Sunday, Jul 21, 2024

Palestinian Showdown at the UN – What Does It Mean?

Assuming that the US does veto it, passage by a two-thirds majority for such a resolution in the General Assembly is a virtual certainty. While that would not result in recognition of Palestinian statehood under international law, it would represent a major diplomatic defeat for Israel. Such a vote would add a false veneer of legitimacy to a Palestinian regime which does not deserve nor meet the minimum requirements for statehood, and which poses a serious potential threat to the peace and security of the region. Israel and the United States have condemned the Palestinian move as a ploy to avoid honest negotiations leading to the so-called “two-state solution.” The goal of those negotiations is to reach a mutually acceptable resolution to the near century-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Everybody knows that there are serious and difficult issues which must be resolved in order to reach an agreement on which a durable Middle East peace can be built. These include a reasonable division of West Bank territory, which displaces a minimum number of people from their homes and land. For peace in the region to last, humane provisions must be made for millions of Arabs who have been trapped in refugee camps for more than 60 years. A reasonable resolution must be found regarding Yerushalayim, and to guarantee free access to its holy sites by members of all faiths. Last, but not least, an essential requirement for long term peace is for both the Palestinians and the Arab states to end their permanent state of war against Israel and accept its existence in the region as it is today, a homeland for the Jewish people.

 That is the outcome which the originators of the Oslo peace process had in mind almost 20 years ago when they started meeting secretly to come up with an alternative to the Madrid international peace conference at the end of the first Persian Gulf War.


Few now remember that the Oslo process was initiated as an alternative to the US-sponsored Madrid meetings. At the time, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders decided that they did not want any outside power, including the United States, to impose a peace upon them.




The same principle still applies today. The only way to resolve these final status issues is for the principals to negotiate them directly. It is no more practical for the UN to try to impose on Israel the Palestinian answers to these same problems today than it was 20 years ago when the US tried to do it through the Madrid conference.


Because Israel will have virtually no input into the proceedings at the UN, media-driven expectations that the UN vote to recognize a Palestinian state will help resolve their conflict are both misleading and misguided.


The fact that Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have rejected the negotiating process and opted instead for a UN recognition bid is a sign that they do not want peace with Israel, and perhaps never did. This leads to the alarming conclusion that the Palestinians are deliberately setting the stage for a new Middle East war.




That suspicion was there from the beginning of the Oslo peace process. Initially there was rapid progress toward a basic territorial resolution. The Labor-led Israeli government turned over control of first Gaza and Yericho to the new Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat and his PLO followers recently returned from exile in Tunisia. That was followed by Israel’s handover of the Arab populated West Bank towns of Bais Lechem, Ramallah, Shechem, Jenin, Tulkarm and Kalkaliya.


In many ways, the high point of the peace process was the signing of the initial Oslo peace accords on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, and the famous handshake between Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, with President Bill Clinton looking on. Many Jews around the world, even those who strongly supported the settlers, hoped that the Palestinians were sincere in seeking peace, despite well-founded fears that the Arabs could not be trusted. In many respects, hope for the peace process went downhill from there.




From the beginning, there has always been a question about the sincerity of the Palestinians in making peace with Israel. There was always great skepticism that Arafat and his regime would abide by the security arrangements in the signed peace treaties which required the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism and protect Israel from attack from its territory.


The Palestinians never kept their promises to end the incitement of their Arab population to violence against Israel, and to remove the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic references from their children’s schoolbooks. There were serious questions as to whether the PLO ever changed the provisions of its charter calling for Israel’s destruction, and there was the recurring problem of Arafat telling Westerners of his support for the peace process in English, while reassuring his Arab followers that his ultimate goal remained the destruction of Israel, by one means or another.




The goal of Palestinian statehood was never mentioned in the three signed Oslo peace agreements. It was always referred to as one of the “final status” issues which would be addressed once the initial withdrawals, and other so-called “confidence building” measures had built up the necessary level of mutual trust and good will to tackle the more difficult issues.


Sadly, the two sides never got to the point when such final status talks could begin in earnest. The first serious interruption was the terrorist bus bombing outbreak in early 1996, due to the failure of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its security obligations to Israel. This led directly to the fall of the Rabin-Peres government which had initiated the peace process. The attacks also led to the election of Binyomin Netanyahu as prime minister, who took a much more skeptical view of Palestinian intentions and sincerity.


The next blow to the peace process was the behavior of President Clinton at the Wye Peace Conference in 1998, breaking his promise to Netanyahu to free Jonathan Pollard from a US prison in return for the release of captured Palestinian terrorists. The Wye Conference undermined the Netanyahu government and led to the election of Ehud Barak as prime minister.




