The United Nations vote on Nov. 29 that accorded the Palestinian Authority “nonmember observer state” status was a rare piece of positive action and forward progress in the long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although the vote, which passed overwhelmingly — 138 for, nine against and 41 abstentions — is largely symbolic in that it doesn’t change boundary lines on the ground or actually establish greater Palestinian control over its territory, it is important and useful in a number of other ways.
And although Israel and the United States opposed the U.N. resolution, its passage may prove beneficial to both countries.
First, that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would choose to pursue higher diplomatic status and recognition at the U.N. is positive on the face of it. His request was legal and nonviolent, and executed within the existing frameworks of international diplomacy. It affirms the value and rewards — especially to the Palestinians — of working within the U.N. politically, as opposed to relying exclusively on violent or military initiatives.
That is no small factor. The Palestinian people are currently divided physically and politically. In the Gaza Strip, a tiny land area 25 miles long and 4 to 8 miles wide, 1.6 million Palestinians are governed by Khaled Mashaal of the Hamas political faction; while 20 miles away in the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware, 2 million Palestinians are led by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah wing of the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas came to power legitimately in 2006 in a democratic election, but feuding and intermittent street fighting between Hamas and Fatah occurred for roughly 18 months before the defeated Fatah leadership finally evacuated to the West Bank.
Since that time, Fatah has proved to be relatively responsible about maintaining and seeking peace and coexistence with Israel, while Hamas has a much more complicated and checkered identity and record.