Palestine statehood bid: is about rights or separation?

Last week, Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the U.S., was quoted by USA Today as saying total separation is needed between Palestinians and Israelis.

The statement came during a press conference on the Palestinian statehood bid sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington. Areikat’s exact statement was, “I believe, as a first step we [Israelis and Palestinians] need to be totally separated”

Notable neoconservatives such as Elliot Abrams quickly fired off a response arguing that Areikat’s comments were examples of anti-Semitism in action. Areikat was forced to step back from his comments, telling the Huffington Post’s Joshua Hersh, “Under no circumstances was I saying that no Jews can be in Palestine.”

Instead of perpetuating the accepted rhetoric that the two state solution is running out of time and separation is a natural remedy to the problems endemic to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Areikat and the entire Palestinian leadership are in a position to reformulate the conflict narrative to highlight the rights based nature of Palestinian thinking.

However, Areikat’s statements reflect the stale thinking pervasive inside the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. The narrative of separation, the oft cited claim of two states for two peoples, is not realistic at the present moment given the entrenchment of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank. Most Palestinians are aware of this and while they argue that statehood is their legitimate right, they also understand that their constant deprivation of rights is the core of their grievance with Israel and, by extension, the Palestinian leadership.

Given their fight for political survival and legitimacy, not to mention the looming economic crisis in the West Bank, it is unlikely that the PA/PLO will take the bold moves necessary to challenge Israel’s dominance over the Israeli-Palestinian narrative. Instead, we can expect more simplistic and unrealistic statements like Areikat’s comment on separation.

If the United Nations statehood bid fails, which is increasingly likely given that the United States has promised a veto in the Security Council, the PA might soon be dealing with a fed up and financially strained population. The proliferation of young activist movements inside the West Bank and Gaza, armed with the social media knowledge necessary to challenge the Israeli-Palestinian narrative in the hearts and minds of international civil society, might just lead a movement of civil disobedience which will bring the rhetoric of the conflict closer to reality.

**This post was written last week but due to technical difficulties with our hosting it is only being posted now.**