Even though neither side was ready for final status negotiations, Bill Clinton pressed the issue, and prematurely convened the 2000 Camp David summit. It was there that Barak, for the first time, put the future of Yerushalayim on the negotiating table, and presented an Israeli map depicting what a Palestinian state should look like.


Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s offer led to the collapse of the negotiating effort. Instead, Arafat ordered that the terror intifada be unleashed on Israel. Even though Israel never formally agreed to negotiate over the future of Yerushalayim or to recognize a Palestinian state, those concepts have become widely accepted in the international diplomatic community as an inevitable fait accompli in any permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.


That is the historic background which has ultimately led to this month’s diplomatic showdown at the United Nations between the Palestinians and their Israel-hating allies on one side, and Israel, with the wavering support of the US and some of its European friends on the other.


In fact, the Palestinians do not meet the minimum criteria under international law for recognition as a state. With respect to the West Bank, the makeup of its permanent population and its actual boundaries are still undefined. The only way to define them in a fair and reasonable way is through the sporadic negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis which began in 1992.


Since 2007, the Palestinian government has been divided between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli army is, in fact, the true power in military control of the West Bank. Finally, there is the fourth characteristic of a state, the capacity to enter into relations with other states. The sorry record of Palestinian Authority of non-compliance with its signed peace agreements with Israel calls that into question as well.


Thus, the conclusion of all the experts in international law is that the Palestinian Authority does not fully meet any of the formal legal requirements for recognition as an independent state. It lacks a permanent population, defined territory, an effective single government and the ability to maintain international relations.




Abbas’ failure to make any meaningful concessions in peace negotiations with Olmert, and his refusal to negotiate with Netanyahu, proves that he is not serious about seeking a Palestinian state on reasonable terms with Israel. In fact, the Palestinians could have had statehood and recognition, on fairly generous territorial terms from Israel, any time they wanted it in 1998. That was the last time the Palestinians made loud noises about independence, under Arafat, and then thought better of it. Arafat, it seems, was not interested in undertaking the responsibilities that come with statehood, such as picking up the garbage and making sure the buses ran on time. He preferred to continue blaming Israel for the Palestinian’s troubles to justify his efforts to harass and weaken Israel.




Under Arafat, the Palestinian Authority was a very dysfunctional government, incapable of delivering basic services, or keeping law and order. It is only over the past two years, under the direction of Abbas’ prime minister, Salam Fayad, that the Palestinian Authority has gotten its bureaucracy up and running effectively. However, it is still running at an operating deficit of $800 million annually, and can only maintain its security control over the West Bank with extensive US and Israeli assistance.


The Palestinian Authority remains totally dependant upon international financial contributions to balance its budget, and it has been falling behind operations. On Monday the Saudis announced an emergency $200 million payment to the PA to keep it from financial collapse.




Therefore it is time to rethink the whole idea of creating and recognizing a Palestine state.


When the Oslo peace process began, there was more reason to hope that the Palestinians were willing to engage in serious negotiations with Israel on such issues as West Bank borders, the future of the settlements and Yerushalayim. But developments since then have made the hope that the peace process would result in an Israeli and Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace seem less realistic than ever.


Supporters of a Palestinian state have also consistently ignored the serious questions about the legitimacy of Abbas’ government.


Hamas won the most recent Palestinian legislative election in 2006. Hamas has now been in full control of Gaza for four years, and represents a constant threat to Abbas’ control in the West Bank.


Abbas’ electoral mandate as the elected president of the PA expired in 2009. Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, he has been effectively ruling the West Bank by decree. Abbas’ prime minister, Salam Fayyad, was also never confirmed in office by the Palestinian legislative council.


Abbas never had a real Palestinian constituency of his own. Arafat considered him to be his puppet. He inherited Arafat’s position by default after his death, and has never achieved personal popularity or even much respect.


At age 76, Abbas has no future as the head of the PA or a new Palestinian state. After he steps down, Hamas will most likely take over the PA.


If that happens, the current relative quiet and prosperity in the West Bank will quickly come to an end, and all Israeli population centers within Grad missile range of the West Bank, including Ben Gurion Airport, are likely to come under missile attack. If Palestinian independence has been recognized by then, an Israeli army response will be considered an attack on a sovereign state.




The Palestinians are demanding more than just control over the West Bank and East Yerushalayim. They are insisting that the areas be made Judenrein.


