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What Would Palestinian Statehood Change?

I remember the first time I visited the United Nations.

I walked through the courtyard, marveling at every flag of every nation majestically poised against the backdrop of the beautiful, glass building. It felt like a poetic symbol of world peace—the peaceful presence of every country, and the fragile yet powerful construction of the building itself as well as its literal transparency. I reflected on world conflicts, radically hoping that with this drive of dedication and unity, they could be solved. I started looking for the Palestinian flag. I saw it for a moment, its red triangle dramatically cutting through the black upper band, uniting it with its characteristic white and green. I smiled, but then realized that there was star in the center of the triangle, meaning that it was Jordan, not Palestine. I kept looking. No matter what combination of the green, black, red, and white that denote the many Arab countries represented at the United Nations, Palestine was nowhere to be found.

Later, I learned that Palestine was not recognized by the United Nations.  “The United Nations Security Council does not formally recognize Palestine,” a tour guide told me. “Although Palestine is permitted to send a representative to the United Nations as an observer, Palestine itself does not have a vote on any resolution.”

To me, this perfectly epitomized the Palestinian plight—observing and living under occupation—consequences of decisions made by others—with no control of their own political destiny.

On September 20th, the Palestinian Authority (PA) plans to request full membership as a Palestinian State, formally recognized by the United Nations Security Council. Many hope that this means that Palestine will finally have the chance to vote on resolutions and raise its flag in front of the United Nations as a legitimate and internationally recognized nation.

Barack Obama has already vowed to veto the measure in symbolic support of Israel, and more importantly, the continued political approval of Washington’s powerful pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC.  However, even if the United Nations were to unanimously vote in favor of Palestine, this proposed version of “Palestinian statehood” would ironically only legalize and legitimize the status quo.

If the United Nations were to accept the Palestinian Authority’s request for statehood, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) would cease to represent the Palestinian people at the United Nations. Instead, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which represents only Palestinians in the West Bank, excluding those in Gaza and the 12 million members of the Palestinian Diaspora, would be the new representative for “Palestine.” In an internationally recognized Palestinian state, the internationally acknowledged Palestinian population would be reduced from twelve million to two million. The political needs of Palestinians living outside the West Bank—in Gaza and refugee camps across the Middle East, as well as throughout the international Diaspora—would not be addressed under the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian Authority, though theoretically sympathetic to refugees, does not politically represent them. If a Palestinian state were established, only the refugees whose homes fell within its scant borders would be given the long-awaited right to return home. The remaining literal millions of refugees whose homes fall on what is now Israeli land would still cling to their keys, trapped in an eternal displacement. Palestinians who though they have become Israeli citizens, face institutionalized racism as Arabs in the “Jewish State,” would only be further alienated, now that they could be told to “go home.” Palestinian statehood would do little to progressively reconcile the two peoples.

Israel has already informed the Palestinian Authority that Palestinians will not have sovereignty, an army, control of their borders and water resources, or even control over the number of refugees that are allowed to return to the Palestinian state. There is no legal measure against Israel building settlements on Palestine’s “new” land that hasn’t already been ignored. Even if there were such a resolution, the Palestinian Authority lacks the political or military capacity to meaningfully enforce it without international cooperation.

Israel is left unscathed, and arguably benefits from this version of Palestinian statehood. If Palestine were a legally recognized state, most media outlets would portray this as a successfully implemented two state solution and end to the infamous Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In reality, Israel would continue to be able to occupy this Palestinian state, undisturbed by the concerns of the outside world so long as they accept the myth that an unenforced political solution can solve a humanitarian crisis.

Palestine, and the Palestinians of the Diaspora who embody and perhaps hope to return to Palestine, deserve a Palestinian state that is liberated from military occupation. Palestinians deserve to access to their rightful resources and travel freely through their country without checkpoints. Palestinians deserve to travel freely to and from Gaza. Palestinian refugees deserve the right to return home, and for home to be their village, not another displacement in a heavily truncated former country under eternal occupation.

Not all of this is possible. The difficult reality is that many Palestinian villages are now Israeli towns—with Israeli citizens who never knew their home any other way. However, the Israeli military occupation of Palestine, and its ensuing systematic discrimination of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs must end before Palestine can be properly and deservedly understood as Palestine, not a haphazardly formed and only nominally identified “Palestinian State.”

Palestine should raise its flag in front of the United Nations, but only once it is free.