138 in favor, 9 opposed, 41 abstentions. The yeas have it.
Thursday, Palestinians took a giant step forward in asserting their identity as a sovereign people. In a speech delivered before the United Nations, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president, said, “The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine.”
Ironically occurring on the 65th anniversary of the United Nations vote that split the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Arab, the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to elevate Palestine to the status of a non-member observer state — a step seen by Palestinians and their supporters as an irrevocable step toward attaining independence as the sovereign state of Palestine.
Sixty-five years after having been occupied by the Jordanians (in East Jerusalem and the West Bank) and Egyptians (in Gaza) after the end of Mandatory Palestine, and 45 years after Israel occupied Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the calamitous (for the Arabs) Six Day War, the international community has affirmed the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Among the supporters was ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who wrote, “I believe that the Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it. Once the United Nations will lay the foundation for this idea, we in Israel will have to engage in a serious process of negotiations, in order to agree on specific borders based on the 1967 lines, and resolve the other issues. It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians. Abu-Mazen and Salam Fayyad need our help. It’s time to give it.”
Not everyone agreed. Joining the United States and Israel in opposition to the resolution were world powers Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.
Sadly, as she voted no, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said, “Today’s grand announcements will soon fade and the Palestinians will wake up to realize that little in their lives has changed.”
Sadly, she’s right.
Will fewer babies in Gaza go to bed hungry tonight as a result? Not a chance.
Will fewer Israeli settlers seize Palestinian land on the West Bank as a result? Not a chance.
Will there be fewer evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem as a result? Not a chance.
Will there be a symbolic new spring in the step of Palestinians as they walk across the fertile soil of their homeland today? Will the chins of Palestinians in the Diaspora be held a bit higher today?
Has Palestinian identity been reaffirmed by the world community?
The parameters for a peace settlement are well known. It is time for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman to recognize that a Palestinian state will exist someday — whether they like it or not. It will have as its capital East Jerusalem and while there may be minor border adjustments with swaps of land, there cannot be vast colonies of settlers living on land stolen from the Palestinians — whether the settlers like it or not.
A year ago I wrote in support of Palestinian statehood and, in that context, wrote that I believed that Netanyahu’s insistence that President Abbas declare “I will accept a Jewish state of Israel” was unacceptable. Arabs, including the Palestinians, have accepted on several occasions the right of the state of Israel to exist. Israel’s new demand, first articulated by Netanyahu in May 2009, for recognition of a “Jewish state” disenfranchises the non-Jewish 25 percent of Israeli citizens, mostly Muslim, some Christian.
Neither Egypt nor Jordan ever recognized a Jewish state; they recognized the state of Israel. In the real world Netanyahu doesn’t get to be Lucy, who keeps pulling away the football to keep Abbas from scoring a field goal.
In his U.N. speech President Abbas said, “I speak on behalf of an angry people. …; Israel continues to be permitted to evade accountability and punishment. …; This, in fact, represents a license for the occupation to continue its policy of dispossession and ethnic cleansing and encourages it to entrench its system of apartheid against the Palestinian people.”
In response, Israelis and Americans repeated, in their condemnations of the resolution, the same tired meme that the only way to a Palestinian state was through direct negotiations with Israel.
Ideally, that is true, but in reality Israel has never negotiated with the Palestinians as equal partners. It has acted unilaterally on annexation, occupation and dispossession. Negotiating with the Israelis over Palestinian issues is like watching two people argue over how to divide a pizza while one, the stronger, keeps eating as they talk, so there is less and less pizza to divide between them.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” — Leviticus 19:33-34.
Friday, in defiance of the UN vote, Israel approved construction of 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and also to begin preliminary work in other areas of the West Bank, including in the E-1 corridor that connects Jerusalem with the illegal colony of Ma’ale Adumim, which will disconnect Palestinian East Jerusalem from the West Bank — not the actions of a government that favors peace.
The Palestinians are angry and powerless. The Israelis are angry, powerful and defiant — and acting contrary to U.S. global interests.
Members of Congress are angry and spiteful and threatening to cut funding to United Nations agencies that accept the Palestinians as partners — actions that would be extremely harmful to American global interests.
Get over it. It’s in America’s strategic interests to get this settled. Remember, the straight path to Middle East peace goes through Jerusalem — and it includes the recognition of an independent and sovereign Palestine.
Honor two states.
Honor two peoples.
Honor the recognition of Palestinian identity.
“For it is often the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way we look at them that may set them free.” — Amin Maalouf.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.