Just over a year ago I was interviewed for an article here on The Conversation about the failed Palestinian bid for full member status of the United Nations. I pointed out that it was largely a symbolic move and little would change on the ground. I also mentioned that the two Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, needed to get their own houses in order before they went to the negotiating table with Israel. Otherwise they just made it easy for Netanyahu to ignore them.
Well as one half of my family would say “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.”
Sadly, the above points still hold true after the successful bid for an upgrade to Palestinian status in the UN. However, there has been a much greater shift in the views of the rest of the world. The fact that only nine states voted against the bid is a significant diplomatic victory for Mahmoud Abbas. Even key US allies voted for the motion or at the very least, abstained.
This depicts the US and Israel as very much swimming against the tide of world opinion.
But the thing is, they can.
The division amongst the Palestinians and the continued use of Gaza to launch rockets into Israel means that Netanyahu can still shrug his shoulders when it comes to nutting out any lasting peace deal. “We don’t have a partner for peace” is the standard line. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” is the other.
Meanwhile Israeli settlements, demolitions and ‘security corridors’ continue to carve up Palestinian land into a meaningless jumble of confetti. The map of the territories has started to look like it has been taken to by a kid playing with a hole puncher.
And it’s all about territory. The upgrade in the Palestinian status gives them reference as a ‘state’. But a state needs a defined area. The premise is that the 1967 ceasefire borders will be the basis for this demarcation, but the half a million Israelis who live within that boundary aren’t likely to be going anywhere soon. Giving up turf is also not a key vote winner for an Israeli PM facing elections in January.
There are those who have said that this week’s move in the UN by Palestine is unnecessarily provocative and could impede progress in negotiations with Israel. But the Palestinians would have been thinking “So what?” Their experience is that there never is any progress anyway and they had nothing to lose with this diplomatic play, a move that at least sets the groundwork for some discussion of borders.
For the ordinary Palestinians in Ramallah and Gaza, this victory for Abbas won’t mean a whole lot. They can take comfort in the fact that most of the world is with them. But they must still be dismayed (if unsurprised) that the parts of the world that really count haven’t changed their tune.
And I have the feeling that in another year’s time I will be back here again writing a sadly similar story.