Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations, 23 September 2011.(Eric Thayer/Reuters)
September 26, 2011
At the United Nations building in New York City on Friday, 23 September 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) addresses the General Assembly in his bid to obtain full recognition of Palestine, as a state, in the United Nations.
As President Obama, and Prime Ministers Cameron and Netanyahu were when they spoke, Mahmoud Abbas is sharply dressed and wears a suit.
There is only one major difference between him and the others, but a crucial one: Mahmoud Abbas gives his speech in Arabic.
Mahmoud Abbas wears the imperialists’ clothes but does not speak the imperialists’ language of choice. Abbas, in the eyes of Obama, Cameron and Netanyahu, represents the "other" — the "majority world" (often mistakenly called "developing world"), the oppressed. He represents the people that, for them, do not count.
For all the talk about the PA bid putting the US and Israel under pressure, for all the nervousness shown by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama and the rest, they do not, at the end of the day, care the slightest about it.
They do not care if all the polls in the world showed that the majority of people asked are in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state and they do not care if Abbas wears a suit or not.
Abbas could have worn Arafat’s famous kuffiyeh, the checkered scarf that has become a Palestinian nationalist symbol; the result would have been the same. In their heads, there will always be masters (them) and servants (the others). Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians, today, still represent the other.
And the other does not have a voice, even at the UN.
The UN is one of the most undemocratic bodies in the world. After all, five permanent members have the right to veto anything they disagree with. The decisions of those five members, the masters — United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China — overrule the actions that the rest of the world is sometimes willing to take.
In a way, this arrangement mirrors internationally what goes on in most countries: A powerful elite living the high-life and making decisions for everyone else while the majority of humanity is struggling to make ends meet.
The UN is therefore part of the problem and will never bring justice to the Palestinians. It is precisely this body which exacerbated in 1947 the mess the Palestinians are currently in by passing a resolution calling for the partition of Palestine without the consent of its indigenous people. Thus, the UN violated the Palestinians’ right to self-determination at the very moment other colonized peoples were exercising theirs.
Since then, dozens of resolutions have been adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council upholding the Palestinians’ right of self-determination, demanding an end of occupation and colonization and Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands, and the right of return of the refugees.
Yet without exception, those resolutions have been violated by Israel with total impunity. Why? Because Israel is part of the masters’ clique. Israel is in their club and represents the same interests.
While it is easy to understand the PA’s motivations in making a move at the UN — taking matters for the first time in a long time into their own hands, not succumbing to pressure, making a statement — it has unfortunately very little chance to make any real difference on the ground. By going to the UN, the PA continues to accept the rules of its master/oppressor.
In history, there has never been a case of a master relinquishing power for philosophical and altruistic reasons.
Did the slave masters suddenly decide that it was morally reprehensible to use other people as slaves? Did the segregationists in the US decide that Rosa Parks, after all, should be able to sit in the seat of her choice when going on a bus?
Did white South Africans, after the Sharpeville massacre, think that killing black women, kids and innocents was not what their beloved God or nationalist ideology had in mind? Did Hosni Mubarak after more than thirty years in power think that it was time to have a real democracy in Egypt?
They did not.
Those struggles were won by people’s power. When the people said NO. When the people, despite eventually facing terrible consequences, organized, took on the streets, marched, chanted, went on strike, united, rebelled and said "we will not have it your way any longer."
What will make the road shorter for the Palestinians — who have already struggled and endured for so long — is to mobilize as much international solidarity as possible, to shift the balance in favor of the people faster.
And this is on the way. Palestinian civil society has done precisely this with its 2005 civil society call for boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS).
All over the world, people acting on the BDS call are building a movement, and building momemtum that no one can control because it comes from the bottom up, is in constant evolution and keeps re-inventing itself. A movement based on human rights and international law.
This movement, accompanied by other initiatives such as the International Solidarity Movement, the Free Gaza Movement, the flotillas and "'flytilla," the Viva Palestina convoys, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and many other creative and spontaneous actions hav isolated and delegitimized Israel, a rogue state, far more effectively than years of endless and fruitless negotiations.
People are taking matters into their own hands; they are writing and making, history. The masters know that this has happened many time in the past. The thought of it happening again sends shivers into their expensive suits.
Frank Barat is a human rights activist and coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He has edited two books, Gaza in Crisis (Haymarket/Penguin) with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe and the forthcoming Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation (Pluto Press) with Asa Winstanley.