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Does the Road to Jerusalem Run Through New York City?

In a May 16, 2011, op-ed published by the New York Times, de facto Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made the case for the "long overdue Palestinian state," explaining his intention to present a formal request for full UN membership for a state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

A chair with the word 'Palestine' embroidered on it stands next to the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 5, 2011, during a launch by Palestinian campaigners of a tour of the chair. The chair will be sent to the United States after making stops in other countries as part of a world-wide effort to gain support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' attempt to upgrade the Palestinians' status at the United Nations to statehood.

 

On September 4, a blue chair, dubbed the flying chair, started touring UN Security Council member states, before landed at the UN headquarters in New York ahead of the opening of the UN’s 66th general assembly. Citing failed peace negotiations with Israel and a right to self-determination, the Palestinian delegation's diplomatic efforts to rally votes for statehood were launched and continued unabated despite the US' threat to veto the bid and Israel's warnings of "dire consequences."

 

The US and Israel maintain the Palestinian Authority's unilateral move undermines negotiations towards a two-state solution, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressing for the resumptions of talks with no preconditions. On September 16, the PM's office tweeted: "When the PA will abandon its futile steps, such as going to the UN, it will find Israel as a partner for direct negotiations for peace."

 

The Palestinian Authority managed to unify Arab governments in support of its initiative, gathered the conditional support of a divided European Union, and the endorsement of Russia and China, but the reality is that nothing will change on the ground for Palestinians who will remain under the occupation and control of Israel as the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues.

 

Furthermore, Abbas admitted that even more "difficult times" await the Palestinians with possible financial retaliation and punitive action expected from both the US and Israel, with the latter threatening to annex parts of the West Bank.

 

However, state-run media across the Middle East has shied away from discussing opposition to the PA's gamble with the Palestinian people's rights but the online community has vehemently expressed its dismay at what it views as the irresponsible action of an illegitimate authority. 

 

The Palestinian Youth Movement issued a harsh statement against the proposal, accusing it to be "a mechanism for rescuing the faulty peace framework and depoliticizing the struggle for Palestine by removing the struggle from its historical colonial context."

 

 

A Palestinian scout marching band plays at Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

On Facebook, a page titled "Palestinians against the so-called September Statehood" garnered almost 3,500 supporters while the "Palestine poster" page featured pleas to stop the "State of September," since Abbas was "going to the UN to demand [his] right and relinquish what remains of yours."

 

On Twitter, critics of the UN initiative lashed out using hashtag #fakestatehood. Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah expressed pride for having "been one of the first to expose the Abbas PA #fakestatehood bid for the anti-Palestinian deception and fraud that it is." 

 

A Palestinian law student equated the occupation and its collaborators. She tweeted: "We will never end the Israeli occupation if we cannot revolt against the local authorities that enforce it. While the Alan Dershowitz parody account promised his "100,000th follower will get a relatively new blue swivel chair signifying nothing and representing no one."

 

Across different online platforms, the recurring theme was objection to an initiative whose content has not been disclosed to the people it impacts, likening it to the Oslo Accords that were reached without public knowledge of the agreement's terms. 

 

Another essential issue was raised by many, including a blogger in the UK, who used hashtag #IOpposeSeptemberBid to send the message that "Palestine is not just Gaza & the West Bank - but all those living in the 'Diaspora' & refugee camps."  This raises the question of who is entitled to represent the Palestinian people. 

 

A legal opinion by Oxford University professor, Guy Goodwin-Gill, challenged the legitimacy of the PA and warned that the interests of the Palestinian people are at "risk of prejudice and fragmentation."

 

A report from the International Crisis Group titled "Curb your enthusiam: Israel and Palestine after the UN", describes the path to the UN as "a tale of collective mismanagement," indicating that if the Palestinians "choose to rise up, it will be because of the entrenched and seemingly unmoveable realities of occupation, not because of what happens or not as a result of a UN vote," pointing to the irrelevant if not "counterproductive" bid. 

 

So without a unified national strategy and with pending questions about the future of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the refugees' right of return, will the PA's symbolic action jeopardize the Palestinian people's struggle and rights? And in the aftermath of the Palestine Papers that unveiled how quickly the PA is willing to simply give away its people's rights, are Abbas' political theatrics an attempt to hold on to his own chair in light of the popular intifada rocking the region?

 
 

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