Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza and the West Bank last Thursday to celebrate their historic, but symbolic victory at the United Nations. In a vote of 138 – 9, the general assembly decided to grant Palestine non-member observer status. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank likened the overwhelming majority vote to a Palestinian birth certificate.
The world knows that Palestinian independence can only come through negotiations with Israel, but the vote was a huge step as it acknowledged the legitimacy in the international community of a future Palestinian country. The new status has given Palestinians hope where it has been absent for decades and more importantly it has given them a little bit of power on the international stage.
Israel along with the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic and five other micro-nations decided to vote against the upgrade status simply because the vote was symbolic and didn’t advance the peace process. Not only did these nations vote against the promotion bid, but some are now retaliating against Palestine because of their victory. Many don’t realize that it was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who forced Abbas’ hand to go to the UN in the first place.
Three years ago, negotiations broke down between Israel and Palestine after Israel refused to reinstate a ban on the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Would you negotiate with a party that was in the middle of building houses on your land? Mahmoud Abbas didn’t think so either and took the only non-violent avenue that was open to him, the UN.
You see, the United Nations has something called the International Criminal Court (ICC), an entity that Palestine did not have access to until now. No doubt Abbas has his sights on the court so that he can try and put a halt on Israeli settlement expansion, settlements that have long been deemed illegal under international law. Perhaps he thinks when the settlement building stops, real negotiations can start.
The ICC is the only logical reason why Israel and their allies voted against Palestine’s upgraded status. The non-member status is widely considered progress and you don’t vote against progress unless you personally have something to lose, in this case power. Historically, any show of strength, rule or independent action against a controlling power is punished, regrettably for Palestine this time is no exception.
The day following the vote, Israel decided to approve new construction projects in occupied East Jerusalem. This action won’t have much of an effect on Palestinians as they haven’t stopped expansion in the first place. Knowing this, Israel decided to withhold $120 million in Palestinian tax revenue yesterday. This money is used to pay civil servants’ salaries including the police. Without this money, violence might break out in the west bank for the first time since the last intifada ended in 2005, which is perhaps what Israel intends. This action serves no other purpose.
The United States, Israel’s historic ally in the region voted against Palestine’s bid and the US congress was contemplating withholding aid to the Palestinian Authority. The US was quick to show their displeasure in Israel’s new settlement plans, but words are just words and nothing will likely come of it. The US is not about to withhold aid to Israel.
Canada like everything these days decided to follow in America’s footsteps and vote no. Following the vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper went a step further by having Canada temporarily recall its Palestinian and UN envoys in protest. The Conservative government is also contemplating cutting its aid to Palestine. As furious as the Harper Government has appeared to be with Palestine, they followed the leader again in regards to blasting Israel’s new settlement construction plans and withholding tax payments. Again, their words are just words and like Israel says, they will not be told what to do. Anyone else see the double standard here?
I am 100% certain that history will show these two great western democracies to be on its opposite side. Whether it’s through peace or war, the US and Canada have shown nothing but contempt for Palestinians. The US can no longer be looked at as a bi-partisan mediator (not that it ever could) and Canada’s reputation as peace keepers and unbiased negotiators has all but drowned in the toilet.
When the people of Palestine look at these countries who voted against what was essentially a symbolic creation of their state, why would they take their desire for peace seriously? The aid money might help a little, but it amounts to nothing more than charity. Contrary to what you might think, that is not what they want, they want a country. By voting no last Thursday, not only did nine countries not acknowledge that fact, they voted against it.