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Palestinian Statehood, Legitimacy, and “Unity”

Palestinian Statehood, Legitimacy, and “Unity”

Rarely do I agree with more than one politician at one time, on one topic, but…

Susan Rice:

The reality is, the absolute only way to achieve our goal [of] two states living side by side … is through direct negotiations… There is no short cut.


Mahmoud Abbas:

No one can isolate Israel. No one can delegitimize Israel. It is a recognized state… We want to delegitimize the occupation, not the state of Israel.


Indeed, the Palestinian Authority (PA) can no more seek to deligitimize Israel than they can pose an “existential threat” to the state with the occasional Katyusha rocket. Unfortunately, theres not much more I agree with Abbas on.

Much as it pains me I’m even “agreeing” with Netanyahu on minor points. I agree with the conventional wisdom on this issue.

As overdue as I may think Palestinian statehood is (especially post-Oslo, and post-2003), the idea of getting it by end-running Israel at the UN is ill-advised. The fact that Israel offers so many intractables, particularly at present, is no excuse; a creation of a “state” in that body without the full cooperation of the other players in the equation, especially Israel, still means they will ultimately need those players “playing ball”. Quasi-legitimacy may introduce more problems than it solves–and given the regional realities, quasi-legitimacy is all the UN can confer. And reversing the order might just make the next step more arduous. This is not to say Israel is even close to ball-playing.

The PA will reportedly first make their application for full UN membership (making them a de facto state) at the Security Council. The US would veto the application, and and have been forced to show its hand. As unfortunate as I think that is, let’s not forget that these moves, their unpopularity, and the theatrics preceding them are similar to Israel’s 1948 moves at the UN.

I doubt there will ultimately be a UNSC vote on full membership, though. The “best” that can be hoped for at this point is some arrangement that will keep the PA from submitting and instead pursuing some face-saving measure short of the pursuit of full recognition in front of the General Assembly (which as an act of good faith the US and Israel should both vote in favor of in exchange for a good-faith return to negotiations on the part of both parties). At the UNGA, the best they can hope for is to be promoted from “non-member entity” to “non-member state” status (like the Holy See, i.e. The Vatican,) which would–among other things–leave them just where they’re sitting now.

Legitimacy and Law
The elevation of Palestine to a “non-member state” at the is unlikely to afford the PA the leverage that status would afford relative to the negotiating challenge they now (and would still) face. Though it would give them access to ostensible levers only available to states such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), to employ them would be a mistake. If one of their first moves as a state would be to provoke action by the ICC to investigate Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, such a move would make Netanyahu–or Israel in general–more difficult to negotiate with (this is not to justify Cast Lead), which would them further back than they started. Regardless of their standing at the UN, they still need to work out innumerable practical issues with their “neighbor”. And they unfortunately can’t do this without the US. Or the people of Palestine (although the IDF’s promise to regard such an act as “war” fleetingly makes me feel galvanized, too)…

Guy Goodwin-Gill, a law professor at Oxford, brings up some questions that might have the PA considering this a hasty pursuit of statehood:

What we have here, it seems to me, is a moment in which certain matters have just not been thought through. Historically, the PLO has been the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, internationally and within the United Nations [UN]. Now it is to be the state. Who, though, is the state, and what are the democratic links between those who will represent the state in the UN and the people of Palestine? An abstract entity – a state – is proposed, but where are the people?

One issue here is that the majority of Palestinians are refugees living outside of historic Palestine, and they have an equal claim to be represented, particularly given the recognition of their rights in General Assembly resolution 194 (III), among others. It is not clear that they will be enfranchised through the creation of a state, in which case the PLO must continue to speak for their rights in the UN until they are implemented.

Professor Goodwin-Gill’s paper can be found here.

Put simply, Abbas is not the legitimate leader of the people of Palestine.

I’m “not unfond” of the Quartet proposal being lobbied by their envoy Tony Blair:

Under Blair’s proposal, the Palestinians would indeed present their bid for statehood, but to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban would take the proposal under advisement, with a commitment to present it for a vote in the General Assembly by the end of the year if the Israelis and Palestinians have not returned to direct negotiations by then.

