Seventy-five years after the Palestinians rejected the territorial partition decreed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, they are back before the Assembly to ask that the Palestinian National Authority be promoted in category from a UN “observer entity” to a “non-member observer state,” on a par with the Vatican. In a world that has changed profoundly, and where new powers have emerged, Palestine seems to enjoy a sure majority among the 193 member states. In this ambit no one can exercise a right of veto — unlike on the Security Council, where the United States blocked the Palestinian petition to be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.
For an entity such as the Palestinian Authority — which, though having progressed in its institutions, lacks the essential attributes of a state, beginning with sovereignty — Thursday’s vote has an essentially symbolic character. But in spite of the vehement opposition of the Netanyahu government and of the United States, this is perhaps the last opportunity to re-launch a peace process aimed at enabling the two states, Israel and Palestine, to coexist in peace and security.
The experience of recent years has shown that Israelis and Palestinians cannot advance without a suitable prod from the international community, which Obama might seek to arrange in his second mandate. Europe, however, is divided by its historical impediments. Here in Spain, the Rajoy government seems finally about to incline toward a vote in favor. This is what circumstances call for, as well as the values and interests of Spain concerning an issue that calls for consensus.
Israel fears that this may open the door for the Palestinians to denounce them for human rights violations during the occupation and in some of its military operations. Tel Aviv is also worried about the legal consolidation of the 1967 frontiers, which it rejects.
The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who needs this vote for his survival in Ramallah, ought to be prudent. Indeed, he has said he is open to unconditional prior negotiations, once the process is under way. Thus it is unacceptable that Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Liebermann, has threatened to eject him in the case of a positive vote, while the US warns of a suspension of aid to the Palestinians in the face of what is a peaceful step.
Israel made the mistake of not seeing that Arafat — whose body was exhumed on Tuesday to ascertain the exact cause of his death — had served as a bulwark against the Islamization of the Palestinian cause, as now represented by Hamas. The mirage of a status quo, which is already being broken by the force of Palestinian demographics, is not going to ensure the security of Israel, as has been apparent in the latest crisis with Hamas in Gaza.
It would be desirable if this November 29 were to close the long parenthesis, sown with violence and death, that was opened in 1947 — allowing history to take up again where it was broken off by a serious mistake on the part of the Palestinians and the Arab world, and by an intransigent attitude on the part of Israel. But this will happen only if both parties sincerely try to make their negotiations something more than a token gesture.