Tuesday, 4 December 2012

(35): Palestine's UN observer status: What next?

After the ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel through Egypt, now it is the turn of Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, to join the public relations war by making sure he remains relevant in the power struggle for the support of the Palestinian people. A trip to the United Nations to receive recognition as an observer nation provides that opportunity to reassert himself.
Media organisations around the world have been celebrating the upgrade in status for the Palestinian people. Pundits have praised it as if Palestine had already become truly independent. Certainly the gesture shown by the 138 countries who voted in favour of the Palestinian observer status was a good gesture. At least it has shown that countries are getting tired of the lawlessness of Israel. Even western countries like France and Spain have voted in favour of the Palestinians, while the likes of Germany have abstained rather than thumbing their rejection on the vote. Only the United States and Canada among the economically powerful countries rejected the bid.
But the question we need to continue asking is: what next? How do Palestinians achieve statehood? Here are some important points, though not exhaustive. The first and foremost, in my opinion, is the economic independence of Egypt. If there is one country that is part and parcel of the Palestinian struggle, and in a position to influence the outcome of the conflict, then the mother of civilisations should be at the forefront. Egypt has the advantage of population, it is considered the leader of the Arab world, especially since the ascendance of Jamal Abdel Nasir. Although the rise of Saudi Arabia’s oil economy has snatched part of that role from Egypt, but it continues to provide both moral and intellectual leadership. Egypt is now under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood government, a movement that basically gave birth to Hamas, which at the moment holds the ace for any meaningful peace negotiation on Palestine. And above all, the success of the Arab awakening in Egypt solidified the effort of other countries in the Arab world.
At the moment, the United States provides aid worth $1.5 billion to Egypt annually. Out of this £250 million is economic aid while the remaining $1.3 billion is a military assistance. Other European countries also provide some aid. Now this economic package could explain why the Muhammad Mursi government could not take a tough stand on Israel’s attack on Gaza, rather they cautiously play the mediator role as the case was during Husni Mubarak, but with a dose of diplomatic support to the Palestinian people in Gaza. A visit by the Egyptian prime minister and a strong rhetoric from president Mursi in order to appease the street of both Egypt and the Arab world. At the moment it has worked, but how long will Egyptians accept a mediator role by Egypt in this conflict? This is where the question of economic independence once again becomes relevant.
Establishing economic independence is not an easy task, let alone the kind of mess that President Mursi has inherited. So what is the solution? Here are two proposals on how to address this question. The first is for a combination of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey to establish an economic quartet that can provide the same aid that the United States government provides to Egypt. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have enough resources to provide this assistance, while Turkey can provide more of the military support. But here comes the big challenge: with the exception of Turkey, the rest of the countries are wary of the Muslim Brotherhood government because it is a government that came to power on the shoulders of protesters. This has implication for their countries.
The second route is for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to work towards supporting this cause and encourage member countries to provide this aid. But as long as Egypt remains economically dependent, any recognition of Palestine on the floor of the United Nations will remain a glorified public relations tango.


Newcastle upon Tyne


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