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Keeping symbolism in perspective

Joharah Baker

January 14, 2013


Last week President Mahmoud Abbas ordered all official documents to be signed and sealed with the emblem of the State of Palestine, replacing that of the Palestinian Authority. The move, of course, comes after the Palestinians scored the upgraded status of non-member state at the United Nations in November with the backing of 138 countries. This was a major morale boost for Palestinians, who have long struggled to gain international recognition of their right to statehood, freedom and independence. The UN upgrade is a small step towards that goal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, obviously irked by the UN upgrade of Palestine to a 'state’, also chimed in on the president’s decree, claiming it was a 'serious violation of signed agreements.’ Netanyahu added that Abbas’ decision was "devoid of any political meaning and creates no practical impact on the ground", saying that, "A Palestinian state will only be created as part of a peace agreement with Israel".

While Netanyahu may be right in terms of "practical impact on the ground" there is also a reason why he made the effort to respond. He understands that symbols of sovereignty begin as symbols but eventually turn into reality with the right will power and determination. That is also the reason why he so quickly and so viciously evicted the determined residents of the Bab Al Shams village, erected in the so-called E1 area, slated for massive Israeli settlement construction. Even Israel’s High Court said the tents could remain for a few days until a 'solution’ was found. But Netanyahu is well aware of the danger of allowing Palestinian activists to remain and multiply on land that is rightfully their people’s, gaining momentum and solidarity with each hour that passes by. And so, he cracked his whip, calling on his thuggish army and police to drag them out.

The official documents and passports to soon be emblazoned with the 'State of Palestine’ may be a sight for sore eyes for Palestinians who yearn for an independent homeland, but both Netanyahu and the Palestinians know it does not mean the actual state of Palestine is anywhere closer. While Netanyahu said a state could only be realized "through an agreement with Israel", Palestinians are beginning to believe this will never happen, and thus have begun to devise more creative ways of reaching their dream. Moves such as the UN resolution – the price for which the Palestinians continue to pay – and popular resistance activities such as the Bab Al Shams initiative, are all alternative means the Palestinians have found to make their presence and their national rights known.

They are on the right track, for sure. All great ideas start with a single thought and people like Benjamin Netanyahu are more than privy to the fact that as thoughts hatch and grow, they snowball into action and determination after which nothing can stop them.

The trick is for the Palestinians to keep this act of symbolism -- the State of Palestine seal – in perspective. We Palestinians fell into the trap of believing more than what was real many years ago when the Oslo Accords were signed. This is not the space to point fingers at the parties to blame for this delusion (and they are more than a few), but rather to learn from our mistakes. The 'State of Palestine’ emblem just may be the spark that ignites a much bigger process towards independence just like the Bab Al Shams village may have sparked the beginning of a wide-scale popular resistance movement. That is the hope at least. And obviously, from the way he and his government reacted, it is the Israeli Prime Minister’s biggest fear.


Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.


:: Article nr. 94353 sent on 15-jan-2013 21:35 ECT

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