Palestine versus Israel at the UN
Associate since 1991
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September 20, 201
This is a big week for the Palestinians and a big week for mankind. Whether it will end up being a big step forward remains to be seen. A BBC poll published yesterday reveals that there are large majorities in favour of admitting the state of Palestine to the United Nations - in Europe, in China and all the Muslim nations. Even in the US there is a significant majority in favour.
The US seems adamant it will use its veto in the UN Security Council. It’s not that President Barack Obama disagrees with the Palestinian urge to be recognised it is because he fears the (unrepresentative) Jewish lobby and the loss of votes and money it can bring him. The Europeans are still equivocating although there are powerful European voices trying to push the European Union into the “yes” camp.
Saudi Arabia, author of the best compromise yet tabled in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, is pushing the US and the Europeans hard to support Palestine’s urge to become a formal state. Important voices in its hierarchy are warning of the consequences if the US and Europe block the Palestinians’ way. It is clear that if not listened to the Saudis will be less of a firm, supportive, ally than they have been in the past.
What the Israelis have yet to realize is that the Arab Spring, although rooted in local grievances and the urge for democracy in individual countries, has created a totally new atmosphere in the Middle East. Change is possible, say the protestors. And they have shown that they mean it. This cannot but affect the attitude towards Israel. As we have seen with the mob attack on Israel’s embassy in Cairo and the dramatic change in stance of the government of Muslim Turkey the winds of change are blowing hard. The Israeli government may seem immoveable but the rest of the Middle East is in flux and there is no doubting this is going to have a serious impact on Israel and, indirectly, on the US. (The irony is that there is probably a majority in Israel who would agree to see a two state solution as spelt out by the Saudis, but Israel’s electoral system effectively hands a blocking mechanism to the smaller religious parties and their hard right membership.)
What the Israeli and US governments seem to overlook is that if the Israelis go on building settlements on Palestinian land, if they continue with their checkpoints and restrictions on Palestinian movement, a new generation, as in North Africa, will push the old Palestinian leadership aside and Israel will confront not “a negotiating partner” in the style of the Oslo agreement but a movement that is much more aggressive, with less holds barred. Israel is too comfortable, believing it has faced down the old time militants on the West Bank and the new time militants in Gaza. But this state of affairs will not last for ever.
Intransigence on the Israeli side will meet intransigence on the Palestinian side and a two-state solution will be cast aside. The struggle will become more South African in nature with majority rule the aim of the Arab population. It was once inconceivable in South Africa. It is arguably inconceivable now but, as we have seen with the Arab Spring, the unexpected does happen.
Meanwhile, assuming there is a US veto, the decision on some sort of recognition in the General Assembly (although giving Palestine less than full membership but something more like the status of the Vatican) will give Palestine the right to join UN bodies including the International Criminal Court. There it could ask for alleged Israeli war crimes to be investigated and punished. Israel will face further isolation. More of its best and brightest will emigrate, as they have been doing by the tens of thousand in recent years.
Even with a US veto the Palestinians have made political progress with this campaign. Obama would probably never have declared that the borders that existed until the war between Israel and the Arab states in 1967 should be the present day borders of Israel and Palestine, as he did earlier this year. The UN bid has also strengthened the Palestinian Authority’s standing back home where it has been losing legitimacy for want of breaking the seeming stalemate.
Assuming he wins a second term, Obama will have to deal with a weakened Israel and a more robust and militant Arab world. This will be his moment to strike and, as President Bill Clinton tried to do before, push the parties to a peace deal. Then it was sabotaged by the suspicious mind of Yasser Arafat and Israeli doubts about winning the approval of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. This time a deal must be sealed.
The recognition of a Palestinian state would be an important step towards realizing that hope.
Copyright © 2011 Jonathan
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