You can see it during the World Cup games and Independence Day parades—events that feature people’s smiles: colors wrapped around bodies; eyes and smiles carrying the sweetness of nostalgia; excitement reflecting the pride of history as captured in the insignias of a symbol—a Flag. So imagine one with horizontal white and blue stripes with the Star of David in the middle, a representation of the sovereignty and nation of Israel. This flag also serves as an emblem for other nations to identify Israel. Now imagine another beautiful flag with horizontal black, white, and green stripes with a red triangle based at the hoist. At first glance, one might think it is the flag of Jordan. But this flag is missing the seven-pointed white star. It is the Palestinian flag. And like Palestine itself, this flag is controversial.
On 10 September, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution permitting the hoisting of the Palestinian flag at the UN Headquarters, with 119 countries voting in favor, eight countries against, and forty-five abstentions. Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United States were among the countries that voted against this initiative. Although Palestine does not have an official statehood, it received non-member observer status at the UN General Assembly and has been recently inducted as a voting member of the International Criminal Court. Membership in this international organization and court gives Palestine a stronger platform to address international disputes. Expectedly, hoisting the Palestinian flag at the UN Headquarters has produced mixed reactions. To some, this was a good way to demonstrate to the Palestinians that their plight was not invisible, and that the international community supported their demand for independence and statehood. To others, this incentive was a meager substitute for the more pressing Palestinian demands for a resolution of the rampant human rights violations and crippling economic conditions.
The Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at the UN Headquarters on 30 September, 2015. This event was broadcasted and shown at the Yasser Arafat Square in Ramallah. The image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas kissing the flag prior to putting it onto the flagpole captured a significant moment. Palestinians cheered and waved flags of their own in celebration. The responding Palestinian excitement captured the strong love and pride in their national identity. President Abbas professed his hopes of one day raising the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem—“the capital of our Palestinian state,” he emphasized. This statement provoked uproar from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as many Israelis. Given that the event took place at the United Nations’ Rose Garden, is it naïve to wonder if we will ever see Israel’s Prime Minister and Palestine’s President embracing and gracefully exchanging each other’s flags as the US president witnesses this exchange at the White House Rose Garden?
Although much of the international community supported the hoisting of Palestine’s flag at the UN Headquarters, some skeptics felt that this action was overestimated in the hopes of establishing peaceful relations between Israel and Palestine. The Vatican, one of Palestine’s advocates, showed support by sending Pope Francis’ envoy to the ceremony. Like Palestine, the Vatican is a non-member observer state in the United Nations. Nevertheless, the Vatican’s supportive action did not provoke wide controversy in the same way the hoisting of the Palestinian flag had. European nations were divided on whether to vote yea or nay on raising Palestine’s flag at the UN Headquarters. While France and Sweden voted in favor, other countries such as Austria, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands abstained. The abstention votes reflect a calculated strategy on the part of UN members worried about keeping the peace and angering allies. Although the abstention of forty-five countries might seem insignificant, keep in mind that it accounts for almost a quarter of the number of member states in the United Nations. This reveals that the issue of the hoisted Palestinian flag signified a crucial juncture in the irrevocable assertion of political allegiances in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, it made the international community apprehensive and fearful of igniting another conflict that could explode into global warfare.
Right to self-determination and sovereignty is a pressing issue in many parts of the world. This is evident from Argentina’s and England’s claim over Las Malvinas/Falkland Islands, China’s and Japan’s assertion over the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyu Islands, Somaliland’s independence from Somalia, and the Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, among others. Although all these sovereignty histories require urgent resolutions, the Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty conflict has continually attracted the attention of the international community. President Abbas had declared the Oslo Accords of 1993 null and void, criticizing Israel for refusing Palestinians the right to self-determination. The Oslo Accords led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, which has some jurisdiction in governing parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Without the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority might be dissolved, and President Abbas’ right to be in office as well. It will also affect the legitimate standing of the Palestinian Football Association as a Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) member, and may prevent the Palestinian football team from participating in the FIFA World Cup Qualifier games. Then again, FIFA has enough scandals and issues of its own to handle.
Reports from Jerusalem indicate that roadblocks and checkpoints have been installed in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem in response to recent outbreaks of violence. Security guards have been patrolling public transportation. More soldiers have been sent to support the police in preventing further attacks from Palestinians. In light of these developments, the idea that the hoisting of the Palestinian flag might pave the way for peaceful measures in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now seems like just naïve, wishful thinking.