Historical! The Palestinian National Council is a Partner for Democracy of the Council of Europe since Tuesday 4th of October. A wave of hope enters the minds of the defenders of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But what does this diplomatic path really means for the Palestinian people?
Sometimes, history seems eager to take some unexpected twists.
In 1989, the Council of Europe created a special guest status to allow the parliaments of Eastern and Central European countries to get closer to the values promoted by the institution created in 1949: freedom of expression, abolition of death penalty, equality of chances between men and women, pluralism, free and fair elections. The Soviet Union was collapsing. On the 4th of October, the Palestinian National Council became a Partner for democracy of the Council of Europe (PACE). You will say: 10 days after the speech of Mahmoud Abbas in front of the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) pronounced in order to allow Palestine to become a member of the UN, things are for once moving in the right sense between Israel and Palestine, no?
The symbol is strong, the reality pitiless
If only… First, a Partner for Democracy status is very symbolical but not very revolutionary. It is good news that the Israeli representatives of the PACE (318 representatives, elected by the national parliament) accepted this evolution but it also unveils its lack of concrete effect in the short term. The Council of Europe stands for democracy but it can only testify that the colonization of East Jerusalem keeps going on. Last Wednesday, the Israeli Minister of the Interior announced the construction of 1000 new Israeli housing in East Jerusalem. In the same city that Mahmoud Abbas, who will speak in front of the Council of Europe this Thursday, dreams to be the future capital of Palestine. Several members of the PACE also regretted that the United States have just blocked the 200 million dollars subventions designated for the Palestinians to make them understand that Abbas’s speech on the 23th of September was against their interests.
But Rome was not build in a day. During the debate of the PACE that preceded the vote on the resolution to allow the Palestinian National Council to become a Partner for Democracy, the French deputy Denis Badré made a romantic reference to Electre, a piece of theatre written by Jean Giraudoux. In a destroyed city, Electre suddenly asks a beggar: “What do you see?”. “Dawn”, he answers. With an official step of the PACE today, we have a reason to be as optimistic as this beggar was. As Salim al-Za'nun, the president of the Palestinian National Council, said in the closing of the plenary session of the PACE that, through this new status, the Palestinian National Council commits to organize free and fair elections, to abolish death penalty, to promote Council of Europe’s values (pluralist democracy, rule of law, respect of human right and fundamental freedoms) and to inform regularly about the progress in implementing the Council of Europe’s principles.
Control the partners for democracy
An optimistic European should be also critical, as it has been recalled in the plenary session. Just an example: Is the Moroccan Parliament, the first Partner for Democracy since June 2011, doing anything to curb the violence and the repression against the Sahrawi people going on under its authority? No. And Western Sahara, under the occupation of Morocco since 1975, is still one of the sixteen last non-autonomous territories according to the UN.
Palestine is becoming once again the center of the diplomatic preoccupations, so let us hope! And let us hope that once the country recovers its sovereignty, it remembers the commitment it took yesterday in front of the Council of Europe.
Written by Emmanuel Haddad, the winner of the Freedom of the Press Award, during the award ceremony at the Council of Europe Assembly in Strasbourg.