While that proved to be just barely possible in removing the settlements from Gaza in 2005, there is no way that any Israeli government could replicate that evacuation on the scale that the Palestinians are now demanding.


The human disaster which resulted from the Gaza disengagement was precipitated by moving less than 10,000 people out of their homes. It proves that no Israeli government could satisfy the Palestinians by evacuating 50 times that number of Jews from their homes, even if it wanted to. It is simply not possible for Israel to manage the logistics, pay the costs of relocation, or get half a million residents to voluntarily leave their current homes.


It is simply unrealistic to expect any Israeli government to accept a fiat from the Security Council or the United States demanding the surrender of the entire West Bank and East Yerushalayim, and requiring the uprooting of half a million Jews from their homes there. In short, the only way for the Palestinians to achieve their stated territorial goals is by fighting another war against Israel, chalilah.




The confrontation over Palestinian recognition in the Security Council is certain to have painful diplomatic repercussions for Israel. Once again its legitimacy as a member in good standing of the community of nations will be challenged, and it will become more isolated.


After their Security Council application is vetoed, the Palestinians will go to the General Assembly to seek whatever form of enhanced status it can grant. Getting the required two-thirds majority for almost any anti-Israel resolution has never been difficult, but the General Assembly is not empowered to set contested national boundaries, or to impose them by force. That is the domain of the Security Council.


The General Assembly is not even empowered to grant full UN membership status. The best the General Assembly can do is to upgrade the observer status of the Palestinians, which they have enjoyed since 1974, to that of a non-member state, which is the same diplomatic status enjoyed by the Vatican.


As a practical matter, the Palestinians already enjoy extensive diplomatic status and international recognition. It is doubtful whether achieving the same status as the Roman Catholic church would be enough to satisfy the cravings of the Palestinian leadership, which seems to be much more interested in harming Israel than improving the lot of their own people.


Despite the constant complaints by Israel’s enemies about the “occupation,” the standard of living and freedom of movement for Arabs in the West Bank has improved greatly during the past four years, thanks to growing security cooperation between Israel and the PA. Life is now better there than at any time since the start of the intifada in 2000. Even in Gaza, the relaxation of the Israeli embargo over the past year means that the so-called “humanitarian crisis” there is a total fiction, made up by Israel’s enemies.




The truth is that the Palestinians as a people have little in common with one another to justify statehood, except for their shared hatred of Israel. There is no Palestinian language or cultural heritage.


Many of the original Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence were relatively recent arrivals, and had few common bonds. The very concept of a distinct Palestinian Arab identity did not begin until after they fled. Many had come to the land of Israel over the previous decades from throughout the region, attracted by the increased commerce that the Jewish immigrants from Europe had generated, and seeking work.


Before that era, there was a relatively small population of Arab families indigenous to the land, living in small villages and in cities such as Yerushalayim, Bais Lechem, Yaffo, Yericho and Chevron.




Their fellow Arabs do not recognize them as a distinct people either. That is why the Arab states rejected the 1947 UN proposal to partition Palestine that would have created two states at that time. Instead surrounding Arab states invaded with the intent of destroying the newborn Israel and taking whatever land they conquered for themselves. Jordan annexed the West Bank and East Yerushalayim, and the Egyptians assumed control of Gaza. Those Arab states never considered granting Palestinian statehood in those areas until after Israel took them over in the 1967 Six Day War.


During those years, and until today, Arab states have treated the Palestinian Arabs shamefully. With the exception of Jordan, the Arab states do not permit the Palestinian residents, who they keep locked in refugee camps, to acquire citizenship and become absorbed into the population.


After the first Gulf War, for example, Kuwait expelled many of the Palestinians living there as traitors. In other Arab countries, they are often treated with suspicion and as second class citizens.


The Arab states have not even contributed significantly to the basic sustenance of the refugees, with much of the humanitarian aid going to their support coming from Western countries over the years.


However, Arab leaders have found the Palestinian issue to be a useful political diversion. They use Israel’s continued “occupation of Palestinian lands” to divert the attention of their people from their own despotic ways, even long after the “occupation” ended, in such areas as Gaza, after the 2005 Israeli withdrawal, and more recently in the larger Arab-populated towns in the West Bank, which are now patrolled by security forces of the Palestinian Authority.


Until the Arab Spring, whenever the citizens of countries like Syria or Iraq would demand more freedom or honesty from their leaders, their leaders would tell them that “the Palestinian problem” would have to be settled first, and then go back to business as usual.




