Jewish Journal

A Total Misunderstanding of Symbolism

by Ariel Blumenthal

December 3, 2012 | 3:51 pm

Abbas at the UN

Perhaps it’ll turn out to be a positive step on the way to peace. Who knows? There was something relatively pleasing in seeing Mahmoud Abbas - a man who can’t be accused of religious zeal and insanity - on the UN podium.

But the Palestinian celebration at the UN was not a historical victory for the spirit of freedom and peace, neither was it a poetic moment of justice.

“There was no need for another devastating war” Abbas told the General Assembly, relating to the last violence around Gaza. Indeed, there was no need for any of the wars in the past 65 years: In 1947 the UN accepted resolution 181, which divided the British Mandate over what’s now Israel, the West-Bank and Gaza into the 2-states everybody’s talking about. It could’ve ended there: The Zionists agreed and established Israel, but the Arabs refused to compromise; Jordan annexed the West Bank; Egypt took over Gaza, and that’s where the roots of the “State that is lacking”, as Abbas put it, are laid.

Anticipating the UN vote in 1947, Palestinian leader of the time, Haj-Amin Al-Husseini, said that “Blood will spill like water in the Middle East” if the partition is accepted, and the Lebanese PM clarified that “No Arab government would accept the proposition”. Lobbying trends at the UN were clearly recognizeable: the Zionist diplomats were aggressively promoting the acceptance of the compromise, while an inter-Arab campaign lobbied for its dismissal. Meanwhile, on the ground, Arab political and military leaders were “...Each trying to demonstrate a more radical stance than their peers”, as reported by Dr. Paul Mohn, a member in UNSCOP, the UN committee that led to the partition resolution. (Quote from "1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War" by Benny Morris).

Sorry to bring such a decisive conclusion after 1:17 minutes of reading, but trust me - this goes back 65 years and change back: The refusal of the Palestinians and Arabs in general to see a Jewish state in the Middle East - even at the corner of their eyes - is at the root of this conflict.

The UN itself woke up the next morning with a horrible feeling of having had a drunk moment, and is since, it seems, trying to undo it. As Abbas noted, the day of the partition vote itself (29-November), was later designated by the UN (the body which carried out the vote) as “A day of international solidarity with the Palestinian people” (The people who rejected to compromise even after the vote). Sym....bolic...?

So when Abbas calls voting in favor of his bid “A most valuable voice for courage”, he forgets that the delegates - who must have had a subtle sense of déja-vu -had already cast their courageous votes 65 years ago.

When he calls for “A birth certificate for the state of Palestine”, he omits that the certificate had been given 65 years ago by the very body he addresses, but refused delivery.

And when he calls the General Assembly’s attention to a “Moral duty which it must not hesitate to undertake”, he should at least feel a tad uncomfortable, since it was him - symbolically of course - who refused his moral duty to compromise, back when this conflict was still just a little ugly.

Indeed, Abbas shows a total lack of understanding of symbolism. What was resolution 181, the resolution he’s making a symbolic statement about by showing up 65 years later, on the day? Did 181 grant sovereignty and statehood to the Jews only, and ripped off the Arabs? If it had - Abbas would have been right to proudly appear at the UN and demand to correct history. But 181 didn't do that, it granted sovereignty and statehood to both, it was a peaceful compromise, but that was too much: As put by Azzam Pasha, head of the Arab League in 1947, “The Arabs will never accept a Jewish state”.

The cause-and-effect aspect of the real history has always been omitted from the Palestinian narrative, and is now banned internationally. A truth-lover prohibition. At this point I should totally save this blog entry from appearing to be nothing but a whining session, and clarify that this is not just an issue of patty accusations (or historical injustice - depending who you ask). No, the issue at hand is whether the rejection at the root of the death, destruction, suffering, violence and war of the past 65 years is changed, or does it persist.

It could have been different last week at the UN, with just a bit of humility. Recognize your historic refusal as a means to correct it, and finally accept the partition - for real. If Abbas had done that, the Israeli Prime Minister Office would have taken no longer than 1 day to get over the shock (I hope) and issue a statement showing compassion for the Palestinian suffering, or even apology for the suffering Israel caused throughout the conflict.

Boom! Restart.


But the Palestinians always restart from the same drive - maybe it’s a Windows thing. Abbas did check all the required expressions: “2-states”, “Peace”, “Justice” - so how come his speech still had that UN-inspired air of Israel delegitimization (aka: undoing that drunk moment):

“Racism” -  3 times.
“Apartheid” - check.
“Colonialism” - a staple in delegitimizing - multiple checks.
“War Crimes” - totally.
“Ethnic cleansing” - you betcha.

A smart song once suggested that “You can't jump head-on to the pool if it’s empty, and you can’t cook your spaghetti if the stove is off.” You also can’t achieve peace through the language of hate and delegitimization; Ask the Irish, ask Aung San Suu Kyi, ask the Dalai-Lama. These are, in fact, the very elements of conflict, not of resolution - as seen 65 years ago. 

Will the UN resolution lead to positive results? In the long run - maybe yes, I hope so. I want to believe that today’s Palestinian leader has more to show for in the way of peaceful attitudes than his predecessors 65 years ago. Whatever ends up happening, the selective, unfounded history the world has so easily accepted last week, the one that disregards intent, cause-and-effect, proportion and context, is no step forward to any decent person.

And than there’s the International Court issue. And Hamas. But that’s next time.


Follow me on Twitter: @LostRoadToPeace

Tracker Pixel for Entry


View our privacy policy and terms of service.




Ariel Blumenthal is a composer and music producer with a somewhat obsessive passion for international and current affairs. To satisfy his urges, Ariel writes words and...

Read more.