Will the two-state UN bid make a difference on the ground?

Festivities were held in Ramallah throughout the day to celebrate the Palestine Liberation Organization’s bid at the United Nations to receive an upgrade to non-member observer state. It’s a bit ironic that the Palestinian Authority chose Ramallah for these official festivities—isn’t East Jerusalem supposed to be the Palestinian capital according to the two-state solution?

And President Mahmoud Abbas’ move is a two-state move, as some of my students angrily pointed out this week. One girl, who is the 18-year-old granddaughter of Palestinian refugees who fled the massacre in Deir Yassin, said that Abbas is giving up her right of return. Another young woman said Abbas and the PA need to go—as does Hamas. She likened both to dictators.

I also heard this sentiment throughout “Operation Pillar of Defense.” While many of my students were excited to see the Palestinian moqawama (resistance) holding its own as Israel pummeled the Gaza Strip, some also felt that there is a need for something entirely new. Not the PA, not Fateh, not Hamas. This flies in the face of mainstream media reports—written by people who have very limited contact with Palestinians—that “Operation Pillar of Defense” represented a tipping point during which Hamas garnered more support. Support for Hamas was already quite strong at the university I teach in; Fateh had a weak showing during local elections in October.

What I saw change during the Israeli assault on Gaza is that my students were energized—they wanted to do something for Palestine. It was no longer enough to keep Palestine in their hearts; the idea of “existence is resistance” was no longer enough either. But before they got anything off the ground, “Operation Pillar of Defense” was over and the feeling of urgency waned a bit. They’re used to the grind of occupation—the checkpoints, the restrictions on freedom of movement, that they can’t visit their grandparents villages. And then the UN bid was upon us all.

Many of my students support the UN bid. It feels like some sort of victory, even if it’s only on paper. Some feel it might bring some sort of change by raising international awareness of the Palestinians’ plight.

My Arabic teacher who lives in East Jerusalem but is a Palestinian citizen of the state—and who holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies—said that he supported the bid because, even though there is a one-state reality on the ground, Israel will never recognize one state. The UN bid would be a step towards independence, he said. When asked about refugees and lands inside of 1948, he shrugged, “I’ve given up… [A state based on] 1967 borders is all we can hope for.”

Although East Jerusalem would be the capital of that state, the Palestinian side of the city was quiet today. Life went on—suggesting that for those who don’t live in Area A, little will change. For those who do live in Area A, little is likely to change, also.

But, the bid could bring more attention to Palestine. It might make people around the world scratch their heads and ask themselves, “Wait, what is a foreign army, the Israeli army, doing in a sovereign state? Why are they transferring their civilian population to a neighboring country?”

The international community needs to wake up and, if the UN bid helps facilitate an awakening, that’s a good thing. But I’m worried about the implications of the move and, as I believe that one state is the only just solution to the conflict, I’m not sure where I stand on the bid. I’m concerned that it might preclude my students from going home.

But part of me senses that UN recognition won’t stop the next generation from reaching their ancestors’ lands. The young woman whose grandparents came from Deir Yassin is quiet, shy, and a good student. I was shocked when she told me, casually, that she once snuck into Israel without a permit and spent a day in Jerusalem. She is nothing if not determined and a piece of paper, or lack of one, won’t stop her.

As for the childish, impudent Israeli reaction to the UN bid, it just proves that this government–like those before it–will not tolerate the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. 65 years ago to the day, Israel was created by a UN vote. The Arabs did not agree to the move. There were no negotiations. It was unilateral. Ironically, by rejecting the PA’s attempt to do exactly what was done to establish Israel, Israel is now delegitimizing its very foundation.