Aborted State? The UN Initiative and New Palestinian Junctures

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This collection of essays, comprising commentary and analysis published in Jadaliyya during 2011-2012 as the Palestinian bid at the United Nations unfolded, examines the Palestinian UN initiative from the key perspectives of strategy and leadership; international law and statehood; US foreign policy; and representation. It also includes more recent material from the 2012 sequel to the 2011 initiative, and relevant appendices.

Like critical junctures before it, the statehood bid marks yet another turning point in the fate of the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination. This collection attempts to trace the pulse of political developments leading up to it as well as to highlight the most relevant social, political, and economic elements that will comprise the coming phase.


“The announcement by the Palestinian leadership that it was going to the United Nations to advance the cause of Palestinian sovereignty elicited a diverse and often contradictory array of reactions from analysts and activists alike. Leave it to the contributors of Jadaliyya and co-editors of this volume to put it all in perspective and explain in such a clear-headed and informed manner what this step means for the Palestinians, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the world.”

James L. Gelvin, Professor of History, UCLA, and author of The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War


“As the ignominious Oslo process grinds on its predicted course after twenty shameful years, while Israel—always with US support—carries forward its settlement programs and atrocities in brazen violation of international law, abandoning any pretense of decent respect for the opinions of mankind, Palestinians face new dilemmas, prospects, and opportunities.  The penetrating studies collected here provide an indispensable basis for thinking through what should be done, and acting upon the conclusions.”

Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


“The Palestinian statehood bid at the UN in 2011 marked a turning point in the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. This excellent collection of essays by leading scholars provides invaluable insight into its legal and political origins and ramifications. It offers a comprehensive analysis of the challenges facing the Palestinian national movement in the wake of the Arab uprisings, including its strategies of resistance and crisis of representation. This book is an indispensible read to anyone interested in understanding whether the UN bid is to be lauded for providing the means to internationalize the question of Palestine or denounced for attempting to revive, rather than replace, the Oslo peace.”

Leila Farsakh, University of Massachusetts Boston 

“A vitally important and intellectually compelling examination of a decisive moment in Palestinian history with pronounced implications for the future of the Palestinian people.”

Sara Roy, Harvard University

Editors' Info

Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and activist. She is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and is a Co-Editor of Jadaliyya

Mouin Rabbani is a Contributing Editor of Middle East Report and a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies. He is a Co-Editor of Jadaliyya


from "Introduction"

As the 1993 Oslo Agreement approaches its twentieth anniversary, two decades of evidence provide a definitive body of proof of its congenital inability to affect Israeli occupation, Palestinian statehood, or Israeli-Palestinian peace. More damningly, Oslo has failed even as an interim arrangement to bring these objectives more clearly into view. Twenty years after the handshake on the White House lawn consecrated this agreement, the prospect of Israel’s colonial domination of the Palestinian people being replaced by peaceful co-existence between equals appears exponentially more remote than it did in 1993.

The short explanation is that Oslo was never intended as a process of decolonization. Indeed, terms like “occupation,” “statehood,” “right of return,” and “self-determination” are nowhere to be found in the text of either the original Declaration of Principles or any of the subsidiary agreements negotiated in subsequent years. Rather, Oslo was designed to consolidate and perpetuate Israeli control by reconfiguring it in light of the political transformations ushered by the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising, the end of the Cold War, and the 1990-1991 Gulf Crisis.

Thus the Palestinian Authority (PA) replaced the civil administration of Israel’s military government in the occupied territories without altering the structure of Israeli control. The PA assumed responsibility for policing its people and providing them with services, but exercised jurisdiction over only limited and isolated territorial enclaves. Not less importantly, the international community was replaced by the United States, more often than not in the form of Dennis Ross. Relevant United Nations resolutions and international law were shredded wholesale at the twin altars of American supremacy and the security of Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, and in what many consider the ultimate indictment of the process, Israeli colonial expansion in the form of Jewish settlements accelerated at an exponential pace relative to the years before Oslo.

The entire edifice came crashing down in 2000. The failed Camp David summit demonstrated that the maximum Israel was prepared to countenance on each and every issue of substance fell far short of the minimum any Palestinian leader—no matter how accommodationist—was prepared to accept. As the ensuing 2000-2005 uprising petered to an end and Yasir Arafat was replaced by Mahmoud Abbas, renewed Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, under the exclusive sponsorship of first the Bush and then Obama administrations, confirmed the view that negotiation had become an end in itself. Its strategic objective: the renewal of process. Rather than transform the status quo, it confirmed it.

By early 2011 the leadership presided over by Mahmoud Abbas was in a situation almost as unenviable as that of the Palestinian people. It had lost not only the 2006 parliamentary election to the Hamas movement, but control of the Gaza Strip to the Islamists as well. Meanwhile, the anticipated promise of Obama’s administration came to nothing as the new president’s Middle East policy—with Ross still in a pivotal role—was characterized by an almost seamless continuity with that of his neo-conservative predecessor. For its part, Israel was ruled by the world’s most radically right-wing elected government.

Added to the gamut of strategic, political, and economic challenges confronting Abbas was the wave of uprisings sweeping across the Arab world and sweeping away decades-old authoritarian rulers. Feeling pressure to act before others acted against him, and equally driven to despair by Israel and the Americans, the Palestinian leader turned to the United Nations. What some denounced as a tactical ploy to revive rather than replace the Oslo process, others lauded for its potential to internationalize the question of Palestine and see off the formula of fruitless bilateralism and destructive US diplomatic hegemony that had prevailed since the early 1990s.


As the contributions to this compendium make clear, the Palestinian initiative at the UN marks a turning point in Palestinian fortunes. Between fears about the status of Palestinian rights and hopes for a definitive rupture with Oslo, most authors agree that this event is more significant for what it signals than what it accomplishes. Like critical junctures before it, the statehood bid marks yet another turning point in the fate of the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination. This collection attempts to trace the pulse of political developments leading up to it as well as to highlight the most relevant social, political, and economic elements that will comprise the coming phase. 


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