January 28, 2023
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Commentary: UN membership would strengthen Palestinian voice

This summer, U.S. Congress passed two resolutions that condemn the Palestinian Authority’s plan to approach the U.N. for state membership this month. The resolutions reaffirm U.S. commitment to a two-state solution settled by negotiations and threaten to halt aid if the PA continues to apply for membership.

Kimberly Nesta

In these resolutions, Congress describes the PA’s move toward the U.N. as an “absence of good faith” in the peace process. It views the move as a tactic for statehood without Israeli negotiation.

After touring Israel and the West Bank with an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation and learning firsthand about the conflict, I reject this notion. I talked to Palestinians about the peace process and witnessed their current situation. In my experience, the PA is not approaching the U.N. because of an “absence of good faith” toward the peace process, but because the current peace policy has failed.

Since the 1990s, the U.S. has been trying to broker a two-state solution to resolve the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinians, who have been living under Israeli occupation since 1967. The first culmination of these efforts was the Oslo Accords, which established the PA as a temporary governing body that would lead negotiations with Israel for a solution.

But Oslo has been detrimental to creating an independent Palestinian state. It split the occupied territories into three areas of bureaucratic control: Area A, where the PA holds civic and security responsibilities; Area B, under Palestinian-Israeli control; and Area C, under complete Israeli military control.

Under Oslo, Israel has used its control of Area C to create permanent Israeli infrastructure within the Palestinian territories, including illegal settlements, military installations and the “security barrier.” These structures not only appropriate almost 40 percent of the Palestinian territories, but much of its agricultural land and water resources.
The Israeli government stated it would retain its settlements in the West Bank — along with “security arrangements” to guard them — in any future agreement. But this infrastructure makes a Palestinian state impossible by appropriating land and resources it would depend on.

Kimberly Nesta (third from right) and members of the Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation attend a Women in Black protest in West Jerusalem.

Oslo hasn’t challenged Israel’s policy of land appropriation, which promotes inequality between Israelis and Palestinians and breaches human rights. A study by the South African government showed Israel’s security barrier fences in large parts of the Western Aquifer, “closing off Palestinian’s access to more than 95 percent of their groundwater resources.” While Palestinians paid upwards of 20 times more for water, Israel restricted them to 10 to 60 liters per day. Settlers enjoyed 274 to 450 liters per day.

Palestinians also don’t have equal freedom of movement. While Israeli settlers travel freely anywhere in the West Bank on Israeli roads, Palestinians cannot. They also face movement restrictions, limiting their access to schools, hospitals, work and one another.

Israel also denies building permits to Palestinians, and destroys civilian infrastructure built without such permits. Meanwhile, Israel expands the growth of its settlements.

U.N. membership wouldn’t create a Palestinian state. But it would show international support for that state and provide citizens with a forum to discuss their rights. Is asking the U.N. to recognize Palestinians’ rights to self-determination and equality more dangerous to a peace process than policies that deny those rights?

Kimberly Nesta graduated from Ithaca College in 2009. Email her at kimnesta4@gmail.com.