Five questions - five answers: Approaching September - 1

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September is approaching and thus the announced Palestinian bid for UN membership. We would like to present to our readers various opinions on the issue, interviewing several partners of KAS in our series “5 questions - 5 answers”. The beginning is made by Hanna Siniora and Dr. Gershon Baskin, Co-CEOs of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information¹ and longstanding partners of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Jerusalem


Hanna Siniora, Gershon Baskin, the US administration has already announced a veto, in case the Palestinian Authority should approach the UN Security Council in its bid for UN membership. What is your assessment of the situation? Are the Palestinians going to call on the Security Council or are they rather going to directly address the General Assembly?

Hanna Siniora: I am in favor of going to the General Assembly. In this way the PA will avoid humiliating President Obama and will most probably get a lot of additional backing from the major EU countries. Up till now, the PA insists on going to the Security Council, but I believe that a more rational approach will prevail and finally the PA will decide to go to the General Assembly of the UN.

Gershon Baskin: I strongly believe that the US and the other Quartet members should accept that the Palestinians have decided to go to the UN and to seize the moment as an opportunity for progress. The Americans say “if you can’t beat them, join them!” That is what they should be doing – working with the parties to come up with a resolution that would be acceptable for both sides, hopefully bringing it to the Security Council where it could become the new point of reference of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (replacing 242)¹. The resolution would recognize Palestine (and Israel) in borders to be negotiated on the basis of the 1967 lines with agreed upon swaps (the Obama formula) and at the same time the State of Palestine would refrain from taking legal and political actions against Israel in the international arena and Israel would freeze settlement building during the negotiations.

If the Palestinians decide to address the General Assembly to upgrade their status from an observer mission to that of a non-member state - a move that would grant them statehood recognition – wouldn’t that be a merely symbolic improvement?

Hanna Siniora: To be recognized as the State of Palestine, even if not yet a member of the UN - will mean that the occupied Palestinian territories will no longer be defined as disputed territories. Internationally there will be a state recognized along the lines of 1967 as the sovereign lands of the State of Palestine. This means that East Jerusalem is part of the State as the capital of Palestine. Additionally, the State of Palestine can approach international bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court and other bodies directly and not through proxies.

Gershon Baskin: The question of Palestinian statehood should be removed from the negotiating table. This move in the UN, while not immediately changing the reality on the ground serves to provide the necessary legitimacy and international legal backing to preserve the viability of the two states for two peoples solution to the conflict. This is what can be the primary outcome from the decision. There is a need to implant the reality of Palestinian statehood into the consciousness of the Israeli and the Palestinian people and the rest of the world.

How would you summarize the expectations of the Palestinian citizens regarding September? What might be the possible reactions if these expectations won’t be met?

Hanna Siniora: The Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza are totally supportive of their leadership in going the road of the UN. The threshold of expectations is extremely low as for the daily life, the occupation continues and the obstacles are the same. The PA has succeeded in convincing the majority of the people that future confrontations should be based on non-violent resistance. People understand now that the violence of the second intifada hurt their aspirations for Statehood.

Gershon Baskin: All public opinion research in Palestine shows that expectations are very low. Almost no one expects that there will be significant changes on the ground. There are some expectations about a possible uprising, Israeli political and military retaliation, thoughts that something will change – mostly for the worse and there is great concern about the possibility of the economic situation turning towards the downside after a few years of great economic promise. So there is great concern, but also a sense of wide solidarity that there is no option of not going to the UN now when people don’t believe that there is hope to reach a negotiated agreement with the Netanyahu government.

Do you see a role for the European Union to revitalize the peace process? Would the Israelis and the Palestinians accept the EU as an honest broker?

Hanna Siniora: The Palestinian people believe that the EU should play the major political role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PA wants the EU not only to be the financier of the injustices, just to alleviate the pain, but really to bring peace and justice. Palestine and the region can only achieve peace and stability – the backyard of Europe, if the EU assumes such a role.

Gershon Baskin: Europe can and will do nothing without the agreement of the United States. That is perhaps a sad reality, but it is the reality. Europe is deeply divided on the Israeli-Palestinian question and it seems very unlikely that there can be a common EU policy that all 27 states will adhere to. We need the EU to serve as a counter balance to the US which continues to demonstrate a very strong bias towards Israel. But we have come to learn that the EU will not oppose the US strong leadership position in the Middle East, even if the US demonstrates weakness, as it does today.

Do you think that the protest movement in Israel could influence the political developments after September? Put differently, will security issues be likely to overshadow domestic social issues?

Hanna Siniora: Unfortunately, until now the Israeli political activism towards a two-states solution did not receive the support of the Israeli public to convince the governing leadership in Israel to achieve a breakthrough. I am convinced that the present social economic protest movement is able to bring change and new elections and a new coalition government, but at the moment not to burden with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Gershon Baskin: The current Israeli protest movement has been inspiring and full of energy. Right from the very beginning, through the present time – one month into their struggle, there is no willingness of the young leadership to stand up and play a role in dealing with the conflict. This is most unfortunate. Nonetheless, the protest movement has removed some element of cynicism from the typical Israeli public discourse and perhaps more importantly the movement has clearly demonstrated that the people have very little confidence in the national elected leadership. The government’s position in the eyes of the public has been diminished and this is a good sign in terms of public empowerment and perhaps in the not too distant future the public will connect the dots: You cannot have social justice in Israel if there is no equality between the Jewish and the Arab citizens of Israel and if Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian people.

Thank you very much Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniora.

¹ The UNSC resolution 242 has been adopted in 1967 after the Six-Day War and was to become the cornerstone of Middle East diplomatic efforts in the coming decades as its wording led to the formula “land for peace”. Cf.: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/240/94/IMG/NR024094.pdf?OpenElement

The questions were asked by Evelyn Gaiser and Michael Mertes. August 17, 2011

published

Israel, August 18, 2011

Gershon Baskin (r.) with Hanna Siniora, the palestinian Co-Director of IPCRI, at a conference jointly sponsored by IPCRI and KAS Israel

Gershon Baskin (r.) and Hanna Siniora (l.) at a conference jointly sponsored by IPCRI and KAS Israel