Today, September 23, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas submits, to the UN the application for Palestinian statehood for the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967.
What are the implications of this effort? Does it serve the Palestinian cause? And why do Israel and the U.S. oppose this action? What's the alternative?
Paradoxically, this month marks the eighteenth anniversary of when Abbas stood alongside Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in a ceremony celebrating the signing of the Oslo Accords.
As one of its architects, Abbas sold the Oslo agreement to the Palestinian people as the vehicle towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people.
But throughout the past two decades lofty promises were offered to the Palestinians, while endless negotiations across continents took place between Israel and the PA, which Abbas has headed since the death of Arafat in 2004: Madrid (1991), Oslo (1993), Wye River (1997), Camp David (2000), Taba (2001), Quartet's road map (2002), Annapolis (2007), bilateral negotiations (2008), Obama's promises for settlements freeze in Cairo (2009) and declaration of statehood within one year at the UN (2010).
But despite the fact that international law and world public opinion are overwhelmingly on the side of the Palestinians, all these efforts for establishing an independent Palestinian state were futile as they confronted the hard reality of brutal military occupation on the ground and Israeli intransigence at the negotiating table.
While the millions of Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora have been shut out of this process since Oslo, the Palestinian people living in the occupied territories have been witnessing the continued expansion of Israeli settlements on their lands as well as the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and confiscation of their sacred places.
Let's briefly review some of the facts from the past decade alone, during which Abbas was championing negotiations under the auspices of the supposedly "honest broker," the United States.
Almost 6,500 Palestinian civilians have been killed since September 2000, including over 1,500 children. Of that figure, two-thirds (over 4,400) have been killed since the Roadmap in 2003. During the same period, over 45,000 Palestinians were injured, some maimed for life, 24,000 since 2003.
There are over 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including over 250 females and children under the age of 16. Half of them were arrested after 2003, many with no charges and held under administrative detention. (Since 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained and imprisoned -- a staggering 20 percent of the total population or about 1 out of every 2 men has been detained at one point in his life under the occupation.)
According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, over 25,000 Palestinian homes were demolished since 1967 -- over half since 2003, including over 4,300 during the Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2008-2009.
There are 236 illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with over 650,000 settlers confiscating Palestinian land and displacing thousands of Palestinians. Israeli settlers have more than doubled in the last 10 years, controlling 43 percent of the land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with over 400 checkpoints and Jewish-only roads, as well as the separation Wall snaking through Palestinian territories.
Since the 2007 siege on Gaza, 95 percent of the factories and workshops in Gaza have closed and the agricultural sector and fishing industry were severely damaged, leading to over 40 percent unemployment (more than doubling the unemployment rate of 2003). The siege has also prevented reconstruction of thousands of homes destroyed in Israel's assault on Gaza in 2009. As a result of the continuing damage to the water system in Gaza, at least 95 percent of the water drawn from the system is not drinkable. The unemployment rate in the West Bank is at 17 percent. In any economy such figures lead to severe depression and abject poverty. For the past three years more than half of Gaza's population and a quarter of the West Bank depend on charity for their daily survival.
If these facts prove anything, they conclusively lead to the implosion of the disastrous path that Abbas and his cronies have embarked on for two decades. The current application for UN Palestinian statehood by the Palestinian leadership is thus an attempt to cover up the failure of its approach that offered major concessions on fundamental Palestinian rights in exchange for promises that were never realized.
For example the Palestinian Papers exposed earlier this year by Al-Jazeera demonstrated the horrifying degree to which the current Palestinian leadership and its negotiators were willing to concede behind closed doors on fundamental issues like the right of return of Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security, and sovereignty only to be rebuffed by the Israelis for more concessions.
In short, the whole premise of the Oslo process was that in exchange for the Palestinian leadership's historic recognition of the Zionist state on 78 percent of historical Palestine, Israel would in return recognize the "State of Palestine" on 22 percent of the land, namely the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. But the problem with this approach was that one party was allowed to receive all the benefits and dictate all the terms, while the other was left begging for its rights as it was stripped of all its bargaining chips.