Symbolism isn’t Everything…But it is Something

Critics may say that the string of recognitions by South American countries of the State of Palestine mean nothing in practice. They might be right. Just because Brazil or Argentina say they recognize a state within the 1967 borders doesn’t automatically make it true. Neither does the fact that the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time ever in Washington DC mean the Palestinians have full acceptance by the United States.

No, these gestures are mostly symbolic. In the case of the South American countries it is a show of support, a way of reminding the Palestinians that there are those in the world who back their national aspirations and refuse to wait for others to call the shots. The fact of the matter is that Palestine is still very much occupied; Israel has full control over borders, air and sea space and Jerusalem not to mention the way it gobbles up the land with more and more settlements. These things have not changed just because Guyana says it acknowledges a Palestinian state. Nevertheless, gestures such as these are not to be dismissed completely. They are, if nothing else, moral support for us and a way of keeping the Palestinian cause alive and well in the big bad world.

Many try to discredit these gestures, including what can only be called a gesture by the Palestinians in demanding a UN resolution for a halt to settlements. We all know the machinations within the halls of the United Nations that almost always end up with the United States vetoing any resolution that is perceived as even slightly anti-Israel. On BBC International’s Hardtalk program, Fateh veteran and negotiator Nabil Shaath was put to the test by host, Steven Sackur. Sackur grilled Shaath on the benefits of going to the Security Council, knowing all too well that the resolution would get nowhere.

Shaath was slick, maintaining that the US has no good reason to veto a resolution on a matter it agrees with in the first place. Doesn’t the United States also deem settlements illegal? Hasn’t it repeatedly called on Israel to halt them? Hence, if it does use its veto, this will put the US in an awkward position whereby it will look like a hypocrite and undermine its own credibility towards the pace process.

The truth of the matter – if my analysis is correct – is that the Palestinians are seeking two things in taking this move: the first is to embarrass the US and possibly Israel (although that is not likely) and the second is to shine a light on the issue of settlements in an arena other than bilateral talks overseen by the US. If nothing else, making a stink at the UN will bring attention to the cause. Coupled with the support of many countries who believe in the Palestinians’ right to a state and the futility of negotiations with Israel, there is a real opportunity to bring Palestine back into the headlines.

Perhaps that is why Israel is so peeved at countries like Brazil and Argentina. It is not about the actualization of a Palestinian state upon the mere recognition of this entity by these countries. Israel has ensured that this will never happen without its consent. At the same time, it does not like the positive attention such recognitions generate. It does not like that there are countries who pledge their commitment to a Palestinian state regardless of Israel’s claims that this can only happen as a result of negotiations. It does not like the fact that more and more countries and leaders are exposing the lie of Israel’s peace claims. The Palestinians have said it for years, even as they continued to negotiate with the other side. Israel does not want a just peace, it never has. Facts speak for themselves and the condition of Palestine today is as solid evidence as ever.

As for symbols such as the Palestinian flag waving over the PLO mission in Washington DC, I can say this. While most people take the sight of their national flags for granted, we Palestinians have never had this luxury. That is why it is an accomplishment –” however symbolic – to see it flying in the US capital even if this has not changed the status quo of the Palestinians vis-à-vis its relationship with the US. If nothing else, it is a reminder that, "yes, we are still here and we are not going anywhere."

No, perhaps these symbolic moves will not get us anywhere on the ground. While the United Nations should ostensibly be the body to which all nations can turn to in times of need, we all know the Palestinians have not had the best of luck there. Still, if going to the Security Council brings attention to the issue and forces Israel to plead its case, this is an achievement in and of itself.

Finally, all those countries who offered their recognition of a Palestinian state will always have our heartfelt appreciation no matter what the outcome. Palestine is on the map, in reality and in the jargon of international diplomacy. One day our flag will wave alongside all the others at the UN headquarters in New York and Geneva. As for the present, last December in Brazil, President Mahmoud Abbas cut the ribbon for the first ever Palestinian embassy in the Americas. I don’t care what anyone says. That is something.