UN vote obscures - for the moment - Palestinian justice

As the West Bank celebrated on Sunday after the UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member state, the reality in the occupied territories remained unchanged. Israel's land grabs are only increasing. That will remain the case until Israeli leaders genuinely accept the right of a Palestinian state to exist, and Palestinian leaders genuinely understand what a just resolution would look like.

There is a broader question raised by the UN vote: does mere recognition of Palestine at the United Nations make a just solution for Palestinians even more difficult - or even impossible?

The important word is "just". The moral component of Palestinians' struggle for self-determination is often overlooked in favour of political process. But it is not merely Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory that galvanises world opinion. Rather, it is the sense that a historical wrong has been done to Palestinians that still requires redress.

The creation of a Palestinian state would address that wrong only if it were achieved in a just settlement. The danger of the UN vote is that it opens a particular political route, which does not necessarily end in a just solution.

The mere acquisition of a state - whether it is a tiny Palestine that exists in name only, or segregated Bantustans across the West Bank - would not be enough to right the historical wrong, nor would such a solution be accepted by a majority of international opinion. To begin with, a real two-state solution would require two viable states.

Resolving the Palestinian issue does not merely mean resolving the administration of the Palestinian territories. It means resolving the entire question of Palestine, including what will happen to the Palestinian diaspora.

The people of Palestine are not only inside the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian nation extends beyond the West Bank and Gaza to include those in the diaspora - in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, in the Gulf, and everywhere else. Palestinians remain Palestinians wherever they are, and many have vested their hopes in a return, even if a symbolic return, to Palestine.

A just solution is unimaginable - for now - only because neither Palestinian nor Israeli leaders are considering it.

In Israel, the political and military elite do not understand what a genuine two-state solution would look like, and have not really accepted the need for one. The "two-state solution" Israeli leaders appear to see is a geographically and politically fractured Palestine, unable to decide its own future.

Gaza appears to be the model: withdraw in name only, while retaining control of borders and airspace, with the ever-present military threat. Unsurprisingly, Palestinians reject that the open-air prison of Gaza is the future.

In the diaspora, there are conflicting ideas about refugees' ties to Palestine, their responsibilities and role, and what a just solution would be. These are difficult questions that the Palestinian diaspora is still discussing, debating and formulating.

For Palestinian leaders, a just solution seems equally inconceivable. The politics of the past 65 years have been corrupted by occupation. The tangle of competing organisations - mainly, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas - makes a unity government difficult to imagine.

Palestinian leaders have a historical responsibility to right a previous wrong, but also have to compete in the murky world of everyday politics, practising the so-called art of the possible.

After the UN vote, leaders will be tempted to choose a path that ends in a Palestinian state, but not in justice for all Palestinians.

Following the success in New York, Palestinian leaders may continue to press their claims in the international arena. Certainly Israel will find the occupation harder to sustain. The culmination would be that Israel - faced with negative world opinion and strong political pressure - would be forced to return to the negotiating table and accept a Palestinian state.

The idea of a physical state is seductive - but it must be achieved in a just settlement for all Palestinians, not merely for those in the West Bank and Gaza. Politicians in a new Palestine would be called upon to show genuine statesmanship.

The recognition of Palestine by the United Nations makes a difference. It shows clearly where the world stands and lends Palestinians the moral weight of international opinion.

But the issue of Palestine will not be resolved just by statehood. All Palestinians, wherever in the world they are, must accept that a just settlement has been made.

On Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai

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