Sunset at a beach off Gaza City, Gaza Strip. The State of Palestine remains an ethereal being within international relations. EPA pic

MY mother celebrated her birthday this week. As the family sat down to what has become an annual celebratory dinner, I could not help but reflect on the importance of keeping track of anniversaries. Birthdays are always a celebration of sorts; deaths less so, unless you are Creole and think of it as a celebration of the life the person has led rather than the end of a chapter.

Malaysians are getting conflicted as to when we should celebrate Malaysia — is it at the end of August when we became independent, or on the 16th of September, when we morphed into “Malaysia”? Being Malaysian, we have decided to celebrate both anniversaries and put to bed a convoluted question.

Couples celebrate their one-month anniversary, then their sixth month, then the all-important one year anniversary. Before they know it, they are already celebrating their golden jubilee, like the parents of a friend of mine did recently in Penang.

There are “markers” for the type of anniversary, depending on the number of years. Fifteen years is denoted as crystal anniversary, 20 as china, 25 as silver, 30 as pearl, 40 as ruby, and 50 as golden. Many would know 60 years to be designated as diamond, courtesy of the British fanfare last year in celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 60th year on the throne.

Mostly, anniversaries are a happy affair, heralding the end of a successful year and optimistic about the coming one.

Next year, Malaysia will see the 60th anniversary of its establishment of relations with many countries, not surprising since Malaysia will be celebrating 60 years of independence in 2017. The High Commission of New Zealand started the ball rolling last month by launching a logo design competition to mark 60 years of friendship.

It is logical to assume therefore that the Foreign Ministry, too, will be celebrating 60 years of existence. Not so. The ministry’s roots lie from even before independence, when the chief minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, decided that external affairs warranted a department of its own. The department was one of only four departments housed in the chief minister’s office as he embarked on the road to the nation’s independence.

So, technically, the Foreign Ministry will be 61 next year. But, because relations can only be forged with an independent and sovereign nation, the anniversary of most of Malaysia’s diplomatic relations will fall in 2017, not 2016.

Going further afield and looking at world affairs, two major anniversaries next year in international relations will be observed in the Middle East, though not in a good way. In 1947, the partitioning of the Middle East by the United Nations led to a bitter fallout between the Arab and Jewish entities. Tensions dragged on until the Six Day War in 1967 which decisively ended in favour of Israel, and at a high cost to Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

So, 2017 will see 70 years since the Partition in the Middle East and 50 years since the loss of territory to what we see today.

As a people under Occupation, 50 years is simply too long to go without a “feasible” and “viable” solution — the catchwords of the international community, ensuring that the situation remains unresolved. Viable for whom has never been determined. Perhaps viable for everyone else except the Palestinians.

While others celebrate their Golden Anniversary in style, the Palestinians’ observance of it will definitely be of a different hue. Too many lives have been lost, too much oppression largely ignored, in this past half a century.

The saddest thing about this particular anniversary is that despite the majority of the world’s countries recognising the State of Palestine, it remains a shadow of a nation. Its membership in the UN remains in abeyance and relegated to the status of an observer state with no voting rights.

The State of Palestine has had to fight tooth and nail for every international recognition. In 2011, despite the odds, Palestine was admitted as a member of the UN’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). Immediately, one member of the Security Council’s Permanent Five retaliated by cutting its sizeable funding to the organisation.

Within the UN regional groups, the State of Palestine is a contributing member of the Asia-Pacific Group of which Malaysia is a member. Only at this regional grouping does Palestine’s vote actually matter, evident when Palestine was the tie-breaker in the decision for
who should be the group’s candidate for president of the General Assembly.

Other than these instances, the State of Palestine remains an ethereal being within international relations, its voice neither heard nor heeded. As far as anniversaries go, this is one anniversary the world would be better off without, if it means a change for the better for the people of Palestine.

The writer is attached to the public
diplomacy arm of the Foreign Service.
She is a research fellow of the University
of Sheffield and writes on international affairs

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