Noura Erakat and Mouin Rabbani, editors, Aborted State? The UN Initiative and New Palestinian Junctures. Washington, DC: Tadween Publishing, 2013.
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Noura Erakat and Mouin Rabbani (NE & MR): The book represents a compilation of articles and documents published by Jadaliyya during the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations in 2011-2012. We felt this moment represents—for better or worse—a critical juncture in Palestinian history and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, deserving of proper analysis and contextualization. It will either mark the moment at which Palestinians began to definitively disengage from the Oslo framework that has dominated their world for the past two decades and must, alongside the 1948 Nakba, be seen as the most catastrophic development in contemporary Palestinian history. Alternatively, it forms yet another attempt by a leadership lacking in strategic vision, tactical acumen, and political dynamism, to revive Oslo yet again. As such, it marks the last hurrah of the Palestinian national movement as we have known it since the 1950s. Thus far, the latter interpretation certainly seems the more sensible.
Nevertheless, these things also have the potential to take on a life of their own, driving their sponsors in directions they have not anticipated or may not want, and even marginalizing or consuming them in the process. Despite the resumption of bilateral negotiations, the potential to shift away from the Oslo framework remains viable precisely because the options created by the statehood bid remain available. But in view of the present Palestinian leadership’s regional and international alliances, vested interests, and economic constraints, this is highly unlikely.
Regardless of outcome, the broader point is that one way or another, this represents a critical moment that deserves analysis and reflection beyond mere reporting of actual events.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?
NE & MR: The book is divided into four sections that examine what we believe to be the main themes highlighted by the statehood bid. “National Liberation Strategies” examines the bid from the point of view of a viable Palestinian national strategy, and the lack thereof. “International Law and Statehood” analyzes the proper role of international law, if any, in achieving Palestinian self-determination in light of legal strategies used by other colonized peoples, together with the new realities that exist on the ground. “US Foreign Policy” concerns the elephant in every room and china shop, and addresses the crucial role of the United States as what objectively can only be characterized as a direct participant in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A final section entitled “Representation” focuses on the broader issue of the crisis of representation that Palestinians have been experiencing for at least the past two decades, and how the statehood bid ameliorates and intensifies it in various ways.
The contributions to this volume represent points of view that are both critically for and against the UN initiative. Still, they are written from a common perspective seeking to promote Palestinian self-determination. The book does not provide equal space to those who support Palestinian rights and those who do not think they should have any. Since the majority of essays were written around the time of the initial 2011 Palestinian application to the United Nations, a number of additional contributions look at this question one year later. We have also included key documents, among them the speeches of Mahmoud Abbas, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Barack Obama to the UN General Assembly in September 2011.
J: How does this work connect to and/or depart from your previous research and writing?
NE & MR: We have both been involved in research and advocacy for Palestinian self-determination throughout most of our lives, and in this respect this volume fits right in. Both of us also believe that a more intensive exchange of views and perspectives on the key issues addressed in this collection are essential and indeed a pre-requisite for the reconstruction of the Palestinian national movement and the development of a coherent and effective national strategy. The contents reflect and contribute to broader conversations on the Palestinian question as well as internal ones amongst Palestinians themselves. On this score as well, this volume contributes to our earlier and existing work.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
NE & MR: The book is intended both for a general audience that would like to enhance its understanding of how supporters of Palestinian self-determination view the UN initiative. Why was there not unanimous support amongst Palestinians? Why did legal scholars disagree about its implications for the rights of refugees? What was the Palestinian leadership thinking and did it have a Plan B? The anthology aims to answer those questions, making it a good fit within both graduate and undergraduate university classes, as well as beyond, among a general readership.
This book is also intended for people who have been part of the debates addressed in this collection of essays and would like to explore these various perspectives in greater depth. It therefore should also benefit long-time advocates, writers, and scholars who are similarly concerned about the political impasse that has faced Palestinians globally since at least the onset of the Oslo accords.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
NE: I am working on a couple of pieces of legal scholarship, as well as an essay on international law and the Palestinian question. My current legal scholarship explores the impact of the Obama administration’s policy of targeted killings upon the international law and self-defense. Another piece examines the impact of overlapping refugee legal regimes in the Middle East on Palestinian refugees during secondary forced displacement, as is now the case in Syria. The essay regarding the Palestinian question attempts to unpack whether international law has been part of the problem, or the solution, or neither, in response to Israel’s settler-colonial project.
