By Anno Bunnik
This Friday, 193 UN member states will get the chance to vote for the accession of a new member to the United Nations: Palestine.
Looking at the map of countries that recognize the state of Palestine, it becomes evident that only Western Europe and the US remain reluctant to support the Palestinians in their statehood aspirations. As Europe’s weight in world politics is shrinking it is important to side not just with Israel, but with both nations.
Three core reasons underpin the necessity to support the Palestinian bid. The first argument is routed in the history of the conflict. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the state of Israel a day before the British left Palestine. He did not wait to negotiate with UN representatives, the Arab Palestinians or superpowers USA and USSR to obtain his goal of a Jewish state.
Ben-Gurion and his fighters proclaimed ownership, for the Jewish people, over the land that they either bought or concurred from the Arab Palestinians and the British colonial rulers. This proved to be a bold and successful strategy. Bold because it unleashed the armies of Arab states on the new state and successful because it not only managed to win the Arab-Israeli war, but also gain support and recognition from both superpowers.
The Palestinian Authority, finally, dares to take an equally bold step, grabbing the bull of history by the horns. Merely for that reason, this strategy deserves praise.
Since 1948, the Palestinians have tried various strategies to regain the land they consider as their homeland. Initially by relying on the Arab states — Egypt, Syria and Jordan — to defeat Israel in war. As these wars proved very unsuccessful for the Arabs, Palestinians increasingly sought to get in charge of their own fate. Terrorism increasingly became the number one weapon of choice, as the marginalized, divided and ill-equipped fighters distinguished this to be the only viable strategy to combat a much stronger enemy.
But terrorist attacks only brought the Palestinians more repression, revenge attacks and increased international support for Israel. Terrorism, once again, proved to be a counterproductive tactic.
The Palestinian leadership increasingly became aware that it had to recognize Israel and lay down arms to have any chance of obtaining a Palestinian state. It did so by signing the Oslo accords in 1993, in which the PLO recognized the state of Israel on 78 percent of the former British mandate of Palestine. Israel, however, did not recognize the state of Palestine on the remaining 22 percent.
The asymmetric nature of the agreement also proved to be its downfall and, consequently, negotiations have been fruitless over the past two decades. With negotiations in a deadlock and settlement construction ‘eating away’ Palestinian land, it is admirable that the Palestinian Authority chooses a third way: recognition by the UN.
Finally, the Arab Spring — or Arab Awakening — has send shock waves throughout the world. Arab citizens no longer accept to have their rights trampled by dictators. They have risen for freedom and bring an end to the endemic corruption and self-enriching elites that have ruled most of the Middle East for decades.
As Europe is rightfully proud of the French revolution, it should also fully support the Arab Bastille moment. This awakening is not just about social justice for the Egyptians or Syrians but also for the Palestinians; to live in freedom and dignity and master their own destiny. Whatever governments will be formed in the current transition phase, one aspect is set in stone: the new Egypt, Tunisia and Libya (Syria and Yemen?) will strongly support a Palestinian state.
For Europe, it is time to recognize not just a bold strategy for peace, but also to recognize the current momentum that could determine future relations with the Arab world. Europe should choose to build strategic relations with the new Middle East, fostering peace, political liberalization and economic development. A first step in that strategy would be voting ‘yes’ in Friday’s vote, and recognize not just the state of Israel, but also the state of Palestine.