September 9, 2011

A Palestinian delegation of diplomats and businessmen discussed the imminent Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations in a September 9, 2011 roundtable co-hosted by the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and International Security Program. Hariri Center director Michele Dunne moderated the discussion.

The roundtable began with legal advisor Hiba Husseini’s opening remarks regarding the merits of seeking statehood recognition at the United Nations. She argued the primary reason is the lack of progress in bilateral peace negotiations while facts on the ground race ahead. Ms. Husseini underscored the Palestinian preference for negotiations first and foremost, but as that channel remains stalled, the UN option, which does not preclude the resumption of talks, is the only viable one at present.   Additionally, she noted recognition would provide the Palestinians access to international public and private law as well as international institutions, such as the International Court of Justice and World Trade Organization. In response to a question regarding how the current bid is different from the 1988 declaration of statehood, Ms. Husseini explained that the 1988 declaration led to bilateral recognition of Palestine by 125 states, but not to UNGA non-member status.  

Businessman Zahi Khouri said that fear was the central impediment to peace and the benefits that would come from statehood; fear generates the extremism that leads to violence and thus to continuing Israeli security domination. Khouri highlighted the many economic benefits that would come from statehood: access to international trade and economic agreements, greater credibility for businessmen, the reduction of the import/export disparity between Israel and the West Bank, and ending Palestine as a captive market for Israel.  

Ambassador Hind Khoury discussed the current diplomatic and political context. The Arab spring has energized the Arab world, increased Palestinians’ self confidence and spurred current reassessment of the paradigm of direct bilateral negotiations. The United Nations bid, she continued, is not only in keeping with the drive for a two-state solution, but also provides hope that progress is possible. She also emphasized the challenge posed by the status of Palestine as a penetrated society at every level. The Palestinian Authority does not control a majority of its own territory and as such is placed in a precarious position. She said that Palestinians still consider the United States a necessary participant in diplomacy, as Israel will accept no other mediator.  

Businessman Nafez Husseini pointed to the Arab Peace Initiative as a serious missed opportunity that could have led to a two-state solution. The initial plan based on land for peace had been put aside by Israel. Negotiations Support Unit advisor Wassim Khazmo asserted that the UN bid does not mean Palestinians will not engage directly with Israel; it is simply an effort to set the record straight – to “stop negotiating about what is to be negotiated” and build a more solid foundation for talks.  

In response to questions, panelists discussed the relative merits and consequences of pursuing a UNSC vote on statehood or merely a UNGA bid, and said that the Palestinian leadership had not yet made a final decision. They also indicated that Fatah-Hamas talks to implement the May 2011 reconciliation agreement were on hold until the UN effort is completed.