bid could reshape the U.N.’s negotiations process.
“The power imbalance is so great that any negotiations would likely be a farce, especially if there is the U.S. and Israel on the one side,” Afifi said. “A lot of people are looking for other ways to balance power. A big advantage [to the bid] is that this would disempower the U.S. as the primary broker. Any action that internationalizes the conflict is beneficial.”