MR: I am writing a book with Norman Finkelstein that examines how the internationalization of the “Question of Palestine” can contribute to achieving Palestinian self-determination and peace in the Middle East, in accordance with international law and the international consensus on the relevant questions.
Excerpt from Aborted State? The UN Initiative and New Palestinian Junctures
From the Foreword, by Richard Falk
Ever since the collapse of European colonialism, the side in a conflict that controls this moral and legal high ground has generally, although not invariably, prevailed over an opponent with hard power superiority. Palestinian reliance on non-violence has recently been dramatized by an extraordinary series of lengthy hunger strikes by Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons without charge or trial. These have in duration surpassed those of IRA prisoners in 1982, which eventually led London to change its approach to the IRA. This shift thus enabled negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. While not perfect, the Agreement has led to a generally peaceful process of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland, replacing what had been previously regarded as a struggle without a foreseeable end. It is in this regard most unfortunate that the world media has looked the other way during the Palestinian prisoner strikes, and done so despite years of lecturing the Palestinians that if they adopted non-violent tactics their cause would experience an immediate upsurge of sympathetic attention.
Today, most Palestinians are not only disillusioned with the United Nations and international law, but also with their own leadership. The Palestinian leadership works within established inter-governmental channels of traditional diplomacy augmented with awkward periodic shows of deference to American political priorities. Each episode in the Peace Process constructed on the basis of the Oslo Declaration of Principles has ended in frustration for the Palestinians, and is coupled with mutual recriminations that assign blame for the failure, with the Palestinian side represented in the media as mainly responsible for the disappointment and Israel lauded for its supposed generosity. What often follows is a perverse reaffirmation of the confidence of both sides that “the process” forms the only viable option for a peaceful settlement, which has led to a cycle of raised and shattered expectations associated with the resumption of direct negotiations.
It is here that bewilderment merges with disillusionment. Why give credibility to a structure of negotiation that is so deeply flawed? Can any sane person expect such a negotiation to lead to a just outcome when the intermediary is both the most powerful political actor on the global stage and an explicitly unconditional partisan of the stronger side? The unintentionally candid Dennis Ross in his diplomatic memoir tells it all when he indicates that the central question that tormented him throughout the 2000 Camp David negotiations was “Will the Israelis swallow this?” He never asks, or even considers, the relevance of the complementary issue, “will the Palestinians swallow this?” Or rather, “can, should the Palestinians swallow this?” This double standard is so revealing because it discloses the unconscious depths of the American approach: defer to Israeli sovereign consent while providing the Palestinians with a single alternative: accept what is on offer. In his long book, Ross never pauses to reflect on how odd it should seem for an “honest broker” to consider the responses of only on one side to the conflict.
This last observation brings us back to the statehood bid. In one respect, as has been ably argued by John Quigley in his The Statehood of Palestine, Palestine is already a state. It has garnered over a hundred diplomatic recognitions by governments since the 1988 PLO Declaration of Independence, and subsequently established a governmental presence within relatively fixed boundaries. Of course, this PLO proposed resolution of the conflict was the most gigantic territorial concession made by either side since the end of World War II, seemingly accepting a Palestinian state limited to the territories occupied in 1967. These territories constitute only twenty-two percent of historic Palestine and form less than half the territory allotted to an Arab state pursuant to the partition of Palestine proposed by the United Nations in General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947), rejected at the time as unfair by the Palestinians and the Arab states. With hindsight, it should not be surprising that Israel has offered the Palestinians nothing in response to acknowledge the significance of their willingness to normalize relations with Israel on a basis that evinced a clear intention to resolve the conflict.
Despite this background to the statehood bid of 2011 and 2012, it is correct to appreciate that United Nations certification of Palestinian statehood gives the claim considerable additional political weight. The American effort to defer indefinitely the Palestinian Authority’s 2011 bid for United Nations membership bears on whether an acknowledgement of statehood without membership is a step forward for the Palestinian people. It becomes questionable whether General Assembly recognition of Palestine as a state entitled the enhanced observer status is of sufficient practical benefit to offset the earlier, more fundamental UN rebuff by the Security Council.
[Excerpted from Aborted State? The UN Initiative and New Palestinian Junctures, by Noura Erakat and Mouin Rabbani, by permission of the authors. Copyright © 2013 Tadween Publishing. For more information, or to order a copy of the book, click here.]