Two New Zealanders debate as the Government waits to see the text of the Palestinian resolution to the UN before deciding on how to vote.
Dr Nigel Parsons: YES
The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is engaged in advanced diplomacy in New York. The Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations is expected to apply for full membership through the Security Council.
If, as expected, the United States wields its veto or otherwise subverts the initiative, Palestine can still table a draft resolution to the General Assembly seeking an upgrade in status to non-member state. New Zealand's representative to the General Assembly will then be forced to take a position.
I suggest four reasons for a vote in support of Palestine. First, Palestine's elevation in the UN will enhance the rule of international law in the Middle East with positive results for peace and security. Second, support for the Palestinian move concords with New Zealand's official diplomatic position which advocates the establishment of a "viable Palestinian state".
Third, Palestine will almost certainly win the vote and in the near future establish a state on the ground; New Zealand has an opportunity to be on the right side of history. Fourth, supporting Palestine in its hour of need is the morally right thing to do.
The upgrade to non-member state will have practical implications for Palestinian diplomacy. The move will afford Palestine important privileges including membership rights in UN agencies such as Unicef, Unesco and the WHO as well as the prospect of access to the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice.
Platforms such as these will afford Palestine a degree of leverage with Israel that is currently lacking. This would accord with an MFAT position that stresses Israel's "responsibility to act lawfully and with restraint".
Decades of near-total freedom of action have not encouraged Israel to always weigh carefully the consequences of its actions; granting Palestine meaningful legal traction could do that and so contribute to a climate conducive to lasting peace and stability. In Palestine and beyond, diplomatic progress could also help undermine the case made by those in favour of alternative, non-procedural means.
From a historical perspective, New Zealand's vote for Palestine would be consistent with established diplomatic precedent.
In 1947, New Zealand voted in favour of UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 181 which recommended the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states; now it becomes possible to deliver on the second half of that commitment. Since 1967, New Zealand has supported implementation of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 242 which calls for Israeli withdrawal from "territories occupied"; this upgrade will give Palestine the legal tools to help bring withdrawal about.
In 1974, New Zealand voted for UNGA Resolution 3210 which resulted in an invitation to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat to address the General Assembly; in 2011, New Zealand can help his successor Mahmoud Abbas realise the end-point of that journey.
Israel will argue that the PLO's position is a unilateral action in breach of the terms and conditions of the bilateral Oslo process initiated in 1993. But that process has long since revealed itself to be a choreographed ritual masking the extension of Israeli colonial rule.
Indicative of its utter bankruptcy, US President Barack Obama's special envoy to the region, US Senator George Mitchell (the man who successfully brokered peace in Northern Ireland), finally gave up on it and resigned in May.
From a different quarter, Palestinian voices have questioned whether a non-member state could represent and uphold the rights of a largely refugee people in a way that the PLO does at present. The Palestinian leadership has argued that both bodies can exist alongside each other. Moreover, any resolution of the refugee issue ultimately seems a matter of political will.
It should be acknowledged that voting for Palestine will probably set Wellington at odds with Washington. But an American tactical position tortured by domestic political considerations has to be squared with strategic legal support for a Palestinian state: in 2002, the US voted for UNSC Resolution 1397 providing for a two-state solution. In 1947, New Zealand voted for partition independently of ties to Great Britain, which abstained. In 1974, New Zealand again stood apart from traditional allies: Israel and the US voted no; Australia and the UK abstained. In 2011, New Zealand stands to gain more than it loses by keeping a respectful distance from the US.
Procedure in the General Assembly requires that Palestine raise a simple majority from among the UN's 193 member states: this they can almost certainly do.
New Zealand could gain an advantage by getting on the same page as the Palestinian leadership at this critical juncture. Furthermore, Palestine inhabits an Arab world in which a popular concern for justice is increasingly heard. New Zealand has an opportunity to catch the zeitgeist and enhance what MFAT terms an "international reputation for fair-mindedness" - soft power can go a long way.
Last but not least, voting for Palestine is the morally right thing to do. The Palestinian people have struggled long and hard for their right to self-determination. New Zealand could take pride in helping them exercise it.
