Saturday, 3 December 2011

Uganda should fully back Palestine’s statehood bid

On the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, November 29, a statement from the Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) re-affirmed the decision taken by the organisation in October to admit Palestine as a member.

This step is an achievement for a people who are striving for self-determination and the right to exist as a formally recognised entity. Palestinians have fought, negotiated and bargained for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as the capital.

For over twenty years, represented by the Palestine Authority, they have held talks with Israel, which has occupied these territories for over four decades. However, these on-and-off discussions eventually come to naught and the latest round has broken down with no deal on the key issues, yet again. After unfulfilled promises and unrealised aspirations, in 2010, the Palestine Authority began a diplomatic strategy to court individual countries for recognition and to attain full member status at the UN —an upgrade from the current observer status.

During the UN General Assembly, held in September, the Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas presented the request for admission as a full member state. In his speech, he stated that “the goal of the Palestinian people is the realisation of their inalienable national rights….the unquestionable right of our people to self-determination and to the independence of our State as stipulated in international resolutions.” The procedure is that the application is tabled by the Secretary General to the Security Council, which votes on it and, if there are at least nine votes with no veto from the permanent members, it is then forwarded to the General Assembly. The other alternative is for Palestine to present its bid directly to General Assembly, where there are higher chances of success.

So, the Unesco vote referred to earlier, was a coup for this diplomatic push. It was passed with 107 “yes” votes, which was over the required 81, with 14 “no” votes and 52 abstentions. To me, the biggest surprise was that Uganda chose to abstain yet the country has a long history of supporting causes for self-determination and independence.

From the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to the quest for independence in South Sudan, Eritrea, Namibia, Western Sahara/Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and even on the Palestinian question, Uganda has always shown where it stands. For instance, in support of the independence of South Sudan, President Yoweri Museveni said “Uganda will support the membership of South Sudan in East Africa and all regional bodies. The people of South Sudan had a right of self-determination.” There is a monument dedicated to the South African fallen heroes at Pan African Square in Kampala. The President of the SADR government in exile was a guest at Museveni’s swearing in ceremony in 2006.

So, I wonder why Uganda is now ambivalent about Palestine yet it supported the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s previous attempts in 1974 and in 1988 to seek recognition under Yasser Arafat. I dare to speculate it is because of diplomatic relations and business interests with Israel.

There are two main reasons why I think Uganda should support Palestine and still maintain relations with Israel.

As a UN member, Uganda is party to the resolutions that condemn Israeli’s occupation and recognise Palestine as a state. The other is that even the Middle East Peace Quartet—the European Union, US, Russia and UN—committed itself to a two-state solution by September 2011.

The zeitgeist in many regional blocs and international fora, including the Arab League and increasingly within the EU, is in favour of getting the two-state solution as soon as possible. In addition, even the World Bank and IMF acknowledge that Palestine has the institutions for statehood. Many of these countries however also still maintain diplomatic and economic ties with Israel, why not Uganda?