The Palestinian Turn To The U.N. Is Good News For Israel
The "pro-Israel" lobby has cowboyed up for the fight against any Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations this fall. It may have already convinced President Obama to issue a veto if a statehood resolution comes before the Security Council and to vote "no" if it gets to the General Assembly.
The lobby, of course, is taking its cues from the Netanyahu government, which appears terrified by the prospect of U.N. involvement. Of course, the Israeli government's position is contradictory. It simultaneously argues that a United Nations vote would be meaningless and that it would represent an "existential" threat to Israel itself.
The biggest contradiction of all is the assertion that the Palestinian attempt to resolve its conflict with Israel at the United Nations represents a threat to diplomacy.
After all, what is the United Nations other than an arena for conflict resolution by means of diplomacy? Having abandoned the effort to end the occupation through violence, the Palestinians are turning to the U.N. What could be wrong with that?
In fact, there is nothing wrong with it. In 1947, the Jews of Palestine (who would later become Israelis) knew that the United Nations was the only forum where they could achieve recognition of a state. As any Israeli will tell you, it was the United Nations General Assembly that granted Israel its birth certificate. Israel's own declaration of independence says as much:
On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.
The Israelis went to the United Nations for precisely the same reason the Palestinians will. Attempts at negotiations had failed. The Palestinian leadership in the late 1940s was dominated by extremists who had no interest in compromise with the Jews. The Israeli leadership today is similarly inflexible.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu refuses even to temporarily halt the seizure of Palestinian land during the course of negotiations, insisting on his right to keep building on occupied West Bank land he asserts will be his after negotiations anyway.
Every effort by President Obama to facilitate negotiations has been rebuffed by Netanyahu, who even came to Washington to rally the lobby-dominated Congress against an Obama framework that is identical to plans Israel had previously endorsed.
So the Palestinians are going the United Nations route, which Israel and its lobby insist is tantamount to terrorism.
In fact, recognition of the state of Palestine by the United Nations would be a first step on the road toward successful negotiations, which would have to follow a U.N. declaration. After all, no U.N. action can force Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank. The army and the settlers will still be there, U.N. or no U.N.
That is why one of the first things the Palestinian leadership says the new state of Palestine would do will be to ask Israel to commence negotiations over borders, security arrangements, refugees, holy places, etc. The only difference U.N. recognition would make is that it would be harder for Netanyahu to say "no" after the United Nations had, in effect, declared that Israel was occupying not some vague entity but another sovereign state.
That is why the Israeli right and its camp of followers here are so opposed to any U.N. action; it could lead to negotiations and, worst of all, to Israel's negotiated withdrawal from the West Bank.
Here is David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee and one of the lobby leaders closest to Netanyahu, writing this week about the prospect that Israel might have to leave the West Bank.
No, it is admittedly not an easy path, any more than it is for Israel, which will be asked to take enormous, even unprecedented, risks for an agreement, given its challenging neighborhood and small size — it was only nine miles wide at its narrowest point until 1967, which for Eban evoked "insecurity and danger" and, as a result, "a memory of Auschwitz."
This hysterical rhetoric (Auschwitz!) is a throwback to the days before the Palestinians recognized not only Israel's right to exist but also its right to security. It conveniently ignores that it was from within those "Auschwitz" borders that Israel defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967 in six days (at the cost of 776 Israeli lives), while six years later, from vastly expanded borders, Israel lost 2,688 soldiers and almost the war itself following an Egyptian and Syrian attack. That struggle lasted three weeks.
It intentionally ignores the fact that the Palestinian leader pushing for U.N. action is Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is not only a moderate but whose forces work every day with the Israeli army and security agencies to prevent violence and terrorism. Fayyad, like President Mahmoud Abbas, is dedicated to peace with Israel, and not even David Harris would be able to come up with a single action by either that demonstrates otherwise.
As for Hamas, any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would not even get to draft form if it did not include an absolute end to violence and the means to inflict violence on the part of Hamas. Does Harris fear that Israeli negotiators don't understand that? An agreement is, by definition, signed by both sides. Would Israeli negotiators agree to withdraw from even an inch of territory if they thought it would jeopardize Israel's security, let alone evoke a "memory of Auschwitz"?
Of course not.
Taking their case to the United Nations is a powerful statement by the Palestinian leadership that they have rejected terrorism once and for all and that they are determined to live in peace alongside Israel. It is also a sign that the "hard men" of violence who once dominated Palestinian politics are relics of the past. The future belongs to people like Salam Fayyad, who, in the words of New Republic writer and life-long Zionist Leon Wieseltier, "is the man of whom all Israelis and Palestinians who are not maniacs have dreamed."
This is a moment of opportunity, perhaps the last. Friends of both Israelis and Palestinians should do everything they can to support action by the U.N. to create a Palestinian state this fall.
The alternative — the end to diplomacy and the rebirth of utter hopelessness — will almost inevitably lead to disaster for Israel, for Palestine and for American interests, too.