Israel’s Diplomatic Isolation
Israel’s increasing isolation in the region only adds more wrinkles and will likely cause Netanyahu to dig in and get more intransigent rather than less. Their on-again/off-again relationship with Turkey is waning and their embassy in the post-Mubarak Egypt has just been attacked. Things are sketchy on the Northern border with Syria. Netanyahu’s intransigence on settlements has put him on the outs with the Obama administration, and of course there was the “much ado” business over ” the pre-1967 borders”.

Khalil Hamra / Associated Press

Mitchell’s gone and some the latest moves seem to be backfiring on other envoys in diplomatically spectacular ways:

Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Nabil Shaath said that a plan delivered at the last minute by U.S. envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross did not meet several Palestinian demands, thus convincing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.S. was not serious in trying to negotiate peace.

Talk about waning influence…

I am not surprised the Palestinians are frustrated.

Two Palestines
Since mid-2007 there have been two Palestines to match the geographic separation. Unable to agree on a government (among other things), Hamas withdrew to “govern” Gaza exclusively and Fateh continued to manage the West Bank. The convenient withdrawal of Hamas is one set of circumstances that led to Cast Lead. With Egypt set to be under new management, the position of Gaza and the Egypt-Israel accord seems slightly more tenuous–this is just one circumstance driving the will to “unity”.

Wikimedia Commons

I began putting down notes on this topic after the Fateh/Hamas deal, first intending to post immediately after and then well ahead of the UNGA meeting and whatever move the PA made. Alas, the 11th hour has arrived…

At the time, Matt Duss wrote:

As for Hamas, the key question is why now? Hamas’s strategy thus far has been to sit back and watch Fatah fail, let the peace process crumble, and remain standing as the only viable Palestinian alternative. Going for this deal now indicates that they feel they have something to lose by continuing to stand aloof. The change to an Egyptian government less willing to rigidly enforce the United States and Israel’s red lines was also almost certainly a contributing factor.

Further, Hamas has seen its support among Gazans drop considerably. Shikaki’s polling shows “50% of Gazans are ready to participate in demonstrations to demand regime change in the Gaza Strip,” where Hamas rules, while only 24 percent of those polled in the Fatah-ruled West Bank said the same. It’s also likely that Hamas feels vulnerable with its key Arab ally and patron Bashar al-Assad facing serious unrest in Syria. The growing challenge to its rule in Gaza by even more extreme Salafist factions may have Hamas worried about its future.

The later revelations in the “Palestine Papers” didn’t buy them any special legitimacy at home either.

Nation Branding
Al Jazeera blogs on the branding moves a newly-minted State of Palestine would need to undergo, and I can’t help remembering not only Nation Branding but also an earlier post here on that same topic with regard to South Sudan. Palestine is most definitely a nation; unfortunately stamps–in this case probably even UN recognition–do not a state make.

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South Sudan Joins the Community of “Nations”

South Sudan Joins the Community of “Nations”

States, Counties, Nations, and Nation-states

Though the term “nation” is being bandied about liberally, the point is not really that South Sudan is a nation now but that it’s a sovereign State distinct from the Republic of Sudan. There are of course few places where a unified ethnic, religious, or linguistic (etc.) entity is enclosed by a single border, so it’s more a matter of degree in a post-Westphalian world. South Sudan (composed largely of black Christians vs Sudan’s Arab Muslim population) is, for instance, closer to the “nation” end of that spectrum than Afghanistan–to be rudimentary, this at least partly motivated the 21 years of Sudan’s *last* civil war. There are of course always fractal strata of nuance that cause the definition to drift the deeper you go.

It’s useful to reserve the term especially when we consider the presence or absence of “nationalism” as a threat or obstacle to a unified State (rather prominent in the case of Afghanistan, for instance).

Nation Branding

Despite this railing against what may seem a mere semantic (in the pejorative sense) issue, I do find some of the “Nation Branding” material engaging (the term is cute too). This article on the naming of what became the Republic of South Sudan is interesting:

In fact, another suggestion most Southern Sudaneses don’t like either is ‘Southern Sudan’. They discard it because the name raises fears that this name would also confuse people, as many people would think that ‘Southern Sudan’ is the Southern region within Sudan, and not a different country.

But while there are ones who oppose the ‘Sudan’ word, there are others who don’t want to lose it. The latter consider their region to be the real ‘Sudan’, while the Northern part, which has become arabized and islamized, is not. They unpolish semantics to substantiate it. ‘Sudan’, they say, etymologically means in Arabic ‘land of the black people’, which is how fairer-skinned Arabs called the lands of conquered black tribes under their power. So this would justify that the name ‘Sudan’ makes more sense in the blacks-populated South than in the Arab-occupied North.

