By Samer Makhlouf*
Qalqilya Governor Rabeeh al-Khandakji (left), Palestinian Legislative Council member Walid Assaf, and OneVoice Palestine Executive Director Samer Makhlouf speak at a Qalqilya public meeting about Palestinian statehood.
At first glance, it may appear that Palestinian support for our leadership's bid for statehood at the UN is something obvious or simple. In truth, the situation on the ground is far more complicated.
OneVoice Palestine is the only civil society organization running a campaign to educate the people about the UN initiative, explaining to them the benefits while tempering expectations. We are using traditional grassroots tools with social media platforms to bring people into a constructive conversation about what it will take to end the conflict.
Last Thursday, we held the first of several planned town hall meetings in the West Bank city of Qalqilya to talk about the Palestinian UN bid and its effect on the two-state solution. Nearly 200 residents crowded the hall. An elderly woman wondered if her jailed son would be released once Palestine was recognized. A farmer asked if his confiscated lands would be returned. Another worried about compromising refugee rights. The comments ran the gamut and left me convinced that our campaign was incredibly important.
On hand to answer questions with me that day were Qalqilya Governor Rabeeh al-Khandakji and Palestinian Legislative Council member Walid Assaf. We all stressed that only good faith negotiations, with clear terms of reference and a limited time frame, will produce a mutually acceptable and equitable resolution that sees two states for two peoples. Those same words have been stated repeatedly by President Mahmoud Abbas to local and international media.
In Palestine, the battle lines have been drawn. The overwhelming majority of those in favor of the September bid are pragmatic proponents of the two-state solution. Those opposed belong to two camps: either with Hamas and others who call for one state or with those who claim it will undermine the issue of refugees.
Although we realize the potential risks of the UN initiative, we strongly believe that the consequences of abandoning it are far worse - for both Palestine and Israel. If President Abbas were to withdraw now, it would undercut his leadership. It would fuel the disillusionment with the two-state solution on the street and fan the flames of absolutists. Backtracking now, we all felt, would dash the dreams of millions that desire an independent state - based on the 1967 lines and free from occupation - and need the affirmation of such a reality.
Regardless of the outcome at the UN, our campaign in Palestine is providing a much-needed platform for people to take nonviolent actions that advocate reviving the peace process and returning to negotiations. We're countering extremists on both sides that promise to exploit all of us and plunge our lives into chaos.
This week, while we campaign in Bethlehem, Jenin, Salfeet, and across the West Bank, we will be risking for hope over fear and giving Palestinians and Israelis a chance for a better future.
*Samer Makhlouf is executive director of OneVoice Palestine. You can follow him @samermakh.
Listen to the Guardian Focus podcast entitled, ‘What will UN recognition of a Palestinian state mean?,’ featuring OneVoice Palestine Executive Director Samer Makhlouf.
Transcript of Samer Makhlouf's comment:
My name is Samer Makhlouf. I am the executive director of OneVoice Palestine movement. September vote for Palestinians means hope, and I don’t really agree with what some Israeli politicians say, that this is a unilateral action and that it is an alternative to negotiations.
After twenty years of useless negotiations, the Palestinians reached a conclusion that the international community should be part of setting the references for these negotiations. The reason why these negotiations did not produce any tangible outcome or did not end the conflict because every time the Palestinians are asked to compromise the compromise.
The September vote does not at all contradict with the basic concept that we all advocate for, which is negotiations. I think that the Palestinians are also intending that they will go back to the negotiating table. Abu Mazen and the Palestinian leaders clearly said that this is never an alternative for negotiations, and he said that our first, second, and third option are negotiations. So, they will come back to negotiating.