December 10, 2012
Anyone curious to learn why Israel has had such difficulty reaching agreement with the Palestinians should read Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 29, just before the world body approved nonmember-state status for "Palestine."
Abbas noted that 65 years earlier on that date, the General Assembly had partitioned the territory formerly under British rule into Jewish and Arab states. That, he said, became "the birth certificate for Israel," and now the international body had "a historic duty" to issue a similar birth certificate for an Arab state of Palestine.
Conveniently missing from his analysis is the reason for the 65-year hiatus. While Israel accepted partition in 1947, the Palestinians and the entire Arab world refused, attacking the fledgling Jewish state in the hope of annihilating it. Israel survived and thrived and, despite a series of further wars launched by Arab states, never gave up on the dream of peace with its neighbors. Today, Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and seeks a negotiated two-state agreement with the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority, however, avoids talks with Israel, and so appealed directly to the UN for enhanced status. Rather than risk the embarrassment of recalling the actual history of the Middle East conflict that demonstrates the Palestinians' own responsibility for failing to secure a state, Abbas presented a fictional account to the General Assembly of events since 1947.
He spoke of "barbaric" Israeli aggression, its alleged policy of "occupation, brute force and war," and threw in for good measure the inflammatory charges of racism, colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Besides being a litany of lies, this is hardly the way the leader of a national movement seeking international recognition should speak about the country with which he needs to live in peace.
And yet 138 UN members went ahead and heedlessly approved nonstate membership. Fifty states withstood considerable diplomatic pressure to go along, however; 41 of them abstaining and nine voting against. Among the opponents of the resolution, particular credit goes to the United States, whose UN ambassador, Susan Rice, stressed that peace "cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall"; Canada, which, under its current government, has become a staunch supporter of democratic Israel; the Czech Republic, the only European Union nation to buck the tide; and Panama, the sole Latin American country to put conscience over expediency.
As the beleaguered opponents of the General Assembly resolution pointed out before and after the vote, passage changes no facts on the ground, since Israel naturally and rightfully insists on face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinians before granting any form of recognition. All that the UN action accomplishes is the possibility for mischief. With its new status, the Palestinian Authority could well poison the atmosphere even further by bringing trumped-up charges of war crimes against Israel, before the International Criminal Court.
If the PA pursues that path of confrontation, it will make the goal of attaining two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace, even more elusive. "We have always been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace they both deserve," Rice told the General Assembly, explaining the U.S. vote of opposition.
Many countries, including the Europeans who backed the resolution, sought to explain their "yes" votes as expressions of support for a two-state solution. If truly committed to peace, those countries must now press Abbas to fulfill his pledge to resume negotiations with Israel.
After all, in the real world, the only path to sustainable peace is direct talks, and without layer upon layer of preconditions. Abbas walked away from the table four years ago. Israel awaits his return.
Lilli Platt is director of the American Jewish Committee Long Island regional office.