Nationalism and the “Arab Spring”

The “nation” question has has some import when we consider the “Arab Spring”: national unity is one reason the stability of an emerging Egyptian state may have some legs–there’s more of an underlying nation there (not to mention infrastructure and institutions which don’t rely on the regime for their legitimacy) than, say, Libya. Though the site of an ancient civilization like Egypt, Libya lacks a unifying nationalism. Another example: Belgium is not a nation, though of course it is a State. Though ethnic/linguistic cohesion is not the only source of nationalism, it is interesting that Iran, for instance, is only 51% Persian.

Wilson’s promise of “self determination” has, indeed, had some tragic results.


At the time of writing, the Republic of South Sudan has been recognized by 53 UN member states, Ban Ki-Moon’s written his op-ed and South Sudan is on the verge of being the 193rd member state. UPDATE: clearly the “time of writing” has past, there was the UNSC resolution, a General Assembly vote, and now South Sudan is the 193rd member of the United Nations.

While the country may not yet have an official capitol building, the world has another geopolitical metonym–Juba–akin to “Washington” or “Brussels”. E.g., “This week Juba decided to…”

While South Sudan’s may not yet have an official national stadium, they have already contested their first national soccer match.


Omar al-Bashir’s complicity in the secession and recognition of South Sudan was critical, and his presence at the independence ceremonies had some value. On the other hand, his complicity in civil war and atrocity is a bit of a problem: he’s been indicted for war crimes by the ICC, and there are plenty of other attendees who’d supported that indictment, or would simply rather not be photographed next to him or–even worse–shaking his hand. But his proximity to the new heads of state at these ceremonies is useful to both local parties, though for different reasons (perhaps “guilt by association” for one, the opposite for the other”)

South Sudanese officials are sensitive to these largely Western concerns and are choreographing a delicate diplomatic dance to avoid awkward encounters. (The Washington Times)

REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya


The World’s Seating Chart
While there is some question regarding how and when they get their (physical) General Assembly seat–the hall is full (with 192 UN member States, another sovereign non-member observer–the Holy See–and a non-sovereign observer–Palestine); for a country that’s now independent after extremely significant tribulations, this is hyper-trivial.

A game of diplomatic musical chairs will be required because the hall of the General Assembly is full. The UN is looking at squeezing in another desk, but it could also mean moving the non-state entities The Holy See and the Palestinian observer group out of the hall. (CBC)

Incidentally, the seating arrangement is alphabetical by State name (they select their denomination–in this case they’ll choose between Republic of South Sudan and South Sudan), but the starting seat is chosen through an annual drawing. Currently Turkmenistan occupies the starting seat and Turkey the last.

From Civil War to International Armed Conflict
Out of 620,000 square kilometers area South Sudan has less than 100km of paved roads. Sudan has only 15% literacy, and its average life expectancy is 55 years. Public health and infrastructure are two sources of legitimacy–improving either by substantial degrees will take time to say the least.

Security is another source of legitimacy. Establishing formal borders between the two countries is going to be fraught, particularly over Abyei, the Blue Nile state and how to split South Kordofan. Sudan’s acknowledgement of South Sudan’s sovereignty came with the caveat as being “within the 1956 borders”: this tees off the Abyei and South Kordofan disputes as part and parcel of that acknowledgement, almost as fait accompli.

And South Kordofan is rich in oil–like Kirkuk in Iraq, the loss of which in a referendum (an this case, though, just part thereof rather than the subject itself). Instead of eliminating bloodshed, one subject of civil war becomes an issue of international dispute and combat. Like Sudan’s President Bashir, the recently “elected” governor of South Kordofan is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

USAID (2001)

Ironically, the state of Unity is not, for the most part, disputed, though its oil fields are.

Challenges Ahead
The UNSC has voted to send 7,000 peacekeepers to South Sudan to “support” the establishment of the border; thus the UNMISS replaces the outgoing UNMIS. On top of the 4,200 Abyei-bound. Ethiopian peacekeepers. In a sense, in gaining independence these border disputes graduate from civil war to Internationally Armed Conflict.

FP has a good summary of the challenges ahead.