Unfortunately, the advent of the Arab Spring, which started out this year with hope for real progress in the region, has failed to change that reality. At first, there really was an effort by the masses to rid themselves of despots, but soon after that goal was achieved in Egypt, old patterns of hatred and mindless anti-Semitism, at the expense of true progress toward democracy, reared their ugly heads.


Josef Joffe, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says of the current situation in the Arab world, “the demons of yore are back, and presumably, they have never left.”


The problem did not start with the mob attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo earlier this month, but it did show that the attitudes of the new crop of Arab leaders hasn’t changed.


As rioters attacked and tried to destroy the embassy, Israeli leaders tried for six hours to contact the leader of Egypt’s interim military government, Field Marshal Tantawi, who refused to pick up the phone. In the end, the Israeli embassy guards barely escaped being lynched only because Washington had interceded.


Even during the “good times,” when Israel had a functional, but decidedly cool, peace treaty with Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak was not very friendly. There was a military peace along Israel’s borders with Egypt and Jordan, but that did not stop those countries from being the world’s prime sources of anti-Semitic literature, including poor copies of Nazi tracts, blood libels and notorious forgeries, such as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In popular media entertainment and newspaper cartoons throughout the Arab world, Jews are still depicted as bloodsuckers or cannibals, while radical Islamic clerics routinely refer to Jews as subhuman animals.




According to Joffe, “The import of European anti-Semitism began in the ‘30s, long before Israel’s birth, let alone its conquest of the West Bank. . .


“The mistake of Arab Spring optimists like me was to ignore the stubborn reality behind the well-worn tactic. They should have asked: Why would the despots call on those particular demons? Because they are an integral part of Arab political culture, hence so easy to rouse. . .


“Acceptance of the “Other” who is the Jew (or even a Copt Christian) is not a pillar of Islamic culture. But the opposite–abhorrence–is such superb cement for societies rent by myriad conflicts: between sects, classes, tribes and nationalities, between modernity and tradition, city and country, devout and secular. To serve as target and unifier has been the fate of Jews in Europe, and it remains their fate in Arabia.”


There is no reasoning with this kind of hatred. As seen now with the Egyptians and the Turks, once Islamic hatreds have been stoked by propaganda, the masses and their leaders are not interested in apologies or explanations. This is especially true when Muslims bear some of the responsibility for the violence, as was the case with the Turks in the incident at sea last year when one of their ships tried to run the blockade of Gaza, and the Egyptians last month, when they allowed terrorists to attack Israel from their territory in the Sinai Desert, leading to the death of five Egyptian soldiers.




The same could be said of the Palestinians, despite their protestations of wanting peace with Israel. Their uncompromising demands for Israeli concessions and their provocative actions at the UN speak louder than the apologists who are always urging Israel to make one more concession to get peace talks restarted.


Their goal is the same as the mob which attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo while chanting, “Peace must go. Israel must go.”


The Palestinians have no desire for enhanced diplomatic status other than to make it easier for them to persecute Israel and its leaders in international courts and forums. Abbas said so in an op-ed piece he wrote in the New York Times in May.


The Arabs have already made several such attempts, and there is no reason to believe they would stop, no matter how the General Assembly votes on the Palestinian petition for recognition.


The Palestinians have felt free to pursue their hostile course of action towards Israel in recent years. They are confident, with good reason, that the international community will not hold them responsible, or treat Israel fairly when it acts in self defense against attacks.


However, the gains which the Palestinians can hope for from the General Assembly seem hardly worth the diplomatic effort and bruised feelings.


Their main hope, from the beginning, has been to put the Obama administration under such pressure with an appeal for membership in the Security Council that they would put irresistible pressure on Israel for more concessions, without making any of their own.


Abbas has made it abundantly clear that he is not interested in any kind of negotiated settlement that would give legitimacy to Israel as we know it. He has rejected efforts by the Quartet envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to create a joint statement endorsed by the Quartet which would serve as a basis for a new round of negotiations. Blair came up with a text the Quartet could back, but Abbas has rejected it because it would recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.


Similar efforts by European countries to fashion a compromise proposal for a General Assembly vote have been rejected by Abbas for the same reason.


This has exposed Abbas’ real agenda, the delegitimization of Israel rather than the creation of a viable Palestinian state.




 While there might have been some doubt six months ago as to whether Obama would cast a veto against a Palestinian application to the Security Council for recognition, at this point, the US is clearly committed to such a course of action.


Many believe that Obama’s emerging commitment to Israel on this point is motivated by the grim realities of his current re-election prospects. Others will argue that it is the only course that is consistent with the long term goal, a negotiated peace settlement that both Israel and the Palestinians can commit themselves to in the long run.




