Twenty-four long years after the Palestine Liberation Organization renounced violence and voted to create the State of Palestine, United Nations recognition of Palestine remains limited to “non-member, observer” status. Governing an international order premised on the military superiority and economic interests of powerful states, the United Nations has been proved structurally incapable of defending oppressed nations. That the developments in the Palestinian movement should elicit interest from Eezham Tamil activists is the opinion of Tamil political observers who have been following the Palestinian struggle, who further contend that the time the Palestinians had in reaching to the current position is not an asset in the case of the Eezham Tamils who face an internationally ignored structural, protracted genocide in their homeland.
In its vote on November 29, the United Nations officially recognized the State of Palestine by an overwhelming margin of 138-9. The Palestinian resolution re-iterates many previous UN resolutions– including Israel’s retreat to pre-1967 borders favouring a “contiguous” state of Palestine, and the right of return for refugees. Clearly, implementing these measures is necessary to guarantee meaningful sovereignty. Though outvoted in the General Assembly, Israel still fails to respect these international decisions – while continuing to deny that it violates international law.
Liberal international relations theorists believe that statehood is achieved through mutual recognition by other states. Such inter-state relationships have not, however, produced Palestinian sovereignty. Palestine’s primary gain from this vote is that it now holds the legal status necessary to file suit against Israel at The Hague. Nabil Shaath, senior Palestinian official, has threatened war-crimes charges based on Israeli settlement construction – mere days after winning the UN vote. Colonization of Palestinian land continues nonetheless. Life for Palestinians has not changed as a result of formal statehood recognition.
As Eezham Tamils have learned, especially after 2009, international mechanisms of justice are difficult to enforce for the only credible means of enforcement is military intervention. Israel flouts international convention with such impunity because it possesses a monopoly of violence, both internally as an oppressor state, and externally as a regional superpower.
Neither the United Nations nor allies of the Palestinian cause possess the military means or the moral courage to militarily defend Palestinians. Despite repeated formal condemnation of Israel’s actions toward Palestine, the United Nations failed to undertake even token action against Sri Lanka’s genocidal war on the Tamil nation and continues to remain hesitant to protect Tamils from ongoing structural genocide and colonization of the territory of Tamil Eezham.
After facing decades of systemic oppression, both Eezham Tamils and Palestinians had arrived at a conclusion that military self-defence must be undertaken on their own account, in an asymmetrical fashion. The International Community of Establishments then labelled these efforts "terrorism", granting the moral high ground to the oppressor state, while criminalizing recourse to the means which liberation from a military occupation requires.
Although moral condemnations and humanitarian appeals may emerge from certain quarters, calls for proper behaviour "on both sides" have objectively benefited the stronger party who does not lay down its arms, who does not respect the wishes of the oppressed national groups, and who receives no incentive to do so from any section of the international community.
Thus, the extent to which leadership of the liberation struggle accommodates the interests of the international community is often directly proportional to its failure to defend the aspirations of the oppressed nation. Despite international applause garnered from statehood recognition, the Palestinian Authority continues to lose ground among Palestinians. Though formally representing the West Bank and Gaza, the PA does not presently hold electoral influence in Gaza, while its hold on the West Bank weakens.
An Israeli YNet News column, dated December 9, states that "The recent Palestinian success in the UN, the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the achievements noted by Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense have prompted greater agitation in the West Bank, and the IDF is concerned that the area may soon reach a boiling point. According to [Israel security agency] Shin Bet data, the unrest in the area is ripe for the development of the kind of infrastructure that could potentially support a third intifada – prolonged and violent unrest the likes of which Israel had to deal with in 1987 and 2000."
The threat of another Intifada reflects the clash between the national aspirations of Palestinians on one hand, and the extent to which the PA has bowed to American and Israeli pressure on the other. The two courses of action are irreconcilable because Palestinian national interests, and those of the powers governing the international system, are mutually detrimental.
This lesson applies equally to Eezham Tamils. A strategy of lobbyism and accommodation to world powers objectively subsumes the national objective into a flow of power that is inimical to the emergence of an independent and truly sovereign state.
There are other options for international solidarity. The "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" campaign (modelled after a similar strategy deployed against the South African apartheid regime), has proven useful to the Palestinian cause as a means of applying moral pressure and some limited economic sanctions against the Israeli state. Like the UN’s resolutions, however, "BDS" also has severe limitations in its effectiveness.
So far, the government of South Africa is the only state to formally employ this tactic against Israel. Lacking the support of powerful actors, the BDS campaign cannot be a concerted strategy against Israeli occupation – it remains an incoherent, piecemeal attack against a powerful, well-organized opponent whose position is bolstered by the United States. The BDS campaign is loosely coordinated and relies largely on moral pressure on investors who benefit financially from their ongoing relationships, rather than a solidly-organized grouping of forces who have no economic interests in common with the state of Israel.
As with Sri Lanka, Israel enjoys the support of powerful backers, while its detractors lack the capacity to oppose it. If campaigns like BDS can succeed, it will be because they have been adopted by well-organized civil-society actors who coordinate tightly among each other. In truth, such support can only come from among people who are in a similar structural position within the global hierarchy of nations. A lack of solidarity among oppressed nations means that they may be played against each other in a game of "divide and conquer."
The government of Sri Lanka, ironically, voted in favour of Palestine’s bid. Statements of friendship from Sri Lankan President Rajapakse to the Palestinians were reciprocated by President of the Palestine-Sri Lanka Friendship and Cooperation Society Mahmoud Abdullah. Yet just as the Sri Lankan state used Israeli jets and tactical advice against the LTTE, so recently Israel mulled the “Sri Lanka option”, best expressed by Ariel Sharon’s son Gilad in the words: “Flatten all of Gaza.”
Reality thus exposes the rhetoric of “friendship" as hypocritical. Friendly relations between Palestine and Sri Lanka deny Eezham Tamils the political space to form an alliance with Palestine based on shared interests and a common experience of national oppression. They also discredit the Palestinian cause in the eyes of many Eezham Tamils who unfortunately fail to distinguish between the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, but justifiably expect solidarity to be reciprocal.
But can the Eezham Tamil nation endure the time limits involved in the lengthy process of international recognition as in the case of the Palestinians, is a question that Tamil activists pose. After the internationally coordinated destruction of the de facto state that had shielded them from genocidal oppression, an accelerated rate of colonization of the Tamil homeland, devastation of the Eezham Tamil population by military and structural methods, and the absence of meaningful international support, all create a scenario where the Eezham Tamils in the homeland currently do not have the capacity to resist a protracted genocide.
The international system follows the dictum that "might is the supreme right." It has failed both Palestinians and Tamils; but with far more deadly consequences for Tamils. In both the Palestinian and the Tamil cases, creating viable independent states would significantly disrupt the present economic and military geopolitical framework, through which "friendly" powers maintain their present interests. Nations wishing to emerge into this system must either accept the mandate of these powers, or develop an effective international counter-power of their own.
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