Despite all these troubles, it’ll be interesting to watch the formation of a new country (there are plenty of new countries–but not with this level of recognition). Along with two civil wars, and millions dead, this formal secession is the result of a vote. The sound of newly-minted South Sudanese watching their flag being raised is compelling.


National Logos
By the way, also via nation-branding.info we have this rather literal chart of various countries’ “logos”:

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But they’re *our* insurgents… now

But they’re *our* insurgents… now

Note: the title of the post is meant as a playful reference to the apocryphal, “He may be an X, but he’s our X.” Now, as for whether I think we’ve really taken ownership of the insurgency through this action–not really. Perhaps more so “adopted”, even if that’s not the (certainly not stated of course) goal.

So many of my thoughts on the Libya situation and especially the no-fly zone (NFZ)/UNSC resolution are hopelessly overdue and now mostly irrelevant. This post is mostly meant to clarify a hasty and vague set of points I began to lay out to my wife (now several days ago) after a couple of days where we hadn’t yet spoken about it; those points were mainly about explaining my dubiousness re: the NFZ.

One of the most flip thoughts I had: as soon as the resolution was affirmed, hearing reports of Benghazi celebrants firing into the air was, “they really ought to conserve that ammo.”



One of the others, which still appears to have some relevance (indeed, provoking surprise) to some of the people I’ve talked to is that just being the beneficiary of the NFZ/humanitarian aid doesn’t make you a “non-combatant” (which is what some appear to envision when they think “humanitarian”). They are insurgents.

That’s OK of course; years of opposition to the CPA, Maliki’s government, and the US presence in Iraq have conditioned some to equate “insurgents” with “bad guys”! This an insurgency; as long as we’re forced to entertain reductiones ad absurdum, we might as well admit that we’re at war (albeit an aloof one–hopefully it will only de-escalate, though that does seem unlikely).

There’s a civil war in Libya, and just by taking steps that are ostensibly humanitarian, we’ve chosen sides; we are supporting the (“good”) insurgents. But the big point here is that it will be difficult to separate our aims (or the rather broad remit of UNSC 1973) from the strategic goals of the rebels. Those strategic goals may be diffuse (they’re not likely to coalesce, either; rather, we/the coalition is likely to align more closely to the goals of “elite” players as they emerge) and are likely to take a long time to achieve. Put another way, UNSC 1973 and our goals are unlikely to have the same endpoint.

What responsibility do we have to a stateless Libya (surely the “humanitarian” risks are much greater when we have a failed state in a civil war)? To the formation of a new, stable government? Even if–in one most preferable scenario–Qaddafi “steps down”/relinquishes power in some relatively peaceful fashion, are we or any part of this coalition able to step away before there’s some semblance of stability or even a “decent interval”? This has to be their revolution after all, or we risk inheriting not only the legacy of Libya from the Italians, reinforcement of the narratives of US meddling in the region, but also the amplified resentment of those who might doubt their own self-determination…

On the point of government formation, I wrote the following in an email (from my phone, with quite divided attention, so it’s even less well-formulated than its adopted parent post–cut me slack!) to a question of facilitating elections (it was an innocent question I assure you):

And absolutely–BUT we aren’t anywhere close to that yet (there could still be a Qaddafi govt a month from now unfortunately!)… Opposition is coalescing into a sort of “shadow government” and might be fairly fully formed when/if they are ready (I HAVE to assume we have or have had–or someone say the French has–a covert relationship with the opposition)

Fact is, in a post-civil war/revolution world, we shouldn’t rush into wholesale elections–preferable if there is some sort of transitional govt ready in the wings (you really can’t go straight into nat’l elections–you start running the provisional govt, can start electing local govt, then–assuming a parliamentary system–start electing PMs).

Now, bear in mind that forming a govt after parliamentary elections *could* be messy (forming coalitions, naming a prime minister and starting a cabinet)–this took what, 6-9 months after the last elections in Iraq. That’s why you want a transitional govt and can’t rush right into representational democracy. You need the country to not absolutely fall to pieces “just because” you got rid of the dictator!

Libya doesn’t have terribly solid independent institutions–and you have to have something (police, water and power, hospitals) or people may really suffer (they unfortunately probably will in some way in either case. This was a huge advantage in Egypt… So much infrastructure was independent and you had a very strong army able to take up transitional tasks (assuming they remain “transitional”) AND public acceptance of the institution.

The sources of legitimacy, even compliance, are elusive–so, apparently, are our interests.


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