Palestinians Present Statehood Application To United Nations
We may have entered a new and dangerous phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Despite efforts by the United States to dissuade them from doing so, the Palestinian Authority has formally requested that the United Nations recognize it as a state on the same day that both Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the General Assembly:
UNITED NATIONS —President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority formally requested the Security Council to grant full United Nations membership on Friday as a path toward Palestinian statehood, rejecting arguments by the United States and Israel that it was not a substitute for direct negotiations for peace in the Middle East.
Mr. Abbas was greeted by numerous standing ovations from the moment he approached the lectern to deliver his speech to the General Assembly. “I do not believe anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application for full admission in the United Nations,” Mr. Abbas said, calling statehood “the realization of the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people.”
The largest and most sustained applause, along with cheers and whistles of approval, came as Mr. Abbas held up a copy of the letter requesting membership that he said he had handed to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shortly before. “The time has come,” he said.
Less than an hour later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took to the same lectern in “a hall that for too long has been place of darkness for my country” and said that he would not be seeking applause but rather speaking hard truths. “The truth is the Palestinians want a state without peace,” he said.
Mr. Netanyahu lashed out at the United Nations, whose prior actions against Israeli he described as “a theater of the absurd,” and challenged a comment by Mr. Abbas that the Palestinians were armed “only with their hopes and dreams.”
“Hopes, dreams — and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
The request for Palestinian statehood on land occupied by Israel has become the dominant issue at this year’s General Assembly, refocusing global attention on one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
Both men used the occasion to summarize the history of the conflict from their own perspectives. Mr. Netanyahu, in his early remarks, reviewed the many occasions when the United Nations had issued resolutions against Israel, saying the country had been unjustly singled out for condemnation “more often than all the other nations combined.”
Mr. Abbas, in his 40-minute speech, said every previous peace effort had been “shattered on the rock” of Israeli settlements and cited what he said was the historical responsibility of the United Nations to solve the problem.
He described the West Bank as “the last occupation” in the world, one that showed no sign of ending. “It is neither possible nor practical nor acceptable to return to conducting business as usual,” he said.
Drawing a line between his statehood request and the revolutions that swept through the Arab world this spring, he said, “The time has come also for the Palestinian spring, the time for independence.”
The Security Council is likely to take up the issue in earnest next week, diplomats said, when the question becomes whether the United States and its allies can stall it.
Washington is also working to prevent the Palestinians from gathering the nine votes needed for it to pass in the full council and thus avoid further wrecking the image of the United States in the Middle East by casting yet another veto against something Arabs dearly want.
It’s difficult to see how this ends well unless the Israelis and the Palestinians decide to finally sit down and talk about a final resolution of this whole matter, which seems unlikely. If the application falls short in the Security Council, Palestinians are likely to see it as being the result of American intervention to block a majority vote in their favor. If it gets the nine votes required and then gets blocked by a U.S. veto, then the result will be the same. In either case, it strikes me that this has the potential to do serious damage to the long-held American position that we’re a neutral broker in the dispute. I’m not sure that’s ever been true given that our ties with Israel are well-known to the world, but this would make it certain and would likely make it difficult for any American President to approach the Palestinians under the guise of objectivity.
That’s not saying that I think it would be advisable for the U.S. to allow this statehood vote to succeed, of course. However you feel about the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, it’s fairly clear that unilateral action like this isn’t going to do anything but inflame tensions in an already tense part of the world. Furthermore, how can you really say that there is such as thing as a Palestinian state when there’s not even agreement on what the borders of that state are?
The 1947 Partition that created Israel, and would have created a Palestinian state had the Arab world not declared war on the new nation immediately, established borders but it did so in a context where there were no other nations in existence in the area under question. One can quibble about the way the borders were drawn from land that used to be the British Mandate of Palestine, but the situation then was far different from what exists now. Israel is a sovereign nation, and the land that would theoretically make up this Palestinian state is disputed. Creating a state before resolving these situations is idiotic, and only seems guaranteed to create more tension between the parties.
There are already signs of that happening. Palestinians began rallying in the West Bank when word spread that the application was going to be submitted before Abbas’s speech, and tensions in the area are high:
As the Palestinians seek United Nations membership in New York, the situation on the ground remains calm. But tensions lie just below the surface. Israel has stationed thousands more police officers in the West Bank armed with tear gas, noise machines and putrid liquid to stop possible marches on settlements.
The settlers themselves have no training in such crowd-control techniques, and they fear for their communities, some of which reject fences for ideological reasons, arguing that they live in their homeland and will not fence themselves in. So the risk of their using live fire against Palestinians who might try to march on their communities is quite real. In more remote outposts, wooden clubs have been distributed.
“They feel the world is with them, so why not make an innocent march?” asked Shimon Shomron, a former undercover commando who heads the rapid response team of Bat Ayin, a fenceless settlement near Bethlehem known for its radicalism. He stood on a ridge looking at the Palestinian town of Tzurif across the valley, an M-16 across his shoulder. “But they know we will not meet them with flowers.”
For much of the world, the very presence of more than 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank amounts to a kind of violent crime. They are holding land widely considered Palestinian by right, obstructing a two-state solution. And they are armed and protected by one of the world’s most powerful militaries.
But geopolitics aside, the question facing security forces — both Palestinian and Israeli — in the coming weeks and months is whether the relative quiet of the past few years is coming to an end. And a wild card in their calculations, they say, is the small group of radical, frightened settlers who have recently attacked both Palestinian villages and an Israeli military base.
“I consider this a major threat,” Police Chief Yohanan Danino, Israel’s national police chief, said recently of settler violence in announcing a new team of police officers aimed at tracking radical Jews. “Those events are liable to produce an escalation, and that is the last thing we need right now.”
All it takes is one little incident to set off a tinder box like the West Bank. The Arab Spring started when a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire in a public square because he was sick and tired of being harassed by the police. It’s not hard to imagine one confrontation between a settler and a group of Palestinians going badly and leading to something more widespread. Both sides are at fault in this dispute, and they both need to make the compromises necessary to get negotiations started, but I fear that Abbas’s foolish move is only going to make more conflict inevitable.