Obama’s attempts at peacemaking have allowed the Palestinians to continually move the goal posts for restarting negotiations by adopting, as their pre-conditions, Obama’s publicly stated demands on Israel. Obama has already done this twice, first, during the opening months of his administration, when he publicly demanded a total construction freeze on the West Bank and in Yerushalayim, and second, in May, when he upstaged Netanyahu, publicly demanding, just before he was scheduled to visit the White House, that Israel concede the pre-‘67 lines as the default opening position for its future permanent borders with the Palestinian state.


Every time Obama puts forward another idea for an Israeli concession in order to restart peace negotiations, he raises Arab expectations and demands for Israeli concessions even higher.




The remaining Jewish defenders of President Obama are quick to note that in supporting a return to the pre-1967 boundaries, he envisions mutually agreeable land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians in order to avoid the need for most of the resettlement. In fact, before Abbas broke off peace talks with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert three years ago, Olmert had presented a map showing just how such swaps might work. Even with the swaps, Olmert’s plan also called for the forcible resettling of more than 50,000 Jews from their current homes. Abbas was unwilling to agree to more than just a small fraction of the swaps that Olmert had proposed.


Abbas never made a counteroffer to Olmert. Neither did Arafat when Ehud Barak first put East Yerushalayim and almost the entire West Bank on the negotiating table for the first time at the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. Instead, Abbas, like Arafat eight years earlier, just walked away. But the next time the United States suggested restarting the peace talks, Arafat and Abbas were quick to take the last Israeli territorial offer, which they had previously rejected, as their opening demands for the next round of negotiations.


By this time, the Palestinian negotiating tactics should be clear: Be willing to give up nothing of substance, while quietly pocketing every offered Israeli concession. Walk away, and then rely on the US and the diplomatic community to force the Israelis to concede what was last offered, in exchange for nothing, when the next round of talks starts. That is precisely what Abbas is trying to accomplish at the United Nations, with a variation.




Arabs now understand that the way for them to get what they want is to seem even more stubborn and unreasonable than Israel. They can be confident that some American diplomat, with the encouragement of Jewish liberals, will eventually support the Palestinian claims, in the naive belief that any Israel concessions, short of committing national suicide, could ultimately satisfy Arab demands.


The simple truth that nobody at the UN publicly admits is that the Palestinian territorial demands are unrealistic, and were probably never serious. The General Assembly and the Security Council can vote any way they want. Israel simply can’t remove and resettle all those people. Not only that, it would be wrong.


A UN resolution establishing a Palestinian state along the ‘67 borders, including East Yerushalayim, would be nothing short of a de facto declaration of the next Israeli-Arab war.


Of course, the “Arab street” does not understand this, nor does it want to. The attractive fairy tale of the so-called “Arab Spring” which unfolded earlier this year, has been unmasked. While the effort to depose the likes of Gadhaffi and Bashar Assad may be worthwhile, it is not clear how much of an improvement their successors are likely to be. The riots in Cairo months after the overthrow of Mubarak show that chances that the “Arab Spring” will lead to a flowering of true democracy and freedom throughout the region any time soon are virtually nil.




In fact, the peace process has been moving backwards for some time. When the peace process began, the Palestinians were, at least, united under a central government, regardless of its faults. Now the Palestinians are ruled by two hostile quasi-governments, which also share a hostility toward Israel. Palestinian elections are years overdue.


A sincere willingness to live in peace with Israel is far from self-evident. A desire to normalize relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors is virtually non-existent.


All this raises an obvious question. Why would the creation of an independent Palestinian state under these circumstances be desirable? A better course of action would be for the US and the international community to demand accountability from the Palestinians, and meaningful gestures of sincerity for reaching a peace agreement with Israel.




The White House should warn the Palestinians that declaring statehood at the UN would lead to the closure of the PA’s office in Washington, and the cancellation of all of their US government aid.


After all, the Palestinian cause is hardly unique, nor is it particularly worthy. There are many other national groups in the world, such as the Kurds throughout the Middle East, the Tibetans in China, and the Chechens in Russia. Unlike the Palestinians, they have their own distinct cultures, and a much stronger historical argument to justify their claims for recognition and independence than the Palestinians do.


The Palestinians have been given many opportunities in recent years to achieve statehood alongside Israel, and rejected them all. Isn’t it time to give that opportunity to another people which is more interested in creating a viable state of its own, rather than trying to destroy its neighbor?






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