* Dr Nigel Parsons is senior lecturer in the politics programme at Massey University.
Dov Bing: NO
In a couple of days, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the President of the Palestinian Authority, will introduce a resolution at the UN General Assembly to recognise an independent Palestinian state. The resolution will pass with a large majority with only the United States, Israel and a number of European countries voting against or abstaining. New Zealand should join them because it is essentially an empty gesture designed to make the Palestinian leadership more popular without doing anything to help the people or bring peace any closer.
The majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution. So, why is it that the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government have been unable to return to the negotiating table during the past two years? The Israelis have agreed to return to the negotiating table without preconditions. All issues, borders, refugees and Jerusalem would be up for discussion.
The Palestinian Authority insisted that Israel accept two preconditions, a freeze on building in the West Bank and an agreement Israel return to the 1967 borders. The United States and the European Union introduced a proposal that moderate Arab states would establish low-level diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel introduced a 10-month building freeze on West Bank building, but the moderate Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, refused to implement the US and the EU proposal. The 10 months freeze lapsed without an agreement from the Palestinian Authority to restart the negotiations.
Since the Oslo agreements of 1993, the Palestinian Authority has negotiated with the Israelis without preconditions. In 2000, during the Camp David negotiations between President Yasser Arafat, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President Bill Clinton, a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis had been within reach. Arafat walked out of the negotiations and the Al Aqsa Intifada, with much bloodshed on both sides, followed.
So we have to ask ourselves why Abbas refuses to negotiate with Israel without preconditions as the Palestinians have done from 1993 till 2000? The answer lies within the Palestinian body politic itself.
The Palestinian Authority with its headquarters in Ramallah is only in charge of the West Bank. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has taken over in Gaza. While it won the Palestinian Elections in 2006, very soon afterwards Hamas carried out a violent "coup d'etat", murdered many Fatah supporters, some of them thrown from second storey buildings. In mid 2007, this well planned coup was carried out in four days. Abbas responded by dissolving the National Unity Government. He formed an emergency government and the former Finance Minister, Salem Fayad, was appointed Prime Minister.
The Hamas "coup" radically changed the future orientation of the Palestinian people. To all intents and purposes there are now two Palestinian governments, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza. In 2001 the US designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation and the European Union followed suit in 2003.
Article 7 of the Charter of Hamas described the mission of Hamas as a "universal one". This indicates that, like al-Qaeda, Hamas intends to re-establish the Caliphate. Article 7 further states: "Whoever damages its worth, or avoids supporting it, or is so blind as to dismiss its role, is challenging Fate itself. Whoever closes his eyes from seeing the facts, whether intentionally or not, will wake up to find himself overtaken by events and will find no excuses to justify his position."
Article 8 is even more forthright. It emphasises the slogan of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: "Allah is the goal, the prophet is the model, the Koran its constitution, Jihad its path and death for the sake of Allah its most sublime belief."
Hamas wants Israel's destruction, it also wants the demise of the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas does of course not support the resolution for an independent Palestinian state at the United Nations initiated by Abbas. Hamas does not support a two-state solution, whereas the Palestinian Authority maintains it does. So here we see Abbas' dilemma. If he negotiates with the Israelis "without preconditions", he will have to make concessions. Any concessions the Palestinian Authority makes will be designated as an act of treason by Hamas. A power struggle is already taking place in the West Bank and many Hamas operatives have been arrested and are now in prison.
President Sadat, who signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, was in 1981 assassinated by army officers who were members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Abbas does not want to follow in the footsteps of Sadat. Abbas, unlike Arafat, is not a charismatic leader. He is a rather dour technocrat. There is no doubt, however, that in his greatest political gamble yet, Abbas' move to get state endorsement from the United Nations will almost certainly get him increased popularity in the polls.
There is little Hamas can do about this. Unfortunately, Abbas has not brought a peace agreement with Israel any closer with his latest political gamble. Raising the expectations of his people with what are basically empty gestures won't help the Palestinian job market.
In the end he has to sit down at the negotiating table with the Israelis.
* Dov Bing is a professor in the department of political science at Waikato University.